Introducing Reefer Sails, a company selling recycled sail products designed & made in Britain
Make it British has featured bags made from disgarded tents before, but never anything made from recycled sails. This week we got a chance to speak to the Reefer Sails’ technical director, Mark Turner, about his truly innovative British business (which also gives a chance to feature his dog Hector too!)
Can you tell me a bit more about yourself and why you set up your company?
Reefer Sails was created by myself and my wife Emma to upcycle retired sails into innovative practical products for everyday life. Reefer recycle more than just boat sails; products are also produced from colourful windsurf sails, kites, hang gliders, paragliders and microlight wings. We both have a background in textile manufacturing, Emma has sewn since her teens and I used to design hang gliding and paragliding equipment in the early ’90’s whilst flying for the British Paragliding Team.
Career changes subsequently facilitated a move to Devon to a small holding where Emma was keen to work from home. The relocation to Devon highlighted the quantity of retired and redundant flying kit, kites and sails that I had accumulated over 20 years. I was keen to keep my kit for sentimental reasons and it occurred to us to rework the sailcloth into useful products for our home.
Having successfully produced several deck chairs, beanbags and kit bags friends started to ask for commissions and in 2008 we founded Reefer to offer an alternative to landfill for individuals and companies wishing to dispose of worn out and redundant sails and wings.
How would you describe the products that you make?
All Reefer products are designed to be practical, hard wearing and fun for all aspects of a sustainable modern lifestyle whether at home, outside or on the move.
Initially products were branded with logos indicating the type of sail used to make the item and the concept has been further refined to allow the user to trace the provenance of the sail on the Reefer Sails website if they wish. A code number on the product refers back to the source sail, revealing the sail type, original manufacturer, known history and often a photograph of it in action. The introduction of smart phone compatible ‘Q.R’ codes to aid tracing provenance will be launched in 2012.
In which part of Britain are you based?
Reefer Sails are based in East Devon, near Axminster, a few miles from the ‘Jurassic Coast’ of Lyme Bay. Product photo shoots are often undertaken on the beach and historic Cobb at Lyme Regis
Why did you decide to manufacture in Britain?
Recycling sails isn’t straight forward, the material is often worn or stained in certain areas and requires careful washing, selection and processing to avoid unsightly marks, machining difficulties and inappropriate use.
This necessitates a high degree of ‘intelligent intervention’ in the production process for which bulk contract production overseas would be wholly inappropriate. In addition the carbon footprint that would result from shipping containers of raw material and finished products doesn’t sit well with the concept of a sustainable business model.
Where do you source your raw materials from?
Sails and wings are sourced from both individual and corporate supporters and collected at Reefer’s expense. Individuals receive a uniquely branded recycled sailcloth shopping bag as a thank you. Sub components such as deck chair frames and windbreak poles are sourced from UK manufacturers rather than cheaper overseas supplier both to support allied British manufacturing and to ensure a complimentary high quality finish.
What has been the hardest part of getting your products made in Britain?
The hardest part of manufacturing in the UK is to do so at a competitive price. Processing old sailcloth is far more labour intensive than using new or seconds quality sailcloth off the roll but the resulting products have much more character than artificially distressed items that some competitors produce. Reefer pays local machinists to produce their products and with UK labour rates being far higher than in the Far East or Eastern Europe resulting products have to be sold at a premium price to support a reseller network and remain profitable.
And what has been the best part?
The best part has been seeing the company recognised as a successful innovative British designer-manufacturer by individuals and companies alike, be they customers or suppliers of used sails. The growth of the company has exceeded all expectations and we remain committed to British based manufacturing which so far has worked very well for us.
Reefer Sail Products are available from their website www.ReeferSails.com