City Lights: Building a wave of awareness

There is a popular new T-shirt design at Katin Surf Shop in Huntington Beach. But not everyone who buys it may know what it means.

The shirt, which designer Mike Vavak called "Pulse," features a row of rippling waves with the word "olam" — Hebrew for "world" — in the lower right corner.

Drew Middleton, a cashier at the store, said Tuesday evening that Katin has already sold its out its one box of Pulse and had to order another.

Vavak, a Sunset Beach resident, grew up in Orange County and has worked in the surfing industry for years. His design, though, has nothing to do with catching a wave.

Vavak lost his first child at birth two years ago, and he started a charity, the Olam Project, to benefit other families going through tough times. The "Pulse" design, then, signifies the growth of a social movement — or so its creator hopes.

"It's a building wave, and this company is about building awareness," Vavak said. "Just like anything, you've got to start at the beginning and wait until it reaches its peak."

Vavak, whose shirts are on sale online and at two retailers, is open about his life story. On his website,, he describes how he dreamed of being a father since he was 15 and how he told his future wife that their first child would be a boy named Milo David.

That dream nearly became a reality before Milo was stillborn in 2009.

I have known people who lost children at birth before, and when I called Vavak, I was ready to tread lightly with my questions. But he quickly told me to ask anything I wanted. Stillbirths, he said, are a common problem that society seldom addresses, and he hopes through the Olam Project to increase awareness.

"Everyone who's been through a stillbirth, I just want to let them know they're not alone in that journey," he said.

Vavak launched his project late last year with the intent of diverting part of the proceeds to different charities. Until October, 20% of every Pulse T-shirt will go to the OC Walk to Remember, which supports parents who have lost a child in pregnancy or infancy.

So far, Vavak said, he's printed about 70 shirts and sold nearly all of them. He's started his campaign with a few local distributors, but would like to expand it regionally and even nationally in the future.

In the meantime, he and his wife finally realized their dream in July when their son, Shaiah Olim, was born.

"He's a little gift from God," Vavak said. "It was a long road to get him here."

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at

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