LETARTE’S HEAD START
Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg
Unlike many swimwear designers, Lisa Letarte Cabrinha has personally put her swimsuits to the test.
A former pro windsurfer and model, Cabrinha used her expertise to develop Letarte, a swimwear label she designs from her home in Maui.
“I’m lucky that I work here. I know if I work hard, I can go out for a sail at the end of the day,” she said.
While she’s no longer on the pro circuit, she and her husband, Peter Cabrinha (see below), a former world champion windsurfer, continue to windsurf and surf in some of the more remote pockets of the world. Design inspiration has struck her while windsurfing in Fiji, Germany, Portugal, Turkey and the Czech Republic.
Her current collection consists of 13 styles of string bikinis and separates and is offered in Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Eye of the Needle, Just Add Water and 26 other stores. This year’s plan is to double the business to $2 million, Cabrinha said.
Designed to be “a functional, flirty line,” Letarte tops and bottoms wholesale for about $45 each. She often sports the bikini tops while playing polo in Hawaii’s interland league.
Cabrinha landed her first modeling gig — unsolicited — while skiing in Colorado as a teenager. Her modeling career was her ticket to traveling the world over.
During a layover in Honolulu en route from a shoot in Japan, Cabrinha decided to catch a flight to Maui. Intrigued by the windsurfers out on the waves, Cabrinha decided to stay on to give the sport a try. Four years later, she won the amateur wavesurfing contest at Maui’s Hookipa Beach. She also scored a sponsorship deal and helped design swimsuits for Maylo, a Spanish brand.
Prior to founding Letarte two years ago in Maui, Cabrinha was a sales representative for Raisins swimwear. Her family, which has ties to the apparel industry, pitches in with Letarte as needed from their homes on the mainland.
Cabrinha’s parents, Anneliese and Norm Letarte, used to own The Ski Barn, a ski specialty chain in New England. Anneliese Letarte, a former model, also runs a hat company aptly named Hats by Anneliese. Their other daughter, Michelle Ross, operates Letarte’s sales office in Fairfield, Conn.