Portola High School: Founding Principles Prepare Students for the 21st Century

It has been 17 years since Irvine Unified School District opened a new high school in Irvine. It was history in the making on August 24, 2016, as Portola High School opened its doors to welcome freshman students for its inaugural year. Some 400 students now attend this brand new high school and the administration anticipates adding another 500-600 students each year. The school mascot is the Bulldog and you can already find students and administration showing off their school pride on social media using hashtags: #phswoof #phsclassof2020 #ptp.

Portola High gymnasium with mural of school mascot
Portola High gymnasium with mural of school mascot

The new school is located off of Irvine Boulevard adjacent to the Orange County Great Park and serves the neighborhoods of Beacon Park, Lambert Ranch, Los Olivos, Pavilion Park, Portola Springs, Stonegate, Woodbury and will eventually also serve Heritage Fields.1)http://iusd.org/district_services/facilities_planning_and_construction/documents/PHS-QA-3-1-16.pdf

Great Expectations for Irvine’s Newest High School

In keeping with IUSD’s tradition of great schools, there are high expectations for Portola. Principal John Pehrson comes to Portola High after his 10 year appointment with University High School, also in Irvine. During that time, University High has consistently been ranked as one of the top high schools in the country by Newsweek, the Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report and the Orange County Register.

Portola High School Principal, John Pehrson
Portola High School Principal, John Pehrson sports the school color purple

A husband, father, teacher and coach with a background in physics and chemistry, Principal Pehrson says his hopes for Portola are:

  • that Portola truly becomes a school where every student belongs, contributes and thrives
  • that we become a school that continues to embrace the ideas around preparing students for the 21st Century
  • that Portola carries on the IUSD culture of excellence while at the same time embodies its own sense of Pride and Spirit that becomes attractive and contagious to families

State-of-the-Art Facilities

Portola High School offers athletic facilities including a football stadium that seats approximately 3,000 people. Their aquatics center features a 50-meter Olympic sized pool with Colorado Timing Systems. As seniors, students will utilize the Innovation Lab for their “Senior Passion Project” to create a product or model, which they will present to a panel of academic, artistic or entrepreneurial experts. There is also a performing arts building with a 720-seat theater, black box and dance studio. Portola High also has a special education facility that will facilitate essential life skills.2)http://iusd.org/district_services/facilities_planning_and_construction/documents/PHS-QA-3-1-16.pdf

Earlier in the construction process, there was some public concern over the safety of the school site, which the school district addressed here and here.

50 meter Olympic sized pool
50  meter Olympic sized pool
Innovation lab
Innovation lab where students will create a product or model for their “Senior Passion Project”

Leadership and Culture at Portola High

One concern that may be on the minds of students and parents at Portola (or any school in Irvine) is that the environment may be too competitive. While some competition can have a positive effect; competition can rise to unhealthy levels at top schools.

On the topic of over-competition, Principal Pehrson said, “We have worked diligently to create, promote and nurture a school program of balance, relevance and purpose.  We will continue to work with our PTSA and community to encourage extracurricular involvement by each student.”

My Mantra: Empowering and supporting people in their journey to reach their maximum potential. –Principal John Pehrson

Portola High students will be encouraged to find their talent and passions. “We will emphasize the idea of developing and pursuing a passion rather than spending every ounce of energy to do every single thing.  We will work with students through advisement to pick one or two interests to really delve into.” said Principal Pehrson.

At a recent event, parents of Portola High students were invited for a BBQ dinner followed by a tour of the campus and parent workshops, including a workshop titled: How to Find Balance While Preparing for College.

Parents of Portola High students attend a Bulldog BBQ Bash in the Student Union building
Parents of Portola High students attend a Bulldog BBQ Bash in the Student Union building

Principal Pehrson recognized the importance of academics but going beyond grades, he took the long view in his vision for the students of Portola High. “We will also focus more on 21st Century skills rather than conquering a set of curricula. While that is important, we know that the future job market will be looking for workers who are collaborative, team players, innovative, flexible, and can think on their own.  These are the skills on which we will focus and celebrate.  Over time, it is our hope that the community will believe in the system and structure we are setting up and will fully embrace and support it.”

To the future students of Portola High School, may this facility provide an environment to help “feed” your mind so you can in return “feed” the world. – Mac Byers, Senior Project Manager at CW Driver

Principal Pehrson’s mantra, which he has posted in his office: “Empowering and supporting people in their journey to reach their maximum potential.”

