Having worked as crew on board several different superyachts over the last six years, Lauren Wardley knows all about the good, the bad and the ugly sides of yachting. Passionate about ocean conservation and sustainability, her desire to give back led Lauren to launch Ethical Yacht Wear back in 2019, supplying unique crew uniforms that are 100% sustainable, all while giving back and removing plastic out of our oceans at the same time.
Here, Lauren speaks to OnboardOnline about her on board journey, the intricacies of her business model, and the part she plays in the SEA Club, which she co-founded with Gemma Harris as a platform to help make changes and practices within for the betterment of our oceans and environment.
Can you tell us a little about your background and how you got into the yachting industry?
It was a combination of my degree in business and hotel management, working many years in hotels, restaurants, bars, holding every position in the hospitality industry possible, and having a huge love for looking after people and an equal love for the ocean! Once I had heard that I could do all of this on the ocean, I was on the next plane to Fort Lauderdale!
How long have you been crew and what are some of the yachts you have worked on?
About six years. I’ve worked on several yachts, from a 38m Benetti to my absolute favourite boat - a 61m Feadship called Samadhi where I held my last full-time position.
Talk us through your first entrepreneurial adventure, One Back…
I started One Back with a very similar business model to TOMS shoes and 4ocean’s bracelets (two of my business inspirations) with a give back business model. I designed my brand and logo and was selling organic cotton t-shirts in order to sponsor ocean clean up and research, which slowly transformed into what Ethical Yacht Wear is today.
What inspired you to evolve this into Ethical Yacht Wear and how did it come about?
Ethical Yacht Wear was born out of the need to give the yachting industry a solution to purchase a completely sustainable uniform. As the garment industry is the second worst industry on the planet and the yachting industry is also environmentally adverse, I wanted to provide a solution with a give back business model that the industry could utilise but also receive high quality uniform at the same time.
How are your uniforms more sustainable that the norm?
Firstly the material - we switch out the non-sustainable for sustainable materials. For example, regular skorts, shorts and performance polos are made from polyester, but we use recycled polyester incorporating ocean bound plastic in the yarn. What’s more, all our t-shirts are made from organic cotton rather than regular cotton.
Regular cotton is one of the world’s biggest polluters of the ocean and creates ocean dead zones (area’s of the ocean so polluted that sea life cannot exist). This is because regular cotton farms use lots of pesticides and fertilisers which run off into the rivers and water ways, killing our sea life as well as harming everyone involved in production.
Do they cover all crew positions on board?
We are expanding our range by the minute. We have a wonderful interior & exterior range, a chef range, and have even just added sustainable coveralls for the engineers! We are super excited for what 2022 has in store.
Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with the Plastic Bank?
The Plastic Bank has a great system to quantify money contributed to the positive impact this makes on our oceans (by amount of plastic saved), as well as the impact it makes on the workers in poorer nations that are employed to pick up this plastic. After seeing an amazing TED talk on this company as well as doing a lot of further research, we chose to support them through uniform sales.
Is it a challenge to ensure your uniforms look stylish whilst remaining functional?
Fortunately, after working many years in the industry as well as having amazing colleagues and friends within, I have a whole team of people willing to try and test all of our products before we confirm on our designs and send our lines to production.
Have you had a lot of interest among captains and crew for your uniforms?
Yes, we have had amazing interest in Ethical Yacht Wear since the beginning. It was actually one of our client’s demand for sustainable that sparked the idea for Ethical Yacht Wear and it has been so encouraging to see the interest in making the switch to a sustainable alternative.
In the long run, what sort of other sustainable changes would you like to see made within the industry?
I would like to see changes starting from the very smallest things, like switching out cleaning chemicals and extra emphasis on boats removing plastic water bottles, installing water filters as well as insisting on recycling, to the amazing developments within the mechanics of solo powered catamarans and the hydro powered super yachts starting to emerge!
You recently left a full-time role to work freelance on board yachts – can you tell us a bit more about this and what inspired the change?
Fortunately I had the most supportive crew in the world that supported my Ethical Yacht Wear endeavours, however the brand continued to grow at such a rate that I could not manage both my position on Samadhi and developing and providing the attention Ethical Yacht Wear needed. I had to leave my family on Samadhi and now work on Ethical Yacht Wear full time. I do some freelance now as I still love getting out into the field, however Ethical Yacht Wear takes number one.
You are co-founder of SEA Club alongside Gemma Harris – can you tell us a little about what you are trying to achieve?
Gemma and I are developing the SEA club in order to build community around environmental and sustainable practices. We are bringing people together to create a greater force of good to be able to make changes that filter through the industry by coming together through environmentally aware initiatives and have some fun while we do it!
What does it mean to be an SEA Club ambassador?
In essence a SEA club ambassador must be interested in carrying the message of sustainability through the industry, and making changes and practices within for the betterment of our oceans and environment.
What other sustainability/clean ocean initiatives do you follow or support?
I like to keep up with the latest environmental industry news. I also always read about sustainable developments and like to retain knowledge of who is out there, what they are doing to also create possible connections to come together and create greater positive impact.
What are some of your favourite cruising grounds?
Bahamas for the breathtaking shades of blue in the ocean as well as the Mediterranean for all the delicious food and incredible sites to see!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
That is a tough call, but a classic that I stick by: “If you don’t try, you can’t succeed.”
Can you tell us a lesser-known fact about yourself that would surprise your colleagues?
I am very much an open book, so anyone who has worked with me tends to know a lot about me. But, to most of my crew’s disbelief, I think I am a great singer!
What’s next for Ethical Yacht Wear?
Ethical Yacht Wear is continuously growing. We are in a really exciting stage of our development with creating new relationships and clients daily. I make sure all of our client relationships are professional yet personal, and they know they can reach out with any requests they need at any point in time.
We are further adding new products to our ranges as we speak. We also have some really awesome initiatives and projects on the calendar for 2022 that yachties alike can take part in, particularly if they have an interest in ocean conservation and sustainability.
And the SEA Club?
We are growing our membership and likewise, to Ethical Yacht Wear, have some great projects on the calendar such as meet ups, competitions and incentives to take part in bettering our industry and giving back to our oceans!
What would you say to someone who says that superyachts and sustainability could never go hand in hand?
Look at all the amazing developments happening already. We have never been more advanced with technology and knowledge to be in a better place (also considering the wealth of the industry) to make some pretty seriously incredible changes and progress environmentally.