During a post-college surfing trip to Costa Rica in 2010, Paul Goodman and Griffin Thall fell in love with the local artisan scene. From the colorful hand woven bracelets sold in each corner to the meaningful conversations with the locals, the two SoCal friends were inspired by the laid-back lifestyle of the country’s national motto: Pura Vida — a Spanish expression that translates to “pure life.”
But the more they communicated with the locals in town, the more they learned that being an artisan in Costa Rica was a struggle. Artisan wages were not enough to support a family alone and made it tough to find housing beyond a single room with multiple beds. That’s when the two friends were inspired to take action and purchased 400 bracelets from local artisans to showcase in a local boutique back home.
It was an instant success that would motivate them to create the Pura Vida brand — a jewelry company that gives back to artisans while celebrating life’s little pleasures of slowing down and living life to the fullest.
Today, the business has grown to a global scale and helps fund artisans and charities around the world — with many millennial and Gen Z audiences supporting the purpose-driven business model. We recently caught up with Paul and Griffin at the grand opening of their second flagship store in Irvine, California to learn more about their business success. Read on to see what they had to say.
This interview has been gently edited for clarity and length.
GoDaddy: Can you give us a quick rundown of what Pura Vida is all about?
Paul: Pura Vida is all about living free, not taking anything for granted, and living in the moment. We make products and accessories that give back and help different artisans and charities while providing [a] fun and care-free environment through our products.
Griffin: All of our products are affordable, handcrafted — a majority of them give back to charities and artisans — and we really want people to leave with a good feeling when buying our products.
GD: Tell us about Pura Vida’s conception and how it came to fruition.
Paul: In 2010 Griff and I were on a college graduation surf trip and we met two artisans on the beach who were hand-making super colorful bracelets. They were homeless at the time and we decided we wanted to help them, so we bought 400 bracelets and brought them back with us and that’s kind of how Pura Vida started. And today, we support over 600 different artisans across the world — making our products and giving back to different charities.
GD: What were some obstacles you had to overcome and what lessons did you learn along the way?
Griffin: I think we’ve grown pretty much 100% year-over-year since we started the brand. So I would say our biggest challenges were operational — scaling, inventory management, supply chain (getting things from other countries into the U.S.), and shipping out the high-volume orders that we do. [It] was not an easy task, so I would say that was probably the most difficult part (scaling the business).
GD: The concept of giving back is a big mission of Pura Vida. How are you continuing to keep the momentum alive as the company grows?
Paul: As we come out with new products and as we find new organizations that we can support, we jump on board with them and get them into the Pura Vida lifestyle and be able to sell products that give back. So we have disaster relief bracelets when a disaster happens in the U.S. or the world [and] we can launch them right away and raise money for that organization or that cause — it’s a big part of Pura Vida.
Griffin: Also, we just got B Corp certified, which is a really big deal. It took like a year and a half [and] we had a big checklist of things to work on to update — from our supply chain, to the paper, to how things are shipped, to how things are worded. And [we] really [made] sure that we could do everything we could to become B Corp certified. Now we are with brands like Patagonia [and] Toms so it really puts us in a different category of a brand.
GD: Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs looking to incorporate more sustainable practices into their business models?
Paul: I think we’ve always tried to do what’s right — whether that’s for the world, the environment, or for our employees. We want to leave a lasting impression for our customers and employees by doing good and making people feel good by wearing our products.
GD: Pura Vida does a lot of work with charities. How do you choose which ones you want to partner with?
Griffin: We have a page on our website that offers people an opportunity to type in suggestions for bracelet ideas or charities to work with, so that’s definitely a source for different organizations.
We also have a team in our office that manages the charity relations, the charitable products, and partnerships that we do — and they’re all vetted amongst our team. We try to do our best to support as many charities as we can but not too many where it doesn’t feel special or they don’t get a sizable check donated to them.
GD: What do you think is the scariest part of starting a business venture and why?
Paul: I think it’s just the unknown. When you’re just starting you don’t know what’s going to happen or how it’s going to go. But I think that’s always the fun part as well. So I think it’s definitely a balance between not knowing what’s going to happen and trying to take the challenge of taking the leap.
Griffin: Yeah and I think entrepreneurs get scared to just start. And if you don’t have a starting point, you never know how to evolve and optimize from there.
Whether you have every question answered and all the tools in your toolbox or not, just start.
GD: What’s your best advice for people who want to open a retail business?
Paul: I think you have to focus on your customers and your brand and build up the word-of-mouth and build up the products — because I think the products are going to be what drives the customers to the location. And then make sure the location fits your brand.
So I think here in Irvine [California], it’s bright and sunny. We’ve got the palm trees, we’ve got the Ferris wheel — it’s Pura Vida and I think it really fits the brand. And that’s what is really going to make it successful.
GD: When did you decide to take Pura Vida online and how has it impacted your business? Did you start in ecommerce or traditional brick-and-mortar?
Griffin: Right when we started the business in 2010, we made a website. We also offered our products wholesale. We would basically hit up all the surf stores, yoga studios, nail and hair salons, boutiques — pretty much anyone we thought would be a good fit for Pura Vida. At the same time, we were building our website, getting all the apps, figuring out ecommerce and graphic design. So I would say we started on day one.
GD: The Pura Vida Bracelet Clubs seems like a successful subscription-based option for your online customers. What inspired the idea behind this?
Paul: We just wanted to give a fun experience for our customers who are super loyal and purchasing every month — why don’t we take the guess[work] out of it and give them custom-made exclusive products at a discount every single month, as long as they sign up for a subscription. So it’s been a huge success for our brand and a great way to spread word-of-mouth exponentially for us.
GD: With the opening of your second retail store in Irvine, it seems Pura Vida is gaining more momentum in popularity. What else do you hope to accomplish in the future?
Griffin: We definitely want to open up more stores. We just launched our clothing line like a year and a half or two years ago, so we’re going to expand on that.
We want to make sure people love the quality, the size and the fit. The bracelets weren’t perfect on day one, neither was the jewelry. Clothing is a new category we’re breaking into and it’s actually been doing really well in retail stores so we’re confident in that.
GD: Describe your most memorable success and why it means so much to you.
Paul: I think opening our first retail store was pretty memorable. It’s awesome to see after 10 years the brand really come to life in person and see customers walk in, touch and feel the product and be so stoked walking out. Just seeing them wear the product in person, as opposed to online, is a game-changer.
Griffin: And the brand was born on a surf trip to Costa Rica and [is special] even to this day — like last week I was traveling throughout Europe and in two or three different countries, I saw people wearing Pura Vida in every country I went to. I’ve seen people [wearing them] all over the world and trips that we’ve been on. I’ve seen them in Bali, I’ve seen them in Italy, in Paris, and I’ve seen them in Barcelona.
So it’s really humbling to see our products that were sourced from Costa Rica, El Salvador and Central America — and now people are wearing them globally. It’s a pretty cool feeling.
GD: How do you maintain a happy work-life balance for you and your employees?
Paul: I think we’ve always built Pura Vida to have that work-life balance. We’ve always built the office and the culture to want to go into work every day and be excited about it. It’s a cool lifestyle business. We’ve always focused on that so it’s not really a separation between work and life — it’s kind of one.
Griffin: We want people to feel comfortable and relaxed, either working in the office or working from home in this new environment, and really just living the brand. I think that’s why people want to work for Pura Vida — because of the culture and love for the brand.
Thank you to Paul and Griffin for sharing their story. You can learn more about the company at puravidabracelets.com.
Editor’s note: Pura Vida is a domains customer with GoDaddy.