Inspired Design: The Active Green Roof Project of the Student Union Building

One of the architectural highlights of Portola High is the Student Union building. The building boasts a sleek, modern design and also features a state-of-the-art “active” green roof that utilizes numerous energy saving systems. The roof system was initially tested at Cal Poly Pomona under the direction of Professor Pablo La Roche and then implemented at Portola High by architecture firm, HMC Architects.

A traditional green roof is a roof of a building that is partially or completely covered with vegetation, providing insulation, reducing heating and cooling costs and reducing stormwater runoff.

Student Union Building featuring an active green roof
Student Union Building featuring an active green roof

Together with Professor La Roche, Eera Babtiwale, an Associate Principal of HMC Architects, designed this one-of-a-kind student union building.

How does the “active” green roof on the Student Union work to save energy and how is it unique from other green roofs?

Eera: The active green roof being implemented at Portola HS in the Irvine Unified School District is a prime example of how synergies between various systems can yield energy savings while simultaneously providing a sustainable living lab for students to learn from. 

Green roofs are typically applauded for their ability to provide thermal mass, a passive solar strategy used to efficiently cool a space, or maintain heat within a space. The active green roof at Portola High School however is unique. The system is composed of a modular green roof which communicates with the building’s HVAC and irrigation system, to passively cool and heat interior spaces, while simultaneously conserving water. 

Five Cutting Edge Features of the Active Green Roof:

  • Green roof feature: thermal mass of the roof passively insulates the building on cold days
  • Green roof feature: cool thermal mass of the active green roof passively cools the interior on warm days
  • Green roof feature: condensate water is collected to irrigate the green roof
  • Active feature: modular green roof communicates with the HVAC and irrigation system to passively cool and heat interior while saving water
  • Educational feature: sensors embedded in the green roof collect and send data to a computer station to teach students about how the green roof system is saving energy.

On cold weather days, the active roof uses thermal mass to keep the building warm. The thermal mass of the roof increases the thermal resistance value of the roof membrane, and thereby passively insulates the building. This reduces the need to mechanically heat the space.

[C]ondensate water that is generated from the air handling unit will be collected into in an underground water storage tank and reused to irrigate the green roof. – Eera Babtiwale of HMC Architects

During warm days, the green roof is able to cool the building. Air is pulled through intakes from the building perimeter and is then drawn across the underside of the active roof. As the air is drawn across, the cool thermal mass of the green roof cools the air. The air is then pushed down to spaces below to passively cool the interior. 

On days when it is too hot to rely on the active roof alone, the air conditioning will be automatically turned on. However, the condensate water that is generated from the air handling unit will be collected into in an underground water storage tank and reused to irrigate the green roof.  This creates a unique synergy because the active roof is able to retain its cooling potential best when it is well saturated. 

There were many decisions and commitments made early on by all stakeholders of the project that have contributed to the extraordinary success of the project. Every construction project has it challenges … but with this project and its high level of teamwork, many things went right. – Mac Byers of CW Driver

In addition to these benefits, the active green roof provides a means of capturing and filtering stormwater, cleaning particulates from the air and creating an acoustic buffer.

Architecture as an Tool for Sustainability Education

It was not enough that the building passively heats and cools itself, Eera and HMC wanted to use the building as an educational tool to teach people about sustainability.

Tell us why sustainability important to HMC and what its hopes are for those who learn about the active green roof project?

Eera: HMC Architects is passionate about using the building to teach and inspire people about sustainability. This is perhaps most important within a school environment, where our next generation of environmental stewards spend at least 5 hours of their day. These 5 hours provide amazing opportunity to educate and inspire students about sustainability. 

[E]verything we do has the ability to have a lasting and positive effect on our shared global environment. – Eera Babtiwale of HMC Architects

Embedded within the active green roof system is a series of sensors which relay soil temperature, soil saturation, air velocity and air temperature to the building management system. This data is collected and then compared to another classroom on campus, which does not have the active green roof system. This data will be made available to students via a computer station so that they too can learn about the active green roof system’s impact on energy use, water use and thermal comfort.

The hope is that they will see how their built environment has a profound effect on their natural environment—and that really everything we do has the ability to have a lasting and positive effect on our shared global environment.

