jeux de vagues
An interview with Katherine Terrell by Glenn Sakamoto
Katherine Terrell is the founder/designer of Jeux de Vagues, a new line of sustainable swimwear created for women. An immigrant from Vietnam to the US at an early age, Katherine easily took to the California lifestyle. Higher education and career landed her east to Cranbrook Academy and NYC, but the beaches of California called her back home. She now spends her time designing, surfing, being an activist and a mom.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your relationship with surfing.
My family and I arrived to San Francisco as refugees from Vietnam when I was a young girl. We lived in San Francisco until I was eight, when we packed our bags for the warmer climes of LA. We stayed in Los Angeles until I moved back up north to go to college at UC Berkeley. I identify thoroughly as a Californian, as evidenced by my telltale upbeat inflection.
I was always good at languages and in college, studied German literature for my undergraduate degree, which led to a year of study abroad in Vienna, Austria. I fell in love with the art, architecture, and history of Vienna. The city was like a love poem to my young creative self, and I came back from that year determined to pursue the visual arts. I honed in and applied to only one program, the MFA 2D Design program at Cranbrook Academy of Art. I got accepted and lived a monastic life in the suburbs of Detroit as a design graduate student.
Ask any coworker from my days of working at startups in New York City:
They’ll tell you my desk was the one with the swimsuit drying next to the radiator. I felt like a fish, but didn’t realize quite yet that I would soon ditch the pool for the ocean.
Up until that point, I had never set foot on a surfboard. I was landlocked as landlocked could be. But I was a swimmer, and swam literally every day in every city that I had ever lived in. Ask any coworker from my days of working at startups in New York City: They’ll tell you my desk was the one with the swimsuit drying next to the radiator. I felt like a fish, but didn’t realize quite yet that I would soon ditch the pool for the ocean.
The summer between my two years at Cranbrook, I went to Oahu on a family vacation and on a lark, took a surf lesson at Waikiki. It’s such a cliché, but a surfer girl was born. I became obsessed with surfing from that day onward. By that point, I had built up a life in New York City but left it all so I could come back to my roots in California to pursue happiness in the waves.
What is Jeux de Vagues? What was your inspiration for starting it?
Jeux De Vagues is the line of sustainable designer swimwear that I founded. The idea came to me when I was pregnant with my son. My body changed so much in pregnancy. It gave me a profound understanding of the dynamic nature of women’s bodies. I continued to surf until my eighth month. During one of those prego surf sessions, a question came to me as a lighthearted musing: “Wouldn’t it be great if we lived in Costa Rica and I was making bikinis?” My son is now four, so the idea had been hatching for a while. I’m happy to say we launched in February.
The fabrics are made from a premium recycled nylon made in Italy. The solids are made from Econyl, a regenerated fiber that comes from recycled fishing nets. The printed fabrics are made from recycled water bottles. We manufacture in Los Angeles at a factory that pays fair labor.
The brand is equal parts sustainable and sexy. I like to say that sustainable is sexy. I made them for women who don’t want to sacrifice fit and fashion in order to feel good about what they buy. These are women who are very aware of the effect their dollar has on the planet’s human and natural resources. These are women whose choices define them.
The brand is equal parts sustainable and sexy. I like to say that sustainable is sexy. I made them for women who don’t want to sacrifice fit and fashion in order to feel good about what they buy.
Why did you choose recycled/sustainable materials for your product?
Swimwear used to be made from wool. Now it’s made almost exclusively from man-made materials, specifically, petroleum-derived nylon. It’s great and it’s a nightmare. It’s great because women no longer have to fear drowning because they want to swim. It’s awful because of the industrial waste of the fashion industry (to the tune of 1 million pounds of textile waste from virgin nylon), and that the industrialized production of plastic is wreaking havoc on our oceans. It is estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean.
I used to volunteer as a grassroots activist for Surfrider, and the issue of marine plastic pollution is one that I’ve worked with closely for a long time. So there was never any question that the fabrics would not be recycled nylon. That was the top priority when I began the design process.
But using recycled nylon is by no means the perfect solution, because it can be misconstrued as a license to continue consuming plastic commodities — most of them, single use — at the breakneck pace we have been. It’s not. The real solution involves not consuming those things in the first place. Even then, there sadly will still be plenty of thrown-away plastic to make these textiles for a long time.
Your company is part of 1% For The Planet. How important is it to give back?
There is a saying by BKS Iyengar that I love: “Giving does not impoverish, nor does withholding enrich us.”
We are staunch environmentalists and gladly give back to the playground that gives us so much joy. The idea of profit at any cost, which drove the Industrial Revolution, does not resonate with my worldview. Giving back ensures that we continue to have a healthy planet to play on and to conduct business on. 1% For The Planet independently certifies that we donate one percent of our annual sales to our partners: 5 Gyres, 350.org, and Climate Relief Fund. It’s inspiring to be a part of the 1% FTP community because I get to see so many businesses operating on the same ethos, basically that a thriving business and a thriving planet are not mutually exclusive. Business is awakening.
What has been the reaction to your product?
It’s been thrilling. Women are finding the brand and bikinis beautiful, elegant, and sexy. They say they like the fabric. These are all things I wanted to convey with the design, and I’m really happy women are happy with the product.
What is your favorite board at the moment? Your favorite spot?
I used to shortboard until one day when some friends took me to The Cove in PV. I caught absolutely zero waves. It sucked. I finally gave in to the idea of expanding beyond my quiver of one 5’8” and picked up a legitimate log, an 9’0” Anderson Farberow. I learned to longboard on that. After a couple of years on the Farberow, I found magic in the 9’2” Bing Elevator. I love the Elevator. I recently got a 7’2” V Bowls by Ryan Lovelace and it is an amazing board. But I always go back to my Elevator. I just can’t quit it.
My favorite spot has to be Playa Guiones in Nosara, Costa Rica. We go there every year to unplug. The wave at Guiones has many faces, but always delivers. It seems like there is always something to ride, no matter how small. And the vibe there is very friendly to women. It’s a place where the Divine Feminine is in full force — and the women there shred. It’s super exciting to be around powerful women surfers. The community of Nosara is very awakened and conscious, environmentally as well as spiritually. We feel blessed to have that as our second home.
What’s next for Katherine Terrell?
We’re having a launch party for Jeux De Vagues on March 11th in Venice, California. You can RSVP here. And on April 29th, I and other JeuxBabes will be marching in the People’s Climate March, and we invite you to do the same. Make signs, get out there, and demand that we keep clean water regulations, clean air regulations, and that we begin an age of renewable energy.
Find out more about Katherine Terrell and Jeux De Vagues here.