Creators of Toronto | The Saltwater Collective

By Taylor Aplas February 19, 2016
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This month at BrainStation Toronto we had the opportunity to chat with Julie Flesch and Kelsey Davis, co-founders of The Saltwater Collective. We loved learning about this Toronto company and how the brand is bringing awareness to environmental issues.

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Tell us a bit about The Saltwater Collective.

The Saltwater Collective is a lifestyle brand and a movement focused on ocean conservation. We strive to use our clothing and our branding to remind people that the ocean is relevant to everyone, whether you live in a big city or on the coast, and the choices we make everyday matter.  Our hope is that through fashion, we can inspire changes in our patterns of consumption – things like our widespread use of plastic products, the way we use energy, the kinds of seafood we eat, and the chemicals we wash into our water systems.

As a brand focused on sustainability, we work with local factories to ensure that our production process places minimal stress on our oceans and each material we use, whether inks, textiles or packaging, is chosen mindful of our impact on the environment. We also support efforts to restore our oceans by donating a portion of every sale is to an international organization called Oceana, the largest international advocacy organization focused solely on ocean conservation

What inspired you to start this company?

Both Kelsey and I have been fascinated by the ocean and ever since we were kids. About a year ago we were exposed to a number of documentaries that uncover the environmental crisis occurring in our oceans and it wasn’t really until then that we began to truly understand how drastically humans are damaging the global ocean and the impact it has on humankind.

We came to realize that all of the changes we’re seeing in our oceans are part of the bigger picture of climate change, a phenomenon we believe is the defining issue of our time. We wanted to create a brand that would inspire a change the way mainstream culture thinks about our connection to the oceans and our treatment of our planet.

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We love that you donate a portion of each sale towards a good cause. Why ocean conservation?

The oceans are without doubt the most important player in the climate change story. They have become global dumping grounds for all kinds of chemical and plastic waste, we have fished over 90% of the ocean’s big fish and our carbon-intensive economies are creating large ocean “dead-zones” that are totally inhabitable for marine life.

The pollution, species loss, ocean acidification, and food/water scarcity that is resulting from our treatment of the oceans is truly infathomable. Our focus really stems from a belief that in order to protect our own future and to enrich our lives, we desperately need to change our relationship with the oceans.

What have you found to be the most successful marketing tactic to build your brand?

Definitely harnessing the power of Instagram! The platform has been a really great tool for us to connect with people who our cause resonates with and to carry messages not only about our product line, but about our mission. It’s also allowed us to connect with photographers from all over the world and collaborate with them to generate content that makes our cause relevant to people in both coastal and urban places.

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What advice would you give to entrepreneurs trying to build a brand from scratch?

I think a big piece of starting up any creative business or brand is to really focus on telling a story. Having a clear idea of what your message is and what ideas your brand promotes is what sets you apart and what will help you get noticed. A strong understanding of your story will also help guide your decisions as you design your product, market your product and decide where and how you want to sell your stuff. There are a ton of really great brands out there right now and I think people also expect companies these days to do something positive for their communities. Making sure you have a solid vision for your company and grounding yourself in inspiring some kind of change will help people connect with your brand on a positive level.

How do you build buzz amongst the sea (pun intended) of lifestyle & clothing brands out there?

This is definitely tough because there really are so many brands out there and it can often be difficult to maintain your own flavor and do your own thing. We’re really focused on making sure we stay true to our values and our own vision, which is especially important for any lifestyle brand. Being authentic and infusing our brand with the values we’re working to promote is really important to us so we spend a lot of time thinking about new ways we can make our operations more sustainable or ways to present our ideas in a way that no one has ever seen before.

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Where do you see your company in 5 years? 10 years?

In five years we’d like to have a strong presence across Canada, to have had a measurable impact through our relationship with Oceana and to have run a number of our own conservation projects in our communities. We’d also like to have expanded our product line into outerwear, surf apparel and more lifestyle items.

In ten years,  we hope to have incorporated cutting-edge sustainable technologies and textiles  into our manufacturing process, to be a recognized player on the conservation front and to have branched out further into film and maybe even have created our own conservation organization.

What social platform do you most like to engage with your community?

We’re actually in the process of starting up a blog which we think is going to be a great way to strengthen our movement and build our community. The blog is going to feature pieces inspiration to help people minimize their environmental impact, interviews with athletes, creatives and activists doing great things to support efforts to protect our oceans and news pieces to help create awareness. We’re really looking forward to connecting with people who are passionate about our cause and to give our community a place to connect with one another while also building on our impact.

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If you had to define The Saltwater Collective using 3 personality traits, what would they be and why?

Reverential : Our brand is really defined by respect for the environment and belief in our duty to protect it.

Vanguard: We’re focused on getting creative and taking an innovative, brand-based approach to environmentalism.

Collaborative: Our movement is nothing without the input and ideas of other people. It’s important to us that we work with others who believe in this cause and to collectively shape a movement for better practices.