‘In the beginning, we used what was already there, but the world has changed, so now you must reuse what you have discarded’.  Vissla ‘To Protect & Surf’

Environmental, sustainable, eco-friendly and organic are words that we’re all very familiar with these days.  As consumers, shoppers and world travelers it’s now more important than ever to be increasingly self-aware of our individual impact on the environment and Vissla has reinforced this message with their award winning environmental campaign ‘To Protect & Surf’.

In this week’s SBIA Awards Spotlight, we caught up with Vissla to chat about their ongoing efforts to minimise their environmental impact by improving their products and practices through more sustainable materials and means.

Lyndall:  Congratulations to you and your team John on this achievement.  To be recognised for your environmental practices and messages must reinforce that consumers are starting to pay more attention to brands that contribute to the preservation of our environment?

John:  For sure. Sustainability is one of the brand pillars at Vissla but it does take time to earn both visibility and credibility in the eyes of the consumer. We have some super committed environmentalists in our business and none more so than founder Paul Naude. So we’ve been chipping away from day one and it is really good to see a bit of recognition, both from within the industry and at a consumer level. We are definitely inspired by the groundswell of enthusiasm among consumers and retailers for more responsibly made products.

Lyndall:  From the inception of the Vissla brand, has it always been a priority to minimise your impact on the environment?

John:  Yes, environmental responsibility is in our DNA as a company. From our very first line we have implemented the most responsible materials and means available to us. But that said, we are more than aware of our limitations. Packaging is still a big issue in the industry and we don’t have the perfect solution there, but we are implementing 100% recycled plastic polybags starting in 2019. At a product level we are always working with something new, whether it be our coconut boardshorts, recycled fabrics, or collaborations with Surfrider Foundation. But we are also working with some inspirational people , such as Evan Marks at The Ecology Centre in California, who continue to remind us about the importance of sustainability issues.

Lyndall: To watch the ‘To Protect and Surf’ film, I must say the opening line ‘In the beginning, we used what was already there, but the world has changed, so now you must reuse what you have discarded’ is quite impactful and attention grabbing.   How have you found this campaign has resonated with your audience?

John:  I think the campaign has resonated at a consumer level. It was a quirky little campaign, like most of ours, and I think that was the key. We weren’t using a heavy science-based narrative. We were delivering a message through the voice of a kid so it was quite engaging, even though it was very simple. Sometimes problems can seem so much greater when delivered by an authoritative voice, but if the message is simple I think people are more prepared to engage with the content. The feedback from our Protect and Surf sustainability program, and our collaboration with Surfrider Foundation, has been very positive.

Lyndall:  Vissla has a stellar line up of sustainability ambassadors on your team, each contributing to environmental preservation in their own unique way.   Can you tell us a bit more about how they contribute and influence the environmental sustainably of your brand?

John:  It starts at the top with Paul Naude, who has headed up the environmental fund at SIMA for many years. The same passion also exists throughout the business as we have a number of people with great environmental stories. So it was somewhat of a natural progression to then seek inspirational voices within the surf community. We have surfers like Evan Marks at The Ecology Centre teaching kids about the importance of sustainability and practicing sustainable agriculture, Dr Cliff Kapono who rips in Hawaii but also studies the bacteria and chemicals on the skin of surfers to determine the health of their environments, big wave charger Danny Hess who makes wooden surfboards from felled timbers …these are people with great stories and they inspire us all within the business.

Lyndall:  It does seem like a lot of businesses are shouting out on social media about their stand on supporting environmental preservation without a lot of evidence of authentic contribution.   You could attest to the fact that it’s simply not enough to just post a few beautiful pics and words on Instagram, in addition to your collection, what are some of the actions that Vissla has taken as a genuine stakeholder in environmental stewardship?

John: The best way to legitimately address sustainability issues is to surround yourself with people who dedicate their lives to making meaningful change. It is one of the reasons we teamed with groups like Surfrider Foundation and also the reason why we run our annual Upcycle Contest. We get to meet and work with amazing people. Actually, the Upcycle Contest alone has helped us identify clusters of young people in Australia who are building crazy good craft out of rubbish. There’s a group of young surfers on the South Coast of NSW who enter the event each year and I think us recognising them has inspired them to be work towards better environmental outcomes within their own lives.

Aside from our products, our sustainability initiatives encompass our internal practices to minimise our impact. Examples of this include the introduction of recycled polybags, supporting environmental organisations such as Surfrider Foundation, the use of events to spread awareness such as the Upcycle Contest, and partnering with environmentalists like Evan Marks to help educate and advocate environmental messages.

Lyndall:  Other than digital messaging, how are you articulating your message on environmental preservation?

John:  We carry some messaging on our swing tags and this includes our coconut story and collaborations with groups such as Surfrider Foundation. We provide messaging on our new in-store furniture, which we are building in an incredible community space in Byron Bay and incorporating the story of the maker. I guess we are doing lots of little things, including taking used malt bags from the sustainability-focused crew at the Stone & Wood brewery in northern NSW and turning them into reusable carry bags. These are small things but they help embed the whole sustainability story into our brand. Plus our sustainability ambassadors are constantly helping communicate this messaging through their work in this space.

Lyndall:  Not only did Vissla take out the 2018 Environment Award, you were also a finalist in the Boardshort of the Year category for your Upcycled Coconut Boardshorts.  What percentage of the Vissla range is made from upcycled/sustainable materials?

John:  Yeah the award was great recognition for all of our efforts and progress in this area. Around 88% of our boardshorts are now made from upcycled materials, whether that be coconut husks or plastic bottles. Organic cottons, hemps, recycled fabrics, and other environment-conscious materials also represent an ever-increasing percentage of the range.

Lyndall: You guys can also proudly hang your hats on the fact that your packing is also more environmentally friendly, what other initiatives do you have in place that minimises your impact on our environment?

John:  We have some environment-conscious packaging but we also have the dilemma where we have too much packaging. We’re working on some solutions here but there’s a way to go. We do the usual in-house recycling, we build a lot of our point of sale pieces in our warehouse to avoid over-production and to give pieces a custom feel, we sometimes collect excess resins from shaping bays to make holders for in-store information cards … again, small things but collectively they tell a story that is important to today’s youth.

By the way, the best resource for all of Vissla’s various sustainability initiatives is our Protect and Surf page: www.vissla.com/toprotectandsurf.

Lyndall: The role that brands play within our industry (and society) has never been more important.  You are faced with both opportunity and responsibility; do you find that with each initiative you implement, you must consider both?

John:  I think it is now all about responsibility. If you’re not working on authentic sustainability initiatives then I would argue you’re probably not in touch with our market. We all need to do more to protect our oceans and our local environment. The opportunity is not so much of a brand opportunity, rather it is an industry opportunity. We have authentic claims to being more environment conscious than mainstream brands so we shouldn’t waste that opportunity. It would be amazing to walk into a store and hear shop-floor staff talking enthusiastically about something like a boardshort made from coconuts.

Thanks John, we look forward to following the Vissla Journey and seeing you back at the 2018 SBIA Awards. To follow Vissla’s journey on environmental stewardship, visit https://www.vissla.com/toprotectandsurf/