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More Interviews

An Interview with the Founder of Cabana Life Swimwear

Jordan Rhodes


By Jordan Rhodes

(Originally published on our old site in March 2017)

My family and I are right in the middle of a two-week Spring Break, and because we live up north in Connecticut, we typically like to flee to warmer weather in March. Our first week was spent in Florida with my parents at John’s Island Club with excursions to Palm Beach and Disney World, and now we’re at my in-laws’ house in Scottsdale, Arizona. The beach and desert obviously require swimwear, so I was really excited when Cabana Life and I connected on Instagram. Not only does founder and mom of three Melissa Papock create adorable bathing suits, cover ups and other items for all ages, they contain 50 UV protection. What more could you ask for in resort wear?? Melissa started the line after being diagnosed with malignant melanoma at the age of 26, and I am grateful to her for having the vision to help prevent cancer for others – and doing it in a chic way! I love the brand and concept so much that I asked Melissa if I could interview her, and luckily she said yes.

1) Tell us a little about your company and how you came up with the idea for it.
I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma when I was 26 (2001), and learned the hard way about the dangers of the sun and the startling skin cancer statistics. I never expected to hear the word “cancer” in my 20s, and I didn’t realize at that time that skin cancer could actually kill you. Like so many other people, I thought of skin cancer as “Cancer Light,” no big deal.
After learning that a lightweight cotton t-shirt provides the equivalent of SPF 7, and when I saw the less-than-stylish sun protective clothing options available, I started Cabana Life. Combining fashion and function, Cabana Life offers chic styles with a UPF of 50 , blocking 98% UV. Cabana Life launched in 2005 and now includes a full-line of stylish sun safe options for women, children and men.
I wanted to use my experience with skin cancer to help educate others about the dangers of the sun and to give back to organizations that support skin cancer research. I figured the best way to get the “ugly” skin cancer message out and not make it so scary, was to provide the information by encapsulating it in a stylish, fun solution.
Proper sun protection is critical at all ages, and a quick and easy skin check can help save your life, as I now know.

2) How do you spend a typical day at work?
By the time I get in, I’ve usually checked emails and am likely already on the phone when I walk through the front door. I try to handle tasks requiring creativity in the morning, as the afternoons fly by in the blink of an eye and usually consist of working with team members on their projects. I’m lucky because I truly enjoy laughing and learning alongside everyone at Cabana Life. We all share a “work hard, play hard” mentality, and keep an even-keeled work atmosphere even when facing unexpected hiccups. I always make sure to thank everyone when they leave, because I sincerely appreciate everyone’s contribution towards Cabana Life’s success. I love that every day is totally different, with opportunities to grow and learn.

3) How does social media play a role in your business?
The role of social media in EVERY business is constantly evolving. It is fascinating to see the importance of connecting with our customers through the different platforms. It allows you to have an honest and fun dialogue with followers, beyond just the traditional brand relationship of yesteryear. We are active on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter, and LOVE seeing how people live the Cabana Lifestyle. The content our followers generate is absolutely amazing, and it makes me smile to see how much people enjoy staying sun safe in the very styles we work so hard to design, manufacture and sell.
While I’m 100% committed to following the bouncing ball of how social media impacts business, I fall down big time on my own personal posting. I may or may not have remembered to post that I had a 3rd kid….about 4.5 years ago

4) What are some of your favorite Cabana Life pieces for this season?
I always love our ruched rashguard, because it can be worn up as a convenient swim top or extended down as a cute dress for a quick dash to the pool bar. It is flattering for virtually every body type, including pregnant mamas.
For relaxed UV protection from your ankles to your neck, I go for our comfy beach pants paired with a scallop rashguard.
My other new favorites this season are our super lightweight woven fabric tunics with thick embroidery and our Sardinia Sands tie waist cover up. Of course, the classic Cabana Life shift dress is always in style (and comes in practically every print).

5) What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Success is getting up one more time than you’ve been knocked down. Expect your fair share of set backs and challenges, it comes with being an entrepreneur. What dictates success is how quickly you push through and pivot, learning from every single experience in the unrelenting pursuit of your dream.

6) What do you see in Cabana Life’s future?
I’m very excited to watch the brand continue to grow, and offer women, children and men sun safe solutions for every aspect of their outdoor lifestyle. We continue to expand our collection, and are launching a full line of sand-to-sidewalk dresses in 2018. It also makes me happy to see our signature Cabana Life prints and overall aesthetic becoming so recognizable and in demand. We are continuing to explore collaborations with like-minded brands to feature our Cabana Life prints on different items, like the Scout Bags beach cooler coming later this month.

7) And some fun, short questions when traveling with your family:
-Mountains, beach or city?
City- we live at the beach so for vacation, we like to mix it up (plus less sun).

-Favorite hotel?
With a family of 5, we are more into renting houses these days. Airbnb is great. I like to feel like I really live somewhere, even if just for a few days.

-Favorite city?
New Orleans, on my way there as I type this. I went to Tulane and it is my happy place. Great food, music, art, drinks and anything goes vibe.

-What’s in your carry on?
My laptop, always!

-What’s in your carry on for kids?
600 page novels, carrot juice and wooden toys. Seriously, headphones, ipads and candy. Plus stuffed animals they smuggled on. Oh, and Sunscreen!

-Travel outfit?
Skinny jeans, flats, tee and Barefoot Dreams ombre cardigan (it is a comfy blanket disguised as clothing)

-Favorite skincare products?
Anything I remember to actually use. I love Perricone MD’s Face Finishing Moisturizer Tint with SPF 30. It gives a great sun-kissed glow the safe way, and then I layer on La Roche-Posay sunscreen for even more protection.

-Best vacation memory?
That’s a tough one. There are so many and in such different chapters of my life. Single- St. Tropez Married- Mustique (coolest private island) Kids- China with my oldest daughter, visiting our overseas offices and hanging in Hong Kong.

-Worst vacation memory?
Luckily I don’t have too many of those, probably because of my ability to laugh at most anything. I’d say anything that feels too much like “manufactured fun,” like a cruise.

-Advice for traveling with kids
Do it as often as you can, relax, and find the fun in everything- including the flight delays, meltdowns, unexpected events and everything in between. If you give off calm, relaxed vibes (preferably with a nice cocktail in hand), they will follow your lead. I will remind myself of this often as I travel through Greece and France this summer with 3 kids in tow.

You can shop Cabana Life here and be sure to follow them on Facebook and Instagram @cabanalife