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Three Surf-Inspired Brands That Give Back

How the Pacific Ocean creates so much more than waves

Words by THE EDITORS

 

In the wake of Kelly Slater’s apparel brand, Outerknown, and Laird Hamilton’s dietary supplements range, called Laird Superfood, the surf-inspired brands coming out of California are on a roll. Among the latest crop of environmentally friendly companies is an organic tequila, an eco-conscious haircare range, and a line of limited-edition upcycled surfboard bags made from coffee bean sacks. As the brands’ respective founders look to gain traction in the surf world and beyond, here they share with us the ways in which they’re also giving back to their local California communities.

 

SOLENTO

Legendary surf filmmaker Taylor Steele — whose documentaries have helped launch the careers of a generation of world-class riders (Kelly Slater, Shane Dorian and Big Todd Levy) and SoCal-bred musicians (Blink-182, Pennywise and Jack Johnson) — describes his filmmaking as a blend: “It’s an art and a science.” This past fall, the San Diego native, who divides his time between Solana Beach and New York, has flipped the script with the launch of Solento Organic Tequila, produced in partnership with Amatitán, Jalisco’s famed Montes family. While it may sound like a departure from filmmaking, this new venture, to Steele, is an evolution. “The similarities between the two lie in the creative and technical processes and the forming of a community,” he says. Having spent much of the past year diving with sharks for a series destined for National Geographic, Steele says nothing beats a Solento Blanco on the rocks with a twist of lemon after a long shoot day. Though, he admits: “It really doesn’t matter where or when, it’s all about the people you are surrounded by.”

 

How does the ocean play its part in your brand?
Taylor Steele: The ocean has taught me many things, such as presence and patience. The peaceful process of patiently waiting for your wave, being completely in the moment and knowing that wait is going to be worth it. This same sentiment carries over to Solento, the slow process of growing agave (which takes, [at a] minimum, seven years), aging the agave (nine months for reposado and 18 months for añejo), and the slow process of sipping the tequila over ice. The ocean also plays a part in our bottle design — the ribs that curve in a circular motion across the body of the bottle were designed to celebrate sun rays and waves.

 

How would you describe your brand’s philosophy?
We created Solento as an ode to mindful moments and meaningful conversation, savoring the last hours of the day and catching a wave. Even when time moves fast, we want Solento to be a welcome pause amid the endless pursuit of more.

Tell us what makes your tequila unique?
Our partners, the Montes family, have spent over 60 years perfecting the process, to create a single estate, certified organic, small-batch tequila. It’s a product that respects the environment, from harvest to production.

 

“We created Solento as an ode to mindful moments, savoring the last hours of the day and catching a wave”

Taylor Steele

 

What will Solento’s next steps be in a post-COVID world?
The restaurant and hospitality industry has been hit hard. We’re working on ways we can support it now and when we are able to reconvene together outside. While we are able to sell through online retailers, we’ll be focused on building out partnerships with our favorite bars and restaurants in both New York and California, and finding ways we can activate and help reinvigorate their spaces.

 

KELSEN

Created by Evan Caples along with his pro skater son, Curren; his pro skater friend, Sean Malto; and pro surfers Jack Freestone and Mikey February, new Ventura-based clean hair brand Kelsen launched with a mission to be gentle on the planet without sacrificing quality. Given that the outdoors is essentially their workspace, this environmentally conscious California quartet zealously champions the natural world. Loaded with ingredients like sea rock fennel, organic kelp and sea holly, and formulated without synthetics or environmentally destructive microplastics, the collection comprises three performance-driven products: a two-in-one shampoo and body wash; a conditioner; and a pomade. Kelsen’s eco-friendly packaging is composed of recyclable bio-plastic tubes made from sugarcane and compostable caps, and the company donates 1 percent of its sales revenue to the organization 1% For the Planet. Caples says, “[It] feels good, knowing I’m not washing microplastics down the drain every time I shower.”

 

Why did you launch Kelsen?
Evan Caples: I always wanted to start a company with my son, Curren, who is a professional skateboarder, but didn’t want to do something that would be a  conflict with any of his sponsors (clothing, shoes or any other skateboarding products). Then he gained sponsorship from Target, and that’s when the idea presented itself. Both of us love hair products and lotions, so it made perfect sense.

How are your surroundings important to what you do?
Our four co-founding professional athletes are some of the best, most stylish surfers and skaters in the world. Being that these guys are constantly traveling the world and living a life most would dream of, their experiences are what inspires our brand.

