Seaweed to T-Shirts with Inland Sea

We've known Adam at Inland Sea for a little while, he's been a loyal subscriber and his brand, based in Manchester has always carried a message which resonates with us. We're also fans of his podcast as well ‘Things can only get Greta’, which he does with his partner Vic. So when he told us about his new project of using seaweed to produce fibre for t-shirts we needed to find out more. 
Firstly can you give us a bit of background about yourself, and Inland Sea before seaweed? 

I setup Inland Sea in 2017, initially to raise awareness of plastic pollution and litter in the city and how that ends up in the sea.  We were based in Manchester at that time and the first t-shirt design we did was in response to the Manchester Bomb, we did a colab with a friend and brilliant illustrator called Beth Travers and created a Manchester Bee t-shirt.  We screen printed that on a load of organic t-shirts and this was the start of Inland Sea.  At that time, t-shirts made from recycled plastic bottles and organic cotton were really difficult to find, especially if you were a start-up clothing brand who wanted blank t-shirts.  I went to a Patagonia event in Manchester and chatted to the guys there, along with a brilliant talk by Gabe Davies who I chatted to afterwards.  I learned more about where Patagonia were getting their t-shirts made at that time and also showed my ideas to them, they gave me tonnes of encouragement which led me to finding a company in the states who used a blend of 50% recycled plastic bottles and 50% organic cotton.  I designed 2 t-shirts, one our Guide to Waves t-shirt (which we still do now) and another our strap-line ‘Born in the city thrown in the sea’.  I went for a safe bet of black and white tees and placed the order for 500 t-shirts, which I put on my credit card! 

A month or so later, I got an email from customs saying the the t-shirts had arrived and were now in customs with a £350 customs import charge which I obviously had no choice but to pay!  I setup a small WordPress website and went about promoting the t-shirts, along with the Manchester Bee tee.

At the time hardly anyone knew you could make t-shirts using recycled plastic bottles.  It’s difficult to imagine now, but Surfer Against Sewage were only just really pushing plastic pollution and making people aware of just how bad the problem was.  Along came David Attenbourgh’s Blue Planet and the astonishing footage of the great pacific garbage patch. Greta Thunburg’s first school strike was only in August that year then Extinction Rebellion founded in 2018 there was suddenly a Climate Change revolution happening.  

All this mobilised me to ensure Inland Sea always had the climate crisis at the forefront of it’s mission, using plastic pollution really as a catalyst to help lead and educate people about all the little adjustments they can make in their life to help solve the climate crisis.

This all led me to learn about seaweed and the insane uses, benefits and actual real potential to save the world from climate change. 

Bladderwrack seaweed in Wales (Photo; Phil Boyd)

I'd never heard of fibre from seaweed, where did you come across it? 

I run a podcast called ‘Things can only get Greta’ with my partner Vic.  It’s a funny, light hearted take on the climate crisis, as we wanted to make a very serious subject which so many people try to avoid, accessible to as many people as possible.  We have had guests on such as Sian Berry co leader of the Green Party, Dr Tony Butt (most SP with know who he is!), Allanna Shaikh (who is a pandemic expert) plus many more.  This led us to chat with Alec Watt who runs Green Ocean Farming near Plymouth.  I had heard that seaweed was amazing to help tackle climate change as it can soak up to 20 times more carbon than the equivalent land based forest.  There seemed to be hardly anyone setup to know about seaweed, the only person I could find was Alec.  So I sent him an email to see if he would come on our podcast so we could learn more about seaweed.  We learned that Green Ocean Farming was actually a seaweed farm based on the south coast, but also acted as a consultancy to help other seaweed farms get setup in the UK, as this industry is very much in its infancy.  This amazing conversation led me to learn that seaweed can actually be used to create a material which could then be blended with cotton to make clothing.  So I did the obvious and searched for clothing brands who used seaweed fibre, and there were non in the UK, the only one I found who seemed to be making a big thing about it was in Brazil.  The idea was seeded at this point, but my issue at this point was I had no knowledge of where to source the seaweed fibre, let alone get clothing made using it.

Shortly after this, I started another podcast called Ethical Pages Podcast to basically chat with other ethical business owners about their journey and all the difficult challenges they face trying to run a sustainable, environmentally friendly business.  This led me to chat with a brilliant business owner and golf enthusiast called Ed Sandison who had identified a massive issue within the golf industry with using single use plastic and a huge carbon footprint. This had led him to come up with the idea if creating a bamboo tee made from sustainable bamboo to replace the millions of single use plastic gold tees used everyday (Kelly Slater take note!).  A simple but revolutionary idea as it has allowed him to create a apparel for that industry which has otherwise not been bothered about the environmental impacts of golf.  Again from this conversation I learned where Ed got his sustainable clothing made and boom I had found a garment manufacturer who made t-shirts using seaweed fibre.  Moral of the story is, start a podcast! (Or listen to mine…)

So I had found the factory, the idea was all in place but the biggest issue for any tiny independent clothing brand is cash.  So I setup the project as a crowdfunded using Kickstarter. 

Give us a rundown on the whole project/crowdfunder and about the seaweed guys 

So the Kickstarter began on 21st January and runs for 30 days, which is the time period they recommend.  Our target funding goal is £13,444 which will allow us to create a series of t-shirts made from organic cotton and seaweed fibre.  The way Kickstarters work is you can choose to pledge a certain amount of money from £1+ and in return you get a reward.  For our Kickstarter the reward is obviously a t-shirt.  The Kickstarter is also open to trade, with a minimum of 50 t-shirts available for trade only, we hope any retail, surf or outdoor shop recognise this as an amazing opportunity to offer their customers a completely unique t-shirt in time for Spring (where let’s all hope we will be out of the pandemic and life can return to some normality).

The idea doesn’t with just a t-shirt though, as we know that the world doesn’t need another t-shirt with a thow away slogan on it.  Our model is to also invest back into seaweed farms here in the UK to help offset our carbon footprint and become a carbon positive clothing brand.  This model is very similar to businesses who say they plant a tree per order you make.  We do something similar but invest in seaweed farms which are only in their infancy especially in the UK but they hold incredible potential to help solve the climate crisis but they need investment, careful planning and people need to be made aware of the benefits seaweed can have.  I challenge anyone to find anything wrong with seaweed, (apart from when it gets wrapped around your leash!) he uses and benefits seem endless and this is why we are so excited about using it here at Inland Sea

Could seaweed be scaled up and used more widely? 

Our dream scenario would be to one day have our own seaweed farm in Wales which we could use for our t-shirts and also for various other incredible uses for fertilisers to grow better crops, food for cattle (seaweed has been proven to reduce methane in cows by up to 90% - another climate crisis solution), for food (all the seaweed in the UK is edible!), in skin care products, or used in supplements to help iodine deficiency (seaweed is very high in iodine)… another way seaweed can be used is to soak up pollution, as it’s been proven to help restore so called ‘dead zones’… - it’s insane I could write forever about all the uses and benefits seaweed can bring. 
So, yes in answer to the question.  Although as we should be careful in messing around with the natural habitat, especially in the oceans.  If seaweed farms could be established around the UK where everyone, including nature can benefit it could be scale up massively. 
The final note is that if we do create more and more seaweed farms this will mean more carbon can be soaked up from the atmosphere, quicker and in must greater amounts.  Therefore we can contribute to solving the climate crisis. A tree can take years to start to have any impact on carbon capture, seaweed takes a matter of weeks if not days.
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