Construction: From Organic Farmland to State of the Art Educational Facility in Under Two Years

Portola High was built by CW Driver, a California construction firm headquartered in Pasadena. Where you now see a state-of-the-art high school was wide open farmland less than two years ago. Mac Byers, Senior Project Manager of the Portola High project at CW Driver talked about the stringent building standards for the construction of this school and the completion of this project.

CW Driver was also the builder for Woodbury and Stonegate Elementary schools here in Irvine, how are education projects different from other types of projects CW Driver works on?

Mac: All educational project fall under the jurisdiction of DSA, Division of the State Architect.  Since they are used for children the design and construction standards are much higher than non-educational standards. Also, many districts like Irvine Unified School District will incorporate additional requirements to provide exceptional learning environments for the students of their district. IUSD, in conjunction with DSA also go to extensive measures to provide a safe and healthy environment for students, faculty and the community as a whole.

CW Driver’s onsite office
CW Driver’s onsite office

This project was divided into four smaller “elementary school” sized projects in order to accelerate the construction schedule. Now that this school will be open to brand new freshmen, how does it feel to see this project completed?

Mac: One of my favorite quotes is, “It is a miracle that anything gets built, whether it is a high-rise or a dog house!” When one considers that every component of a building comes from natural resource; trees, rock, oil, plants, etc. is manufactured, processed, formed to very specific requirements and delivered to a specific location at a specific time and then put together in an expedited manor, using hundreds of companies and thousands of workers, it is a miracle.

There were many decisions and commitments made early on by all stakeholders of the project that have contributed to the extraordinary success of the project. Every construction project has it challenges and problems but with this project and its high level of teamwork, many things went right. 

Portola High gymnasium with seating for 2,000+ people
Portola High gymnasium with seating for 2,000+ people

It is a tremendous satisfaction to have started with an open farm field some two years ago and now hand off a beautiful, start of the art educational facility. Land that was once used to feed the body is now land used to feed the mind! 

To the future students of Portola High School, may this facility provide an environment to help “feed” your mind so you can in return “feed” the world.

There are few milestones in a young person’s life that match that of being a freshman in high school, emotions floating somewhere between nerves and excitement. From its leadership to its design and construction, Portola High has set the tone in its founding principles for its students to become global thinkers of the 21st Century. GO BULLDOGS!

Portola High School
1001 Cadence
Irvine, CA 92618
(949) 936-8202



References   [ + ]

1, 2. http://iusd.org/district_services/facilities_planning_and_construction/documents/PHS-QA-3-1-16.pdf
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End of Summer Bucket List

Here’s our End-of-Summer Bucket List to soak up the last bits of summer! Make sure you check out the links below!

End of Summer Bucket List
End of Summer Bucket List


See an outdoor movie: Movies on the Lawn * Go on a nature hike with friends (Quail Hill Trailhead, Bommer Canyon, Orchard Hills, San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary)  * Play a golf foursome at dawn  (Oak Creek Golf Club, Rancho San Joaquin Golf Course, Strawberry Farms Golf Club). * Go mountain biking through Bommer Canyon * Find a pick-up basketball/football game with your buddies * Take your yoga practice outdoors


Go to a farmer’s market at Mariner’s Church or the Great Park* Take a trip to Pretend City * Go to the water park at Boomers * Make sand castles on the beach * Go to Adventure Playground * Visit Irvine Regional Park * Have a water balloon fight * Rent bikes from Pedego Bikes


Make s’mores with friends* Take a nighttime ride on the orange balloon or ferris wheel * Listen to live music by a local band * Race go-carts at K1 Speed * Sit in the front row at the Irvine Improv * Host a poker night


Host a BBQ * Have a picnic at the park * Have breakfast in bed * Try a new recipe using seasonal ingredients  * Try out a new restaurant for date night (Pictured: truffle garlic bread from North Italia) * Visit a real chocolate factory at Choc XO


Get lost in one of these summer reads * Get that six pack * Donate your time or money towards a cause that speaks to you * Unplug for one day (no computer, tablet, cell phone or TV) * Be a mentor to someone/find a mentor for yourself * Get ridiculously good at something * Pay it forward

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Bistango: A Restaurant That Grew Alongside Irvine

You could say he’s something of an original. And so is his restaurant: Bistango in Irvine. John Ghoukassian is the owner of Bistango Restaurant which will celebrate its 30 year anniversary next year. This is quite a feat considering Irvine itself was only formally incorporated 45 years ago.1)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irvine,_California Here is the behind the scenes story of a restaurant that truly grew alongside the City of Irvine and its owner, whose story will take you half way around the world and then back to Irvine.

