Villasante at her Coral Gables Peace Love World boutique
With a young earthquake survivor in Port-au-Prince last year
Love meets fashion at Peace Love World’s Gables outpost
Jennifer Lopez (LEFT) in a Peace Love World swing top, with friend
Alina Villasante is wearing what could be a signature ensemble this sunny day in December as she opens the door to her new Miami Beach shop: high-heeled black boots, a black tee that reads i am ho ho ho, and a huge smile.
Villasante is the founder and designer of Peace Love World, a Miami-based clothing company. But that’s the prosaic description. It’s a charity-centric enterprise, one with a philosophy of spreading, well… peace and love around the world. In three short years, the Cuban-born Villasante is off to an impressive start in that mission.
But now back to that T-shirt. The words are a play on one of the trademark sayings she has developed for her various lines: I AM MOM, I AM TEACHER, I AM GIVING. Since we are meeting just before Christmas, she spun it to I AM HO HO HO with the double entendre fully intentional. Villasante smiles and laughs easily as she describes her business and her vision.
After running a successful aviation business, she sold it to pursue what had become a passionate hobby: creating tees that make people smile, and using them as a vehicle to help others. After her children helped her sell about $85,000 in shirts through trunk shows and pure determination, in 2009 Villasante decided to launch a boutique in South Miami as well as an online venture. With corporate headquarters in Doral, she now operates five locations, including the outpost on West Avenue in Miami Beach that opened last November. As for the online business, Villasante says that on Black Friday, they clocked a record 986,000 hits. The business has recently expanded into fashion accessories, cups, plates, and the like. She eventually plans to open in such far-reaching locales as Hong Kong and Los Angeles, but for now, “we’ll take it one step at a time.” Each step, however, helps someone less fortunate somewhere else, which is her company’s true driving force.
It was just as Peace Love World was launched, in fact, that the massive 2010 Haitian earthquake destroyed entire foundations of the Caribbean nation. Villasante produced 10,000 shirts, one side reading one world, the other one love, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to Haiti through Boston-based Partners in Health. But she became personally involved, as well, by sponsoring children on the island, even visiting them in person and observing the scene firsthand. “It was brutal,” she recalls. “Like you’ve never seen. The kids were severely malnourished. They had no possibility to even dream.” She helped make that option possible for 52 Haitian kids, sending items they really needed and wanted, such as art supplies, board games, and scooters, as well as financial help for medical needs.
Villasante explains that the personal connection to a particular charity is important. “I don’t just want to write a check to something,” she admits. Because an individual close to her was affected by breast cancer, she is also a huge supporter of the Susan G. Komen Key for the Cure. The same goes for autism and multiple sclerosis. So instead of writing that simple check, Villasante donates proceeds from certain items in her collection to specific purposes. And with some of her T-shirt lines, she matches each one’s purchase by sending another to someone in need.
“I dream big, and I want others to as well,” she says. “I wear my heart on my sleeve.” We all can, in fact, literally: A few of her tees actually carry a heart symbol just below the shoulder.