A supplier story: Sealand.
Over the course of the last year and looking ahead to 2020, we’ve made significant strides to work with manufacturers and suppliers who own their supply chain who understand that the future of production takes into account raw materials and the people who turn them from nothing into something.
With that, our buying and merchandising team came across Sealand, located in sunny Cape Town who have built their business out of product made from upcycling sea sails.
The Sealand co-founders Jasper Eale and Mike Schlebach started the business four years ago, Mike hailing from a manufacturing background and Jasper from the world of industrial design. Their website was launched in 2016 and from there the business has grown rapidly. The “Toastie” travel bag and Duffel Bag stand out as worldwide favourites amongst their high quality products. Having now opened two stores in Cape Town, they are selling their wares locally and internationally, with global demand increasing for sustainably sourced and ethically-produced products.
At Sealand HQ in Cape Town, there are fourteen machinists in house. But given the company’s rapid growth, these guys aren’t enough to sustain production demands. “We have brought on quite a few new retail partners [recently],” says Mike. “So what was suitable from a manufacturing perspective a year and a half ago is not suitable right now.”
However, unlike many global brands who scale quickly and lose sight of their supply chain, Sealand have remained vigilant as they’ve expanded. “We have brought on three external manufacturing partners that have their own small factories, that are taking up a lot of our bulk work,” Mike remarks. “...external manufacturers that fit our ethos, that pay their staff well and have good factories. Otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to keep up.”
Sealand’s arrival into the world of retail was particularly timely. The awareness around fast fashion and inequity of labour has grown and people are no longer content with mass-produced products from murky origins. Companies want to (at least, ostensibly) work with more sustainable brands, but in the battle between being eco-conscious and hyper-profitable, the bottom line often wins out. One of the barriers to collaboration with upcycled and specialty materials, Mike notes, is the higher cost: “The one downside to using waste products and upcycling is that it is costly, the materials aren’t that expensive, [it’s] the labour aspect.”
Sealand work with a number of core materials, all of which are upcycled and from which all of their products are made. The first being yacht sails, which they acquire through agreements with yacht clubs all along the South African coast. As the business scales, they have also forged relationships with the sail manufacturers where they can buy defective rolls of materials that otherwise would have been thrown out.
Another core material is Canvas. Given South Africa has the biggest bedouin stretch tent industry in the world, this is an obvious medium of creation for the team. UV protected, waterproof and fire repellent, it’s the ideal base for any product that has to brave the elements.
A lot of the colour you see in Sealand’s products is derived from materials called Recover. The Ferre family, who have run the Spanish business by the same name for almost a century, have been pioneers of upcycling since 1914. During the first World War, in the face of supply shortages they began turning textile waste into yarn. The material Sealand use by Recover is made from 100% recycled plastic bottles and upcycled cotton waste. The cotton waste--which comes from the fashion industry--is bundled and blended in order to extract the fabric colour. This process enables companies like Sealand avoid the use of environmentally harmful chemical dyes. To boot, Recover proudly runs on 50% solar energy and uses zero water in their upcycling process.
As Sealand grows, the ethos has remained emphatically unchanged. They stand as proof that a set of ideals need not be swapped out for convenience; that mission can be more than just a statement on a website. For us, seeking out and building relationships with suppliers like Sealand allows us to be more thoughtful and create a gifting experience indicative of both our brand and that of the clients we work with.