How does California inform or inspire your work?
California is the epicenter of the surf and skate world. And of course entertainment too, so there’s so much to get inspired by. Being environmentally friendly is a way of life here, so it’s only natural that Kelsen has that in its DNA.

 

“Kelsen could have gone to market with formulas that contained microplastics, but instead we took the road less traveled”

Evan Caples

 

What’s the concept at the core of your brand?
Our mantra is “digging in at every turn.” Just like our athletes, [who] dug in and worked hard for everything they have achieved. What that means is, everything is deeply thought out. We could have gone to market with formulas that contained microplastics and synthetics, packaged in plastic. But instead we took the road less traveled and created a microplastic-free line with sustainable packaging. It took longer than expected, the materials cost more, but the benefits made it all worthwhile.

Tell us about your hero product.
It’s a cream pomade that adds light hold and lasting texture to create an all-day natural look. Made with organic ingredients and free of synthetics and microplastics. It has our proprietary marine performance blend that consists of sustainably harvested sea rock fennel, kelp and sea holly. It’s gained amazing reviews from customers and reviewers alike. Our shampoo/body wash and conditioner are amazing as well.

What are your next goals for Kelsen?
Our plan is to focus heavily on rounding out our brand. We will be introducing a more unisex feel and add some new products to our offering.

 

 

SAGEBRUSH BOARD BAGS

Created by coldwater surfer Anna Ehrgott, Sagebrush Board Bags takes coffee bean sacks from organic, fair-trade roasteries and turns them into limited-edition surfboard covers. The resulting bags, which feature a polyester liner to repel wax and water, are sturdy enough to keep up with the bumpy rides and long-distance travel that is the norm for a recreational surfer. “The first board bag I ever made has survived Hawaii, Baja, Oregon and a 21-mile hike … and it’s still holding up fine,” says Ehrgott from her home in Southern California. Since the rise of COVID-19, she has pivoted to making face masks.

When did you launch the brand?
Anna Ehrgott: I launched Sagebrush Board Bags as a small surf brand in 2014. I had bought a board off a friend and looked through a few surf shops and wasn’t able to find a daily-use surfboard bag that looked like it could last. I had some fabric lying around and decided to try my luck making my own. Friends started ordering them, then stores, then I started up an online shop.

What is your professional background?
I grew up in Topanga Canyon with nature ingrained in every part of my existence. We had mountain lions frequent our backyard, and hikes were a daily occurrence. I found surfing at the age of 9, and that’s directed my life toward a lifestyle of being outdoors as much as possible. After high school, I worked as a seamstress, worked retail, assisted photographers and modeled — gaining all the experience I needed to start my own brand. I also surf professionally, so I have a creative outlet and physical outlet.

 

Where are you based?
I’m based in Ventura, a small coastal town with plenty of waves and a strong community. I’m waiting out quarantine in San Clemente with my boyfriend. I brought my sewing machine down and have been working away here for over a month now.

How many face masks have you made so far? 
Over 400. Most of which have been donated. I have been selling them on my site to keep up with material and shipping costs. I’ve also been fortunate to receive fabric donations from several companies, such as Hoffman California Fabrics, Howler Brothers, and Prana. A few friends in the area also swung by and dropped off thread for my sewing machine, as I burned through my reserves. I began turning my office into a small-production room at the beginning of April. If I work from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., I can make about 60, but I’ve slowed to about 40/50 a day now, which seems more sustainable.

 

“I began turning my office into a small-production room for face masks at the beginning of April”

Anna Ehrgott

 

Where have you sent the masks? 
Lifeguards of San Onofre Beach and Crystal Cove in Orange County; workers at a Trader Joe’s in San Diego; all the workers of The Ecology Center farm in San Juan Capistrano; and dozens of first responder families, including physical therapists working with native reservations, ER doctors, nurses, etc. I’m currently making more to donate to an organization called Family Assistance, who works to help the hungry and homeless. Many children’s hospitals are requiring that visitors wear them, so those facilities are accepting donations as well.

 

How did you learn to sew? 
My grandma, who’s now in a care home, taught me how to sew when I was 7. It was her passion. She had a closet full of the most beautiful fabric and vintage accessories, with an old-school Singer sewing machine — the kind that’s built onto the table. I idolized her and her abilities to sew and quilt. She taught me to make pillows, and we’d experiment, making clothing. I pleaded for her to teach me everything she knew, and she was a patient teacher. It’s people like her that I’m most concerned for, and I want to pay back the love she’s given me and show her generation our gratitude in this small way of sewing masks for all.

 

April 30, 2020

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