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06 Sep

Tuulikki: Surf Style With A Conscience

Futzing with your wetsuit or sub-par swimsuit while you're in the middle of a surf session is the most annoying thing ever. Serious action deserves serious swim and surf wear, which is why we're paying extra close attention to Tuulikki, a just-launched line of swim and high-performance surf wear out of Rockaway Beach, NY. Named for the Finnish goddess who sustains harmony between man and nature, Tuulikki designer Helena Dunn aims to create a completely sustainable, age-appropriate collection that female surfers can thrill in wearing, whether they're just hanging on the beach or competing in a world-class competition. We chatted with Dunn about Tuulikki's thoughtful design cycle, Rockaway's surf scene, and what people are saying about the line. 

BIKINI: 'More than a bikini, less than a wetsuit' is such an interesting approach to design. How did you zero in on this approach?

HELENA DUNN: It really came from my own experience of not being able to find functional swimwear that would stay on in the surf. At some point I was looking at the attention to detail that goes into yoga wear and thinking how absurd it was that there wasn't the equivalent with light surf wear, when its performance needs are far greater. Also, neoprene is a horrible material both for the environment and how it feels on the body, so I wanted to work with sustainable bonded materials that were outside of the box, for when you don't require the warmth of neoprene. 

BIKINI: The environmental responsibility you're taking at every level is so thoughtful. Tell us about how you've approached sustainability. 

HD: I think all surfers would agree that one of the beautiful things about that lifestyle is how connected you become to nature, and being in the ocean a lot you see first hand what happens to people's garbage because it literally floats by you. This gets you thinking about the life cycle of products: how they're made, and of course where do they end up once we're through using them. As a designer, this created an interesting boundary where I was looking for materials that were not only recycled, but that also had superior durability. Our goal is to make a premium product that will last a long time, and for that reason, we also offer a free repair service for the first 12 months. Our supply chains are totally transparent which means we're able to monitor labor standards and therefore can be confident that our products are being manufactured ethically. Currently, we only manufacture in the US as we believe in local manufacturing relative to the market we're serving, as this minimizes transportation. We are 1% For The Planet certified and are committed to supporting environmental nonprofits and becoming a carbon-neutral company ourselves. 

BIKINI: How did you get into swim design?

HD: I've been working as a fashion designer for about 10 years and I've always been into my sports and nature, so combining my love of design with surfing happened very organically and I'm thrilled to be doing it. 

BIKINI: What has the feedback been like?

HD: There's been a lot of excitement because I think a product like ours that focuses on both performance and sustainability has been largely absent in the surf market and women really seem to dig the suits. They can see there's a great attention to detail, you get bang for your buck, and the styles are very flattering — minimal with cool fun prints. Lots of surfwear is aimed at teenagers so it can feel a bit young and unsubstantial — I think people are appreciating the contrast. 

BIKINI: Do you have any brand ambassadors?

HD: Our Rockaway community have been our biggest supporters and so you see a lot of our suits in the lineup, which is so humbling and amazing to see, it always makes my heart swell! We also have some surfers who we've looped in to wear-test in challenging waves around the world who will collaborate on design iterations so that we can always be improving the performance of our styles. 

BIKINI: Where do you see Tuulikki going next?

HD: We're really keen to take the brand to the warm states over this winter and get more face-to-face time with our customers, so we're lining up some fun events in places like Florida, Puerto Rico and so on. We're planning a U.K. launch for Resort as well, which is super exciting. From a product perspective I'm working on a sustainable rash guard T-shirt, which is pretty unique. 

BIKINI: Describe the surf scene in Rockaway — it seems like a really close community.

HD: It's really unlike anywhere else, so welcoming and has this lovely small town vibe, which in a city like New York is very refreshing. There's so much going on beyond surfing out here like the Rockaway retreat house, which hosts donation based yoga/meditation retreats, the Buddhist Summer house, Edgemere Farms — and local bands and artists thrive here. For most people, it was a love of the ocean that brought them to the area, but I think what kept them here was the way that Rockaway grounds you and frees you so you can just be your weird self. Rockaway is very accepting of weirdos in all different shapes and sizes and I absolutely love that about it. 

BIKINI: What is the most important thing people should know about Tuulikki?

HD: I would say there are two key things: First, we believe female surfers should be treated like athletes, and whether you're an athlete, complete beginner or somewhere in between, you deserve to have gear that performs so you can focus on your sport. It's our job to give that to women. Second, we believe that climate change is the most important issue we face as a species, and as a company we strive to protect the planet in all our decisions. It's simply the right thing to do, and we'll always be trying to do better.