PHOTO: Bistango owner John Ghoukassian
PHOTO: Bistango owner John Ghoukassian

John’s First Restaurant Venture and his Narrow Escape from Tehran

Born and raised in Tehran, Iran, John dropped out of college to work for his father who was a restaurateur. Then, as a young man in his late 20s, John opened his own restaurant also in Tehran. He named it the Chattanooga!2)http://www.ocregister.com/articles/restaurant-510794-john-very.html What an impression such a name must have made on the customers in Tehran in the 1960s.

I believe in setting the trends rather than following the trend. Being a very patient person, it has paid off to persevere throughout all these years. – Owner, John Ghoukassian

Even at a young age, John was not one to follow the crowd and his restaurant was one of just a few Western-style restaurants in Tehran at that time. It became a success, seating almost 300 people. But as the Islamic Revolution began intensifying, running a Western-style restaurant in Tehran became extremely risky. When he couldn’t ensure that all the female patrons in the restaurant were covering their faces, he received threats for failing to enforcing Islamic law.3)http://www.ocregister.com/articles/restaurant-510794-john-very.html

The American name of his restaurant may have been some foreshadowing as he would eventually find his way to the United States. When it became too dangerous to stay in Tehran, he narrowly escaped to France where he was granted a visa and reunited with his family. Almost a year later in 1983, he received a visa for the United States.4)http://www.ocregister.com/articles/restaurant-510794-john-very.html

The last three decades have been comprised of many “colorful” years, turning points, ups and downs, hardships and successes. – John Ghoukassian

Soon after his arrival to the United States, he and two business partners took a bold move and opened a restaurant called Bistango in Beverly Hills’ famed Restaurant Row. The restaurant became a success almost immediately and although the partnership dissolved, John opened a second Bistango location, this time a bit south of LA in a young new city named: Irvine. 5)http://www.ocregister.com/articles/restaurant-510794-john-very.html

Bistango Finds its Home in Irvine

It was 1987 and Irvine was nothing like the bustling city that it is today. John leased restaurant space in the business district near John Wayne Airport, where Bistango still remains today. No one thought his restaurant would succeed in the business district.

Well, surely there are more farfetched stories, like a successful restaurant in Tehran named the Chattanooga. So despite the naysayers, John kept a quiet confidence about his restaurant.

PHOTO: Rack of lamb and scallops dishes
PHOTO: Rack of lamb and scallops dishes (Photo courtesy of Bistango Restaurant)

From the start, he made Bistango unique. Bistango offered live music, artwork on the walls and of course, great food. He admits the early years were tough but as Irvine grew, so did his business.

Many people did not think Bistango would be a success when this restaurant first opened in Irvine. But you proved those people wrong and Bistango has experienced much success. To what do you attribute yours and Bistango’s success?  

John: During the last three decades, there were many occasions I could have easily given up when the road got bumpy, but instead of giving up, I adjusted and adapted. You always need to constantly re-evaluate your business and be able to evolve in order to stay ahead. This requires creativity, self-assurance and a vision of where you want the business to go so you don’t become outdated.  

I believe in setting the trends rather than following the trend. Being a very patient person, it has paid off to persevere throughout all these years. With the help of a great team to execute my vision and direction, we have been able to beat the odds.

Speaking of having a great team, Timothy Doolittle, who has spent the last nine years worked alongside the likes of Wolfgang Puck and Emeril Lagasse is Bistango’s Executive Chef. 6)http://bistango.com/executive_chef.html

Bistango is known for “New American” cuisine, what types of cuisine do you draw inspiration from to create a dining experience unique to Bistango?

Timothy: Bistango has a long history that offers me a leg up on creating dishes that our guests will embrace. I am lucky enough to have the input of our longtime General Manager, Ray Saniiand and  owner John Ghoukassian to help me navigate our menu progression.  While I draw my inspiration from many global regions including Europe and Asia, our dishes always have a California touch.

PHOTO: Bistango Executive Chef Tim Doolittle
PHOTO: Bistango Executive Chef Timothy Doolittle (Photo courtesy of Bistango Restaurant)

Finding success in a competitive field, Timothy had this advice for anyone wanting to become a chef.

