In the first of our celebratory series, we look back to where it all began.
This year marks four decades since a rainy day in Penzance, when the Chadwick family took shelter in an old, tucked-away general store and ended up buying it. From that one shop we’ve grown to over sixty, and the family has become a community.
Over the next year, we’ll be shining a light on some of the many people who have made Seasalt what it is today. What better way to start our series than with founders Neil and Sophie Chadwick?
Our first shop was (and still is) up a little side street near the train station in Penzance. Then, it had second-hand army clothing and work boots hanging up outside. It sold fisherman’s smocks, Guernsey pullovers, sea boot socks: practical, functional clothing.
Coming out of the doorway was an old fisherman, who we got talking to. He introduced us to the lady that owned it, and she said she might want to sell. Within half an hour Dad had shaken hands with her to buy the shop.
Whilst we were chatting, we also bought a beautiful yellow raincoat. It’s been a huge source of inspiration over the years, and I still show it to people on their first day at Seasalt.
My childhood memories of the family business are mostly of hard work! Our first customers were farmers, fishermen and artists from Newlyn and St Ives. We lived next to the school of painting, and lots of the old artists shopped with us regularly.
Our life at that time provided us with all the inspiration we would ever need to make beautiful, practical clothing. We also learnt that you need to really care for your customers, provide good value, and a knowledgeable, friendly service. These are still the things we obsess about.
Of course, It was when I met Sophie that Seasalt started as it is now. Without her it wouldn’t exist.
I was a freelance textile designer when I met Neil and the ideas started to roll…He is a big picture person, and I have an eye for detail, so we make a good partnership.
At the beginning, we all did many jobs.
Sue designed the clothing, and I helped with colour, stripes, ideas and designing accessories. I even remember hand-painting pictures of each garment for the wholesale workbook one season!
Family members all played a little part in the jigsaw: Dad helping to sell jute bags at the Royal Cornwall Show, my auntie painting huge murals for our shops.
One of my favourite prints, ‘Kaye’s Floral’, was created by my mum. She was a florist and keen gardener; I can hear her telling me to make flowers and leaves look like they are growing.
We did printed wellies to go with the first clothes we made, then printed pieces started to creep into each collection. Today, we have an in-house print team, but every design still starts by hand: painted, drawn or printed.
They’re always drawn from the stunning, diverse scenery that surrounds us, from the calm sea and picturesque harbours of the south coast to the rugged north coast.
One of my most-worn coats has a strong, geometric pattern, from our CLAY collection. It has abstract designs, echoing the shapes of the China Clay works in St Austell; not the normal starting point for a pretty print design!
If my mum, and Neil’s parents, could see where Seasalt is now, they would be so proud. We all had such a thrill when we went on holiday and spotted a Seasalt garment or bag being worn.
Even though we have grown we remain true to our principles, from sourcing to design. From the beginning we wanted to create a business that did things in the right way, and at the same time gave back to the county that’s given us so much.
Today we work with so many fabulously creative and talented people, in Cornwall and across the UK. We’re so grateful for them and everyone who wears and loves Seasalt.