Meet | Salt Gypsy
Meet Salt Gypsy, the Australian made women's surfwear brand crafting a culture and community to be proud of.
Words By Lisa Kjerulf
The story of Salt Gypsy began long before there was a product concept or even a business idea. In fact, when Danielle Clayton, a passionate surfer from New Zealand, began making surf leggings for herself out of pure need, she never dreamed that 4 years down the road this would lead to a globally recognised label creating incremental change from the bottom up.
A few weeks ago, I had the honor to have a chat with Danny. We spoke about the nuts and bolts of her business, what it took for her to get the business running and how she has managed to live up to her values in an environment that that doesn’t make it easy to be ethical.
“Growing up in New Zealand we were quite culturally ingrained to support locally made and local designers.”
Danny never claimed to have any particular fashion background. She studied Art and Photography and it was her passion for surf that led her first to become a sales rep for Billabong. However, after a few years with the big brand and a moment of reflection, she pivoted away from the corporate world to a path of exploration as a surf guide.
“I never originally had a brand. I only wanted to showcase the cool products which I and my friends liked wearing... I was building a community without even realising that I was product launching. The market was there - the women who wanted the alternative gear.”
Danny’s new role as a surf guide in the Maldives meant that she could surf daily but also that she was spending most of her time on a boat surrounded by guys. As an outlet for her creativity, she started a blog to connect with other female surfers around the world, fostering a community that shared the same passions as she did. A community that would continue to support her throughout the development of the Salt Gypsy brand.
“I was starting to think oh my god this is ridiculous I’m sick of getting sunburnt and all I can really buy is mainstream surf labels which I didn’t particularly want to be buying.”
In the beginning the motivation for Danny to start creating her product was personal. She loved the sunshine but she didn’t like the harmful UV rays. She had reached her threshold. With little success finding proper leggings made for surfing, she finally had a few custom-made.
Soon after, she hosted a boatful of surfer ladies who were having the very same complaints. Empathising with them, she said, “Oy, chuck these on!” The girls loved them so much that they used them for the rest of the trip and that’s when Danny knew she had something special.
The Challenge of Ethics.
For the first few years, due to her continuous presence in SE Asia, Danny ran small production runs in Bali. However, it was when there was a major falling out with her factory, that Danny realised things needed to change, and quick. What started as small issues, quickly multiplied. Eventually Danny had to ask herself if she was really producing to her standard of values and she found herself asking, “how do I know if they are being paid properly? I don’t know. How do I know what the conditions are? I don’t know.”
“how do I know if they are being paid properly? I don’t know. How do I know what the conditions are? I don’t know.”
Not knowing the answers to those questions didn’t sit well with her. So, putting on the brakes, she uprooted her entire production run and brought it home to Australia. It may have taken her a year to get everything in place, but the result was a more seamless and transparent production process. Everyone involved benefits and now it’s only a 30-minute drive to a face-to-face conversation with the women making her product.
Being a brand of the sea and made for the sea also had Danny concerned about what sort of impact her garments had on the environment. Owed to the constant reminder from her father, "if you're going to do something - do it properly", she made sure to do just that. Once she discovered ECONYL® yarn, recycled nylon used in high grade Italian lycra, it instantly became a non-negotiable for all Salt Gypsy product.
More recently, Danny has taken the sustainable business concept a step further by partnering up with the guys from R-Certified Encouraging Renewable Energy. It happened during a friendly conversation and a light bulb question, “how much energy does it cost to produce each Salt Gypsy piece?” Pitching this question to her Australian manufacturer, she managed to get her factory on board with the Renewable Energy guys. Through collaboration they found a way to offset the energy consumption cost of Salt Gypsy’s 2016 and 2017 production by donating it to a solar energy project in the Northern Rivers region of NSW. It also officially makes Salt Gypsy the first women's surf and activewear company in the world (that they know of) to be R-Certified.
Creating a brand of integrity means that she also has the community well-being in mind. By donating a percentage of online sales, Salt Gypsy takes part in enabling the global community through the funding of under-funded professional ocean athletes who lack major sponsorship, as well as individuals or groups who raise money for ocean conservation and unique oceanwomen-led projects.
Danny admitted she is not sure what all this means for the future of Salt Gypsy. She only knows that the ethical and sustainable active oceanwomen's company she wish existed, simply does not. For her, this is just doing her part to be of service to her community and customers. “I'm crafting the kind of women's company my younger self would have aspired to work for and with and I can’t see any other way to run a sustainable business practice.”
“I'm crafting the kind of women's company my younger self would have aspired to work for and with and I can’t see any other way to run a sustainable business practice.”
Danny still remembers the quote her father taught her at a very young age by Calvin Coolidge – “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence…” Remembering this is what has helped her to survive the last 4 challenging years of starting and building her own business.
After speaking with Danny and hearing about the steps she took to get Salt Gypsy off the ground and running, I found that even though she had little knowledge around starting a business, it has been her agility, tenacity and strong set of values that has gotten her to where she is today. Without those, she may not have been able to deal with the many setbacks she faced. A point where other start-ups may begin to fail.
It is also the deep ties to her community and conscious decision-making that will drive her success – as a brand and as a change maker. Without awareness and sensitivity, she would not have switched to ECONYL® yarn or picked up her entire production and brought it to Australia. Without her big picture views and innovative nature, she would not have switched on to partnering with a player in the clean energy sector.
We should be careful to overlook the impact these small brands can make. Imagine the difference 1000 more, operating like Salt Gypsy, could make.
Join Danny and her friend Kathy from San Taylor Swimwear at the Sea Bones concept store in Byron Bay on April 29th. In honor of Fashion Revolution week, they will be sharing more about their learnings of environmental and social impact as small, self-funded labels and the types of steps other independents could consciously take.
MEET THE WRITER | LISA KJERULF
Lisa Kjerulf, originally from the US, is an experienced product manager in the fashion and lifestyle industry. After 7 years of working for adidas at the global HQ in Germany and Vietnam, she decided to take a leap of faith into the unknown. Leaving her beloved job behind to travel and explore, she eventually landed in Melbourne, Australia where she is now completing her Master of Fashion Entrepreneurship at RMIT. Inspired by her travels, and with a great passion for the outdoors and ethical design, she now seeks to create positive, incremental change through the curation of mindful product; further inspiring women to be adventurous, kind-hearted and confident.
We are thrilled to have Lisa on board here at the Sustainability Portal and thank her for kindly donating her time and expertise to our work. Stay tuned, with more to come from her in the future!
THANKS FOR READING!