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Secret Cape Town interviews Jasper Eales

Sealand Gear: Handmade, upcycled, eco outdoor bags & apparel

by Secret Cape Town

Sealand Gear is a local Cape Town based brand that is taking eco-conscious and sustainable gear to new heights with their incredible range of handmade, upcycled, eco outdoor bags, accessories, clothing and apparel. If there’s one brand that epitomizes sustainability perfectly, it’s Sealand Gear. So much so that they were honored with the Maker-to-Maker award at the Design Foundation Awards in 2019. As well as was crowned the winners of the Sustainable Accessory Award at the Twyg Sustainable Fashion Awards (a South African fashion brand that is encouraging a modern eco-conscious and forward-thinking lifestyle) in 2019. Thereby establishing themselves as real change-makers in the industry. Although this globally recognized eco-centered brand has made some major waves all around the world. Sealand Gear is finally setting up shop in their beloved Mother City with a permanent store in the cool De Waterkant District of Cape Town’s vibrant inner-city. And Cape Town locals couldn’t be more excited!

We dive a little deeper into what Sealand Gear is all about as well as catch-up with Sealand’s co-founders and change-makers in their own right, Mike Schlebach and Jasper Eales, to chat about all things Sealand Gear, the inspiration behind this influential brand, their motivation to make sustainability and being environmentally conscious a core principle of their brand and what exciting things we can expect to see from Sealand in the future.

mike & jasper

First off, you’ve truly built an incredible brand with an incredibly powerful message, congratulations on that! This might be a fairly simple question, but what inspired you guys to start Sealand Gear in the first place?

The desire to create a brand that was an honest extension of mine and co-founder, Mike Schlebach’s lifestyles, while looking at ways we could use business to do good in both social and environmental spaces was our main inspiration behind starting Sealand.

Sealand Gear was born with an unwavering conviction of always keeping the environment front and centre of everything you do. With inspired functional design, longevity, smart material selection, compelling functionality and product durability being at the forefront of every Sealand Gear product, initiative and creative pursuit you’ve taken on. What motivated you to make sustainability & putting the environment front and centre of everything you do a core focus point of your business and essentially build your entire business on these key principles? Have you always been environmentally conscious?

When we started Sealand these were the core values we set out to achieve when building the business vision. This is built into our company WHY. ‘Protect the natural environment and uplift our community through innovative design and creativity.’

“We have made a commitment to always place the environment first in any and all decision-making processes” - Jasper Eales (Co-founder Sealand Gear)

Starting a business from the ground up is never an easy feat. Especially one that is fully committed to making a difference, both to the environment and the people they serve, in the process. In your opinion, what has been the biggest challenge & biggest reward of starting, running & growing Sealand Gear into what it is today?

Starting a design, manufacture and retail brand with the goal of being globally recognized is full of challenges. Growth suck cash, people are complex by nature and that requires patience and respect. Retail is a competitive space to play, creating high quality products from waste in a consistent manor is really tough, dealing with economic curveballs is like swimming upstream, RSA is at the bottom of the world being a geographical disadvantage and the list goes on. However, we are still here and giving it our VERY best go! This is because of the incredibly rewarding feeling and sense of accomplishment you experience when making steps forward and achieving goals you set for yourself. Very importantly, our success and growth it also due to the incredible people we associate ourselves with on a daily basis, these are the people we proudly call our Sealand Family.

Sealand Gear is widely known for your sustainable and environmentally conscious smart bags, accessories and apparel by making use of upcycled, recycled and ecocycled materials to produce your exciting product range. However, there is no denying the fact that in today’s crowded market-place clients have choice. In your opinion, what sets Sealand Gear apart from all the other brands out there within your field? Essentially, what makes Sealand Gear different and a step above the rest?

Our authenticity and transparency around how we manufacture as well as the people are a massive part of that process. There are many brands around the world doing upcycling, however, they all focus on one or two materials, unless it is being done on a real craft level. We are doing our best to commercialize upcycling with the use of multiple waste materials. Profiling the people that make our products with the name stamp in the bag, to add an extra special and personalized touch, as well as sharing a dedicated profile on each member on our website is another signature of ours, and something we are REALLY proud of!   

Sealand Gear’s products are truly one-of-a-kind. So, of course people want to know what the thought process is that goes into designing new Sealand Gear bags, accessories, clothing and apparel? Where do you find your inspiration from? Do you draw from your own personal experiences and surfing backgrounds in any way when brainstorming and designing new products?

The inspiration behind what we create at Sealand is evolving as the business evolves. As two passionate surfers, with a love for the outdoors and a need to be in the city for a portion of our week the inspiration behind our products was twofold. Design products from ‘spent’ materials with the objective of longevity in mind, while placing a focus on functionality and usability. We apply this thinking to all products we develop, with a development criteria that started off as, ‘what do we need to make our daily lives easier’, however has evolved to a place where we ask ourselves, ‘what does a Sealander need in their life’.

sealand studio

“All of our products are guaranteed to be 100% unique, and have a lifetime warranty,” - Jasper Eales (Co-founder Sealand Gear)

“We take great care to find the good, clean and visually pleasing sections of this material to craft into one-of-a-kind pieces.” - Mike Schlebach (Co-founder of Sealand Gear)

Sealand Gear has really made some massive moves in recent years & achieved some incredible successes! So much so that you are both locally and globally recognized. How do you see Sealand Gear growing and expanding in the future? What are the next big steps for Sealand Gear?