Timothy: Be realistic about your expectations. The hours are demanding. Holidays are not what they used to be. Failure is far more likely than success. But it can be totally rewarding and worth the tremendous sacrifice. Anything worthwhile is not easy.

While most anyone can grill a filet mignon, it requires far more skill to prepare a cassoulet or short ribs and they are far more satisfying for me, whether I am cooking or eating. Anything worthwhile is not easy. – Executive Chef Timothy Doolittle

What are your signature dishes or favorite ingredients to cook with?

Timothy: Typically I get the most enjoyment from preparing things that take a lot of time like veal stock, sauces, confit, BBQ, roasted or braised meats.  I gain great satisfaction from taking something humble and making it great. Interestingly, what were once considered peasant foods oftentimes demand special attention, base knowledge and experience to get right.  While most anyone can grill a filet mignon, it requires far more skill to prepare a cassoulet or short ribs and they are far more satisfying for me, whether I am cooking or eating.

PHOTO: Chef Doolittle prepares Roasted Ruby Beets salad
PHOTO: Chef Doolittle prepares Roasted Ruby Beets salad (Photo courtesy of Bistango Restaurant)

Bistango has called Irvine its home for almost 30 years. How has it been, watching the restaurant grow as Irvine has grown?

John: The last three decades have been comprised of many “colorful” years, turning points, ups and downs, hardships and successes. As Irvine has grown, we have learned to adjust, adapt and listen to our customers’ needs and the rest becomes second nature.

When asked what he enjoys, John answers with a smile, “Good food, good music and good art!” Visit Bistango to experience its New American cuisine, live music and art. We hope you enjoy dining there especially after getting to know owner John Ghoukassian and Executive Chef Timothy Doolittle a little better.

Bistango Restaurant
19100 Von Karman Avenue
Irvine, California 92612

Zagat Review.

Connect with Bistango on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

References   [ + ]

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irvine,_California
2, 3, 4, 5. http://www.ocregister.com/articles/restaurant-510794-john-very.html
6. http://bistango.com/executive_chef.html
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Google Fiber Coming to Irvine: What this Means for Our City

Google search engine, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive, Chrome, Android, Hangouts, Google Maps, Google Voice. Get ready to add one more to this list of popular Google services: GOOGLE FIBER.

Google Irvine Office
PHOTO: Google’s Irvine office located at 19510 Jamboree Rd #300, Irvine, CA 92612.

Irvine will be Orange County’s first city to have Google Fiber.

Here are some short-term and long-term changes that are headed our way:

    • Google Fiber will offer broadband speeds up to 1 gigabit or 1,000 megabits/second
    • Consumers will likely receive better service and more competitive pricing from existing Internet Service Providers due to competition from Google Fiber
    • Faster internet connection and more affordability will likely mean increased usage of Google’s services by consumers

Irvine currently has two main Internet Service Providers: Cox Communications (Cable) and AT&T U-Verse (DSL).  As of the writing of this article, Cox charges $39.99 for up to 15mbps and AT&T charges $45 for up to 18mbps. Higher connection speeds are offered by both companies: Cox has a package for $84.99 for up to 300mbps and AT&T offers $65 for up to 45mbps. (Note: rates are 1-year promo rates and regular rates are higher for all packages.) AT&T’s U-Verse with GigaPower is also available in some parts of Irvine. Packages range from approximately $80-120, depending on if you allow for tracking of your internet history and targeted banner ads.  Google Fiber packages range from $50 to $130 for internet and TV subscriptions. Small business packages range from $70 to $250.

The timing of when Google Fiber (internal name “Access”) will arrive is yet unclear. Just this week, Google announced that they are putting a hold on plans for Google Fiber in at least two Silicon Valley cities to explore cheaper alternatives for cable networks. Indeed Mountain View and Palo Alto have also had their projects delayed. Last month, Larry Page, CEO of Alphabet ordered that employees on the Google Fiber workforce be cut from 1,000 employees to 500, due to subscription numbers being lower than anticipated.

Previous Google Fiber roll out plans included an estimated 60% of cable networks and 40% aerial. With the recent acquisition of Webpass, a high-speed, fiber internet provider, it is likely Google will focus more on aerial networks using Webpass’ point-to-point wireless connection technologies as opposed to the time-consuming installation of underground fiber cables.

