Exterior of a Pura Vida brick-and-mortar store.
Pura Vida has built a devoted customer base among millennials and Gen Z with strategies like influencer marketing and a brand ambassador program. — Pura Vida

How Pura Vida doubled sales every year since its 2010 launch:

  • La Jolla, California-based college friends Griffin Thall and Paul Goodman bought 400 colorful bracelets from local artisans they met on a beach in Costa Rica. They sold out immediately in the states, giving birth to Pura Vida.
  • The startup tapped thousands of micro-influencers to promote its bracelets made by global artisans employed by the brand on social media, building a devoted following among millennials and Gen Z, which helped scale the business and double sales every year.
  • Pura Vida, which started out selling mostly online, now retails in 5,000 stores including Nordstrom and its first freestanding location. The startup is now part of Vera Bradley, which purchased 75% of the brand in 2019.

Jewelry startup Pura Vida launched in 2010 after co-founders Griffin Thall and Paul Goodman started selling colorful handcrafted bracelets made by two local artisans they’d met in Costa Rica during a college graduation surf trip.

The college buddies never set out to disrupt the nation’s $76 billion jewelry market. But Pura Vida (“pure life” in Spanish), which has ranked among the fastest growing U.S. companies in recent years, ended up doing just that.

Its signature stackable jewelry, crafted by hundreds of global artisans employed by the brand, built a devoted customer base among millennials and Gen Z, fueled by the marketing muscle of an army of micro-influencers who spread the Pura Vida gospel via a brand ambassador program, a robust social media presence that includes 2.1 million Instagram followers today, and a purpose-driven business model.

That strategy has doubled Pura Vida’s sales every year since launch, fueling the startup’s evolution into a lifestyle brand that’s now sold in 5,000 stores from boutiques to national retailers like Nordstrom, and its first flagship location in San Diego, Griffin Thall, co-founder and CEO, told CO—.

Pura Vida’s artisan-made and micro-influencer-marketed business model will steamroll its next big growth push: Expansion via its own stores as well as retail partners. “Our wholesale business is booming, and we’re opening three retail stores this year and five to 10 more next year,” he said.

It has the backing of a $541 million legacy brand to buoy that expansion. In 2019, Vera Bradley, the company known for its colorful quilted bags, purchased 75% of Pura Vida, representing a $130 million valuation then.

Here, Thall shares Pura Vida’s growth story, actionable insights from its digital marketing strategy, and details how it “cracked the code” to scaling the business.

 Headshot of Paul Goodman (left) and Griffin Thall, co-founders of Pura Vida.
Paul Goodman (left) and Griffin Thall, co-founders of Pura Vida. — Pura Vida

Finding its ‘secret sauce’: Rich visual content and ‘brand advocates’ that spread the Pura Vida gospel

Pura Vida decided early on that high-quality visual content featuring its bracelets from “brand advocates” would be integral to its DNA, Thall said.

The startup was on to something. These days, user-generated content, from customer reviews to Instagram posts of shoppers touting their purchases, can drive higher sales conversion rates than traditional marketing methods.

That’s because “brand engaged users” are mostly millennials and Gen Z consumers who prioritize content from folks using the brand over company-fed promotions, according to Gartner research.

When Pura Vida launched, it turned to its fans to convey the startup’s beachy, enjoy-life’s-simple-pleasures brand ethos.

“We focused on creating very high-resolution content, photos, and videos,” said Thall. “We sent influencers traveling around the world to show the Pura Vida lifestyle and what it means through the lives of influencers, and repurposed them on Instagram,” he said. “We did this at scale every month and every year, which is what grew us to two million followers on Instagram.”

Then, once the strategy drew just enough customers to Pura Vida’s website, Thall created a formal brand ambassador program whereby micro-influencers with under 5,000 followers could transition from customer to brand advocate. “That’s when the brand really took off,” he said.

[Read: Why Hot Startups Like Pura Vida and Cure Hydration Are Getting Big Results From Micro-Influencers]

“Every business has customers: But how do you turn that customer into a voice?” he said. “And how does that voice create conversations and word-of-mouth marketing that you can’t even pay for because it’s so organic and authentic?” For Pura Vida, its brand ambassadors have been “the secret sauce,” he said.

‘Every business has customers: But how do you turn that customer into a voice?’

Pura Vida’s brand ambassador program, which has signed up over 150,000 micro-influencers and boasts 50,000 active reps today, has been word of mouth on steroids that turned buzz into sales, Thall said.

The brand offers brand ambassadors incentives and commissions in exchange for promoting Pura Vida to friends and social media followers.

“They are passionate about the brand, real, and authentic, and are posting videos and photos [about the brand] because they want to, not because they’re paid [a salary] to,” he said. This army of social media brand ambassadors, including college students, share their Pura Vida stories on Instagram with their sororities and soccer teams to their friends and families, Thall said. “We really tapped into that millennial and Gen Z demo who want to be a part of something.

“Every business has customers: But how do you turn that customer into a voice?” he said. “And how does that voice create conversations and word-of-mouth marketing that you can’t even pay for because it’s so organic and authentic?” For Pura Vida, its brand ambassadors have been “the secret sauce,” he said.

While a pre-Instagram marketing partnership with “The Hills” star Lauren Conrad dramatically upped Pura Vida’s brand exposure, Thall said startups don’t necessarily need big-name partnerships to succeed today.

And when it comes to influencers, micro-influencers can be more effective, he said.

“I think customers know that businesses that work with influencers with 50,000 followers are sponsored [posts] and might not be as authentic,” he said.

[Read: 'Social Proof': How User-Generated Content Resonates with Customers and Drives Sales]

 Four Pura Vida models standing in a row smiling and holding up peace signs.
While marketing strategies like Facebook ads proved successful for Pura Vida early on, co-founder Griffin Thall warns entrepreneurs that the landscape has changed since then. — Pura Vida

Maximizing marketing in a changing media landscape

Facebook and Instagram ads proved invaluable to propelling Pura Vida’s business early on. But Thall warns entrepreneurs and startups that the landscape has radically changed.

For online-only brands, customer acquisition costs have surged as the price of digital advertising on sites like Google and Facebook has soared.

What’s more, tightening regulations that grant consumers greater online privacy rights are making it tougher for startups to obtain the data they’ve long used to understand — and target — consumers.

That’s why Pura Vida is diversifying its marketing mix, exploring TV ads and TikTok to text messaging, podcasts, and targeted email campaigns to promote the brand, Thall said. And he advises new businesses to do the same.

Diversifying your revenue stream: ‘I recommend starting a brand that you can do omnichannel’

Startups launching today would also be wise to diversify their revenue streams to build a robust customer base as well as “credibility and longevity,” he said. “I recommend starting a brand that you can do omnichannel,” generating sales online, in store and by “sprinkling in different events,” Thall said. “You don’t need to be 100% e-commerce-driven.”

Pura Vida is betting on that strategy to drive its next phase of growth.

The brick-and-mortar channel now accounts for 30% of the brand’s business, up from 10% early on, and reflects Pura Vida’s “biggest growth opportunity today.”

Parent company Vera Bradley has the retail know-how to support that growth, he said. That’s in part why Vera Bradley beat out six other suitors, both brands and financial firms, who proffered offers to buy the startup.

“We wanted to be part of a company that shared our brand ethos; that had a staff that we could collaborate with; that dealt with charities and product sourcing; and also had experience in wholesale and opening up retail stores, which was a smaller part of the Pura Vida pie,” Thall said. “It’s been pretty awesome.”

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Published May 19, 2022