Thank you, we are trying our best to build the brand and be recognized on a global stage. This is no easy feet and certainly takes time and commitment. We plan to see the brand roll out into the US during 2020, which we have been working timelessly over the past years to lay solid foundations in order to see this happen. We are incredibly excited for the future and what’s to come for Sealand!

Are there any new products or initiatives you guys are excited to launch in 2020 that people can look forward to?

We are always looking to improve, refine and create new products, so you will see some great product improvements this year, especially as 2020 is a year we have chosen to focus on refining what we have. We have also been working on the formation of a Sealand Membership program, which we are super excited to see launch in the coming months. This will build on our customer retention rate and value the Sealanders that value us.  So, keep an eye on our website and all our social pages for all the thrilling things that are to come!

You opened your first stand-alone store in the trendy De Waterkant district of Cape Town’s city centre not too long ago – Massive congratulations on that! What was the main motivation behind this?

We have almost been open and trading for a year now, which we are incredibly proud of. We have always wanted a retail space, where we could showcase who we truly are and present our full product offering in a way we felt proud of. The store is a detailed experience into the Sealand world, profiling our ambassadors, giving credit to current limited-edition projects, and educating people on how we do things the Sealand way.

You mentioned that you want your new store to be so much more than a place where people can go to merely purchase your Sealand Gear products. But an ‘experience store’ where people can truly immerse themselves in the Sealand Gear brand and way of life by hosting talks, events etc. What type of events are you hoping to host? And do you have any exciting events coming up in the near future?

Indeed, it needed to be seen as an Experience store, which the customer leaves with a positive experience. Having the ability to touch and feel the materials and be educated on how we produce the products from various waste materials. We will be launching an exciting series called ‘Sealand Sessions’ at the store in the near future, which will be educational and inspirational talks from industry leaders on Sealand relevant topics. More on this soon.

“We have wanted a space to host events and express our educational voice for some time and we are excited that we have found the right bricks-and-mortar space to showcase Sealand’s full brand and lifestyle offering. Over the next ten years, our vision is to see more Sealand stores strategically placed in different regions around the world” - Mike Schlebach (Co-founder of Sealand Gear)

sealand experience store

In your opinion, who is Sealand Gear’s main target market? Is it only for the active outdoor adventure seekers or do you consider your range of products to be for anyone and everyone?

If we were to define our audience, it would look something like this. Both males and females between the ages of 25-45, who tend to be well educated, well-paid workers or young professionals. From a global audience and come from all walks of life. Interested in fashion, urban/outdoor adventure, and travel. That like to look good and care about their aesthetics. That tend to be up to date on the latest social media trends and are socially conscious. That Seek function, quality and style with no compromise on the environment. That are attracted to and enjoy both an urban and outdoor approach to life – spending their weeks in the fast-pace environment of the city, while heading out of town on the weekends. With a keen sense of environmental dynamics and an eco-conscious mindset. Who engage well with story-rich products and seek out authenticity that resonates with them. That are stylish and fashion-forward, and are looking for responsible fashion. Who value quality and longevity over price and aspire to well-considered design.

If there’s anything you could convey to customers who buy Sealand Gear products, what would it be?

Appreciate the saying ‘perfectly imperfect’, as through the Sealand lens these are the characters that make a handmade upcycled product so special.   

If you could sum up the Sealand Gear brand and what living the Sealand Gear lifestyle is all about in just a few sentences, what would it be?

Appreciate and respect the natural playgrounds we enjoy. Be transparent and authentic in everything you do. Tread lightly, as the planet is also alive and sensitive. Remember nothing is perfect, so celebrate the imperfections, yet always work to improve. Look at waste through a new lens, creating value from something previously seen as useless.

The threat of Global Warming is only increasing as time goes on & it’s more important than ever before that we all step up & play our part in preserving planet earth. In your opinion, what practical things can people do daily to be more eco-conscious, kinder to the environment and contribute to a sustainable future?

Make daily small changes, this way it’s easier to adopt and over a longer period of time you will realize the bigger difference that you have made. Question your habits of consumption, and if you really need it. Reduce your single plastic usage on a daily basis. Buy with longevity in mind.

The truth is Sealand Gear is so much more than a brand or business. It’s a movement that aims to inspire, educate, inform and empower others to live a more sustainable eco-conscious life. All while building a passionate community of like-minded individuals and change makers that share the same convictions, visions and love of the environment. Both inside and outside of their business. They also make it a key focus to give back to their team and community of people that have helped them build Sealand Gear into what it is today.

“Sealand was founded on two core principles: First, to do good for the environment and, second, to do good for our community. As a business operating out of South Africa, we have acknowledged and accepted the responsibility we owe to our own community. To show our commitment, in all our bags, we proudly include the personal stamp of the individual person who made it. While this provides a desirable handmade touch to our products, there is more behind each stamp than personalisation.” - Mike Schlebach & Jasper Eales (Founders of Sealand Gear)

sealand surf

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