Google Fiber has already gone live in seven major cities all outside of California. Google Fiber is a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google. (Traded as NASDAQ: GOOGL.) Following the restructuring of the company in October of 2015, Google Fiber became part of Alphabet Inc.’s “Access and Energy” business unit.

Some analysts have opined that Google’s intention all along was merely to encourage other ISPs to improve their service and lower their rates so that consumers would have more accessibility to Google products. These analysts suggest Google has no real interest in competing in the ISP market. “It’s not clear (Google was) ever all that serious about doing this at any real size.” said Craig Moffett of MoffettNathanson Research.

Whether Google intends to compete in the ISP market or simply encourage traditional ISPs to build up their own networks, the effect of Google Fiber will be substantial. Roger Entner, an analyst with Recon Analytics LLC was quoted by Bloomberg as saying, “Markets that Google enters enjoy a $20-a-month drop in prices, on average.”

PHOTO: "Irvine welcomes you"
PHOTO: “Irvine welcomes you”

So what else could the arrival of Google mean for us consumers? For entertainment purposes, you’ll be able to stream Game of Thrones or the next Olympics without buffering or stuttering. Gamers will also enjoy a lag-free gaming experience.

On the business side of things, Google has announced Google Fiber packages for small businesses, which could translate to better productivity and more accessibility to higher levels of video conferencing such as HD video conferencing or virtual presence meetings. Other business usages include telemedicine where doctors could simulate office visits with patients without actually meeting in person or virtual coaching sessions between a coach and an athlete or client.

More affordable internet service could also help nonprofit organizations and low-income individuals have more access to high speed internet.

Pros and cons a plenty with the arrival of the internet giant, the company whose unofficial motto is “Do no evil.” One thing is certain, with Irvine’s rapid growth in population and business, the arrival of Google Fiber will only accelerate our growth.

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Sol Sisters: How One UC Irvine Student Turned Hardship into Opportunity

Meet Shelby Anderson. She is all of 20 years old and getting ready to start her 3rd year at UC Irvine this fall. She’s a redhead with bubbly personality and dons cat eye glasses. Yet this unassuming young woman is an entrepreneur. She has started a company that sells UV protective clothing and accessories. Its summer break at UCI, but she is off to have a meeting with her seamstress who will help her design her new line of UV protective baby blankets. Her story of how she became an entrepreneur is as unexpected as her status as a business owner.

Shelby Anderson, owner of Sol Sisters and a 3rd year student at UC Irvine.
Shelby Anderson, owner of Sol Sisters and a 3rd year student at UC Irvine.

Flashback to three summers ago, Shelby is vacationing in Catalina with her family. While helping her family prepare a big meal, she juices limes for a marinade. After squeezing the limes, she washes her hands and goes to the beach. Two days later, she develops large blisters on the tops of her hands the size of tennis balls. She learns from a doctor that she has suffered a severe case of phytophotodermatitis. The phytophotodermatitis caused severe third degree burns and permanent damage to her skin.

Phytophotodermatitis is a chemical reaction that makes a person’s skin extremely sun sensitive. The chemical that causes this reaction can be found in limes, parsley, parsnip, and celery. When the juice from these plants get on a person’s skin and they go in the sun, it makes the person’s skin much more susceptible to getting deeper and more damaging sunburns. The burns can also appear in a bruise like form and often times these burns are mistaken for child abuse when a parent has handled these plants and then held their child.

“I know that there is such a great, big,
beautiful world out there and I want to go experience it,
but I don’t want to have to be afraid of how
it may affect me later.
I want to live life in the sun,
and I want to look good doing it too.”

Shelby Anderson of Sol Sisters

Shelby: Sun safety is an absolute must when you live in Southern California, but most people aren’t aware that you also have to be careful when handling food in the sun, too.

Following her accident, Shelby was told by doctors that she would have to be extremely vigilant about sun exposure because her hands were still healing. As she looked into UV protective clothing, she was disappointed to find that her options were limited to hiking attire or beach wear. This was how she came up with the idea of launching her own apparel company of fashionable UV protective clothing.

Sol Sisters was born.

You’ve gone through something extremely difficult and remarkably, turned it into a passion and a business. As a college student, no less! Please tell us how you became inspired to start your own business.

