This week Seasalt turns thirty, here Neil Chadwick remembers the influences and early days that inspired our wonderful seaside company.
“In the seventies it used to take eight hours to get to Cornwall, even with leaving at two o’clock in the morning. We’d arrive just in time for Mrs Richards to make us breakfast in St Ives.
Our B&B was right next to the artist studios in Back Road West and when we moved down here in 1981 we moved into the same cottage permanently – Dad had quietly bought the house after breakfast one morning a few years before. It was perfect timing because our shop in the Midlands had started to suffer in the worsening recession. Businesses were closing everywhere and it was a strange sight driving through once thriving areas of Walsall and Wednesbury seeing factories that had removed their roofs. The law at the time curiously stated that if there wasn’t a roof on the building you didn’t have to pay rates.
In 1980, on a fairly typical drizzly August day whilst on holiday, my brother David and Dad went to Penzance and came across a shop called General Clothing Stores. It sold government surplus clothing, fisherman smocks, rigger boots, gloves and balaclavas for cauliflower and daffodil pickers, and wellies. You name it, if it was practical and useful, Mrs Strutt sold it. David bought an army parka and dad and Mrs Strutt got on like a house on fire. She was from Palfrey, Walsall – just round the corner from our shop in Caldmore, which gave them lots to talk about. They got on so well in fact that after half an hour they’d shaken hands on the sale of the shop. It was a great stroke of luck for our family; Dad had managed to sell off his shop in Walsall and buy one in Penzance. He always said that this was one of the most fortunate times for our family and looking back over thirty years he was right.
I was in the last year of school when my father moved down to start the new venture. We opened in July 1981 and remember the winter of that year very well, because the Penlee lifeboat disaster happened just along the coast towards Lands End. The next few years Dad built up the business and I’d be working holidays and weekends, eventually joining the business full time in 1991. Brother David had joined the business in 1984 and for five years we all worked together. The business had changed quite a lot and we sold camping and outdoor gear as well by that time. Then, as now, we were so busy in the summer. It seemed to rain non-stop and we sold heaps of waterproof jackets. So many in fact that my other brother Leigh used to go to the factories in Birmingham to buy the cagoules and wax jackets and meet Dad on the M5, just so we didn’t run out of stock.
By 1995 we were ready for another shop and we knew exactly which one we wanted. A beautiful shop called Blenkinsops in Falmouth, Number 1, Church Street. We were busy from the first day; it was a revelation for us that with a busy main street location we’d do so well.
I moved to Falmouth fulltime and in 1999 we had our second biggest stroke of good luck. We were offered 14,000 pairs of amazing quality walking boots and shoes from a company in the north that was closing down. We only sold a thousand pairs of shoes a year at that time, so it felt like a massive risk to us, but we went for it. My other brother Leigh stumped up some extra cash for us to do the deal and two weeks later we were the proud owner of a warehouse full of shoes.
Just after that we were offered a shop in Fore Street St Ives and decided to buy it – we had to sell the shoes somewhere! Thank goodness they flew out, we’d sold the lot in a year and that set us up to open shop number four, in Truro. It was an exciting time for us, but in 2001 we were knocked back when Dad became very ill and passed away.
In 2003 we’d made a decision that we wanted to design and sell our own line of clothing and we’d always been interested in sustainable textiles. So, I contacted the Soil Association and talked with them about organic cotton, something that was hardly heard of at the time. It turned out that no fashion company had ever used Soil Association certified cotton in their range, we saw the opportunity: to produce environmentally sound clothing whenever we can, reflecting the Cornish heritage that we love.
Luckily, I’d met my future wife Sophie by then – a graduate in textile design, so we had some design expertise as well! It was around this time that brother Leigh also joined the business full time, after working with us part time for a few years. We changed the name of our business to reflect our coastal heritage and that’s when we became Seasalt. At this point a few devoted customers will have noticed I’ve skimmed over a short period around 2004 when we had another name, Wildlife. A brilliant name I thought, except that we were inundated with people looking after injured seagulls, so we had to change it… Eight years on and Seasalt is thriving.
We design products that speak of the fantastic place where we live and the people who share it with us.
The heritage of Cornwall, the creativity and the maritime history are what make our clothing what it is. And every day when we look out of our design office overlooking Falmouth Bay or out of the shop doorways of most of our shops to the local harbour, we feel inspired. We’ve now got twelve shops and have around 300 stockists in Britain and Europe.
Thirty years on since we started our first shop, we feel incredibly lucky to live and work in such a beautiful county. We work with a wonderful team of people, lots of whom have been with us for many years and without them we of course wouldn’t have a business at all, thank you.
But most of all we thank you our customers, our most important people. Thank you for supporting us all this time and we look forward to the next thirty years with more excitement than ever.”
Find out more about the Seasalt historic family tree…