Peace Love World’s founder, Alina Villasante, hugs a pillow with “LOVE” written across it to her chest and looks out the window at an oncoming summer storm. “When I first moved to Miami, I was devastated,” explains Villasante, who was born in Havana before the family of five moved to New York City — a place young Alina grew to love. Her family moved again to Atlanta, another city Villasante eventually grew to love. “Then we moved to Miami four days after I finished high school in Atlanta. I was devestated,” says Villasante. Now she’s grateful. “This is where our people are, my mom’s childhood friends from Cuba are here,” she says. It’s also the place where she raised three children and started two companies, one of which is taking her around the world and shaping who she is as a person.
For Villasante, Peace Love World is a living, breathing lifestyle. Peace Love World are not just icons on a sweatshirt,it’s a feeling that she radiates head to toe and in 360 degrees in her vibrant, waterfront Miami Beach abode that couldn’t be more a reflection of her if she tried.
Like Alina, the home is a study in laid-back luxury. It boasts a lush, green, modern garden, a black-and-white mural, pops of contrasting color and one of her inspirational quotes painted high on a wall. It is simultaneously cozy and totally camera-ready.
Not so long ago, Peace Love World was a feel-good T-shirt line featuring hearts, peace signs and little globes across the chests of wearers hoping to catch some of the brand’s happy vibes. But the brand has grown by leaps and bounds in the last few years, and the line has grown exponentially.
It boasts separates made from luxuriant fabrics that are simultaneously trendy and timeless. Pieces are available both with and without the famous affirmations printed boldly across them. “People are drawn in by the affirmations, but they come back again and again for the high-quality fabrics,” says Villasante. There are also luggage, candles and many other fun items.
Her message of peace and love has been heard around the world. Celebrities especially love it. When Kourtney Kardashian gets photographed wearing her “I am happy” shirt to the gym, or Jennifer Lopez sports her “LOVE” sweats while out with her boo, they aren’t just feeling relaxed and comfortable, they are projecting a positive message to the world. The affirmations are pretty easy messages to get behind, and for celebs, it’s kind of a no-brainer.
Oprah picked Peace Love World’s “I love Sundays” sweatshirt as one of her “favorite things.” She also collaborated with Alina on a joint collection called “Peace Love Oprah” that combined Alina and Oprah’s ethos. “It was so exciting,” explains Villasante, who was at first teased by a call from team Oprah during the holidays promising they would have good news for her in two weeks. “I said, ‘You guys can’t tease me like that!’” Eventually, she found out that Oprah wanted Alina to do all the merchandise for her The Life You Want Weekend tour. There were totes, tees, hoodies and iPhone cases that merged Peace Love World iconography and the daytime diva’s signature. “I’m the first and only person she has ever collaborated her logo with. The best thing about what I do was the work I did with her. When I was on the tour, I got so emotional and I made so many friends,” says Villasante wistfully.
It may not get any better than that for Villasante, but she has had some other exciting high-profile collaborations, too, including a T-shirt with Pharrell, Dancing with the Stars, the NBA and Coca-Cola.
The genesis of the brand’s concept goes back to 1999, when Alina hosted her first annual “Love Party.” Although the parties involved many ladies, and sometimes pajamas, they were a lot more innocent than the name might imply. The concept was to get all of her friends and the people she loved together and celebrate. To help promote a feeling of positivity, she sketched out and made T-shirts with the concepts of peace, love and happiness… and her friends absolutely loved them.
The idea turned into commerce in 2008. Alina was married, and in the process of selling an aviation-service company she and the father of her children had started when the market crashed. “The timing was bad, and we didn’t know if the deal was going to go through,” she says. On top of that, Villasante had just bought a house in Miami Beach they had yet to move into and had ordered $50,000 American Apparel T-shirts, hoodies and even dog clothes, thinking of printing up the T-shirts her friends always loved with her newly found free time. Instead they couldn’t close. “The general leger was off, and it was right before Christmas, and we thought we were going to lose the deal,” she explains.
“When the pallets arrived, I thought, ‘What am I going to do with this?’” Villasante recalls. So she had them printed up with her now-famous affirmations and gave them to her popular high-school-age children instructing them to sell them as if their future financial life depended on it. “I told them to take this stuff and [sell it] because we’re going to lose everything. They wound up selling $35 T-shirts like hot cakes. “We made $85,000 in two weeks,” says Alina with a smile. “People were at the house, buying. It was a crazy time. The world was starving for goodness and good things, and that’s really how Peace Love World was born.”
With the help of a forensic accountant, the aviation company deal went through after the holidays, so not only did they have the payout from that, but also a model for an exciting new clothing business. The sudden success, however, was bittersweet for Villasante, who saw neighbors and friends having hardship because of the recession. “It was a very weird situation — I couldn’t celebrate what had just happened because I was watching all my friends go from [prosperity] to losing their houses,” she says. The stark contrast humbled Villasante and convinced her it was a message from above.
Villasante decided to start giving back. Her opportunity came when an earthquake hit in Haiti in 2010. She and a member of her design team headed to the grief-stricken island together with Partners in Health. “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” she recalls. “It was really rough. There were 50-some kids, mostly with special needs, living in tents on the dirt and cribs that resembled.
cages. I didn’t understand. I said, ‘How can God allow this?’ My friend turned around and answered, ‘You don’t know God’s purpose. Maybe they are here to teach you something.’ At that moment, my life changed.” It was a pivotal time for Villasante. “After that, I understood the world a little bit more. And it made me ask questions,” she says. “Why Peace Love World? Why Haiti? Why did I end up on this journey? I truly believe that I was chosen. I am a normal spiritual person, but I do feel that I was chosen.”
These epiphanies prompted her to create a T-shirt specifically to raise money for Haiti, where she has returned many times since that first important trip. “Going there used to bring me much sadness, but now it gives me pure happiness. The progress I see is unbelievable. I just baptized three kids in Haiti as my godchildren, because they lost their families. You can’t help the whole world, but you can change one person’s life,” she says wistfully.
Haiti isn’t her only charitable focus. She also gives to breast cancer research foundations, “because everyone has been touched by that,” she explains. She also donates to multiple sclerosis causes, because the father of her VP of sales died from the disease, as well as autism groups, as Villasante’s nephew is autistic.
At some point, Peace Love World went from a labor of love that she was doing just for fun, to a full-blown business. She opened her first boutique in South Miami’s Sunset area. “I opened it with one of my best friends, Abril,” Villasante says. “He later died of a brain tumor, but he was the one who talked me into it and it was the best experience ever.”
Now the brand is sold all over the world, in more than 2,000 stores including Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s. Peace Love World is in airports via Hudson News, NewsLink and World Duty Free at which the Peace Love World is a top seller. She has six stand-alone stores in the U.S. and just opened in Cannes this summer, with new ones on the horizon in Lebanon and Sweden. “2016 is going to be a big year for us,” she says.
Her path to success sounds like an easy one, but it’s not. “When I started I had no model, no idea,” Villasante notes, “This has been the hardest part of my life, because fashion is hard. It took me awhile to understand why the T-shirt I made in January wouldn’t be good in December. Now I have the same five-season calendar as all the fashion brands. I just finished working on fall 2016. It’s a ways away, but you have to get the pallete right. If you pick the wrong colors, it’s dead inventory. You have to study fashion a lot, but I love it,” says the designer, putting down the pillow she had held onto tightly during our interview. “I really love it.”
Photography by Nick Garcia