A very Cornish brand

Neil Chadwick, one of the founders of Seasalt

Neil Chadwick, one of the founders of Seasalt - Credit: Archant

It all began on a wet August day in 1981 – when brothers Donald and David Chadwick were hunting for an army surplus parka in Penzance, but the family came away with the shop instead. Carol Burns finds out more

Originally selling government surplus clothing and workwear, the General Clothing Store in Penzance became the first Seasalt shop when it began selling its own designs, and was among the first to utilise fair trade cotton. A second shop opened in 1996 in Falmouth and the company has now grown to 16 shops throughout the South West and more than 250 outlets in the UK. Seasalt employs more than 300 people, most in Cornwall and products are often locally-made – including fishermen’s smocks made in St Just. The three brothers David, Leigh and Neil continue to work in the company along with their partners and have kept Cornwall and its coastal heritage at its heart and Neil tells me their aim is to become Cornwall’s top private employer over the next two years and continue to support the remaining maritime textile traditions both in Cornwall and other coastal areas of the UK.

Neil admits, they saw the potential of Seasalt from the off. “The family already had two shops in the Midlands in the trade and we knew the business very well. In fact the rag trade is all we’ve ever known, and we were very ambitious right from the start.

“We are passionate about the benefits that growing our business can have on the local and national economy. Cornwall is inherent to the vision and brand,” he says. Their design studios look out across Falmouth Bay to St Anthony lighthouse on the Roseland Peninsula. “Cornwall is a fantastically creative area and it’s been inspiring artists, sculptors and writers for generations.

“The environment and the people of Cornwall have shaped the way our brand has designed clothing and represented itself throughout the UK. Without Cornwall there would be no Seasalt!”

But it’s far from a one-way street. “We promote Cornish heritage at every available opportunity, whether it be gig rowing, sea shanty festivals, Cornish artistic heritage, beaches or gardens.

“Our products stays true to the original garments we designed and are very useful for the Cornish environment and way of life. Our beautiful location photography gives us the chance to showcase Cornwall’s fantastic scenery as well as its hidden corners, and we include features in our catalogues and on our website on Cornish people like Joe the Boatman on Scilly, crab fisherman Nigel Legge who launches from the beautiful port of Cadgwith, or Cindy, the Jungle Gardener at the Lost Gardens of Heligan.”

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The look developed by Seasalt combines class and function: style with a real Cornish feel, which he says remains vital to their brand. Evidenced in the many Cornish named designs: Pendeen Jumper, Tremedda Top and the Swanpool Tunic.

“It doesn’t really matter if people don’t necessarily recognise the significance of the garment name,” Neil admits. “But for those who do it can feel like they’re in on something with us and gives a real sense of inclusion.

“As well as the physical environment, it’s the culture and heritage of Cornwall that’s key for us too and we show this through initiatives like our Locally Made range, where small producers make us things like traditional fishermen’s smocks and canvas,” he continues. “For many years we sold a mixture of clothing made by other brands and some of which we had made especially for us. These garments included stripey tops, yellow waterproof jackets and Guernsey pullovers. These functional garments were ideal for the Cornwall, and to this day the influence of these designs can be seen in Seasalt products. We aim for all items that bear the Seasalt name to be beautifully designed and useful.”

A decade ago, when Neil married textile designer Sophie, he recognised the opportunities within organic cotton garments. “We went to Tanzania, India and Turkey looking for a source. Organic textiles were not well-known at that time but in 2005 we became the first company to gain Soil Association certification on cotton garments.

“With Sophie’s design skills and my eye for a business opportunity, Seasalt as a fashion brand was born.

“Right from the start it was important that our approach to business was in the most sustainable way possible. We aim to have an impact internationally and at a local level. This is demonstrated through our wide-scale use of organic cotton, and the beneficial environmental impact that it has, and also through the support of local charities and small manufacturers. At the same time we still aim to be a cool fashion brand and well-known company throughout the UK and internationally. We have been fairly successful in that our sustainable approach to business has been recognised by the Queen’s Award in 2013, and also becoming Drapers Womenswear Brand of the Year 2013, one of the highest accolades a fashion company can achieve.

“Internationally we sell to Japan and the Netherlands and our brand is becoming increasingly recognised with trade on the website growing substantially from around the world. We certainly see the appeal of Cornwall as global.”

The future is bright for Seasalt, which aims to become one of Cornwall’s top private employers, offering jobs at all skill levels. By 2016 they aim to employ 500 people.

“Despite our growth our values remain the same as they did years ago. It is very important to us that we respect our local community, and that all our employees and suppliers share in the benefits of our growing business.

“Although Seasalt has grown, the simple way of life that we love in Cornwall still remains at our heart.”

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