Shelby: With [the] newfound sensitivity [of my hands], I realized that I should be taking care of the rest of my skin the same way so I can start avoiding skin cancer early on. I’m a regular girl who likes to express her personality through her clothing and I didn’t want to look like Safari Shelby every day. So I decided to fix the problem I was facing and create my own line of fashionable UV protective clothing, cosmetics, and accessories.

UPF Rating in Apparel

Similar to the SPF rating used for sunscreen, UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor and it measures the amount of UV radiation that is absorbed by a fabric. If an article of clothing is rated at “UPF 50” then only 1/50th of the sun’s harmful UV rays will pass through the fabric.

UV Protective blouse from Sol Sisters.
PHOTO: Blue Banana Leaf Sleeveless Tunic from the Sol Sisters store.

To provide some perspective, a thin white cotton T-shirt only provides a UPF of about 5, allowing 1/5 of the sun’s UV rays through to the skin, even more when wet or if the fabric has a loose weave.

Sol Sisters sells fashionable tops, dresses, skirts, scarves, cosmetics and is expanding to carry baby and men’s lines. Shelby sources many of these items wholesale from companies around the world so sun-conscious shoppers can turn to Sol Sisters as a one-stop shop for UV protective apparel.

Pink Tiki Maxi skirt from Sol Sister’s collection with UPF 50.
PHOTO: Pink Tiki Maxi skirt from Sol Sister’s collection with UPF 50.

Wearing Many Hats

Most of your classmates at UCI are living the life of a student while you are juggling both the student life and the life of an entrepreneur. How do you find balance?

Shelby: The only way I manage to do everything I do is with a very supportive family and boyfriend, and a very large calendar. I believe that success has to do with organization and support; it is extremely difficult to keep up with everything if you don’t have some form of plan.

Tell us about what you are studying at UC Irvine and what you’ve learned beyond the classroom. 

Shelby: As for school I am a Social Policy and Public Service major with an emphasis in Education. So essentially I love helping people and educating people, which I feel are two large aspects of Sol Sisters.

With UC Irvine I have had a lot of opportunities to learn skills that don’t always come from the classroom; UC Irvine actually has a resource on campus that provides student entrepreneurs with mentorship and business opportunities: Blackstone LaunchPad. So with my involvement with Blackstone LaunchPad, I was able to participate in business competitions, pitching competitions, and networking events where I learned valuable public speaking skills, networking skills, and just overall how to effectively talk to people from various backgrounds.

Your accident and launching your business, both of these were major events in your life. Please tell us about a person in your life who has been your source of strength and inspiration through it all.

Shelby: Without a doubt, my mother has been the most supportive person in my life. She has always been supportive of my ideas and me thinking outside the box. As a kid I was homeschooled from Kindergarten to 8th grade and she is the one who taught me pretty much everything I know. When I had my accident, she is the one who took care of every need I had, even though she had some burns herself. I was completely incapacitated the two weeks I was in recovery so she had to feed, dress, and basically see to my every need because I couldn’t do it myself.

Now, with Sol Sisters, she is actually my partner in building my line. My mother has a degree from FIDM and has a wealth of knowledge in the fashion world that I am very grateful for. I can truly say that my mother is the strongest, most inspirational, and most creative person I know.

We love that your website is such a positive space for women, fashion and sun safety. Please tell us your favorite motivational quote or your personal mantra.

Shelby: For me, I don’t believe that a woman should have to sacrifice her personal style for the safety of her health; I believe that we can achieve both. I know that there is such a great, big, beautiful world out there and I want to go experience it, but I don’t want to have to be afraid of how it may affect me later. I want to live life in the sun, and I want to look good doing it too.

As unlikely as her start was as an entrepreneur, she’s now a business owner through and through. Staying nimble in today’s ever changing market, Shelby is expanding Sol Sisters to include a baby and men’s line as well.

Shelby holds fabrics that will be used to make the prototype for Sol Sister’s baby blanket line.
PHOTO: Shelby holds fabrics that will be used to make a UV protective baby blanket.

Shelby: When I tell people about [Sol Sisters] they immediately say “I need that!” or “Oh I have a cousin/sister/mom/friend who needs that!” It is the validation that my products are something that people are looking for and needing that just brings me so much joy.  

From now until the end of August, use coupon code: BACK2SCHOOL for 10% off at Sol Sisters for all your UV protective clothing, accessories and cosmetic needs.

Shop Sol Sisters at: https://www.solsisters.us/

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