The California-based brand Urban Barrels repurposes old sailboat sails into unique and durable textile products. Their recycling initiative saves beautiful fabrics from collecting dust in attics or worse, ending up in landfills. They are just about to launch their newest product, the Sail Blanket – made from old sailboat sails on one side and soft velour on the other. Mat MacDonell, one of the brand's founders, took the time to answer some questions for us.
You launched your SailstoStuff recycling program in 2014. Was that the beginning of Urban Barrels or did the brand exist already?
Urban Barrels was launched as a blog in 2009. The concept at first was a silly photo project that let us connect back with the ocean when we found ourselves away from it. When instagram came around we quickly found out that it wasn’t just us connecting with our passion in this way. The initial community involvement with our brand was a massive inspiration for us to create product lines that served as an extension of our love of the ocean.
Both JP [Mat’s brother and Co-Founder of Urban Barrels] and I studied Advertising at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Ca. After college we took careers in advertising and marketing in L.A. Meanwhile, we kept seeing the community grow and started working on our first product launch: The BagTowel. [a backpack with a recycled sail pocket outside and a beach towel sewn inside]
What lead you to develop the idea to reuse sails?
We had no experience designing or manufacturing bags when we set out to launch our first product. We started talking to friends in Los Angeles that we knew had some experience in the industry. Through a network of friends, we met someone who had designed a few bags from an old sailboat sail. We loved the look of the sail, but more importantly, we loved the durable and high-performance nature of it. So we started talking to sailors, sailboat sail repair facilities and sail manufacturers. We found out that there were no options for this community when getting rid of old sailboat sails. Most individuals and organizations will eventually have to throw them away with the sails ending up in landfills. Thus, SailstoStuff was born.
What were the biggest challenges in bringing your sail products to production and onto the market?
We knew we wanted to do things differently. Our mission, from the beginning, was to build high-quality and unique accessories from recycled materials. We also committed to local manufacturing. We wanted to keep the production of our lines close to the inspiration for our lines.
A major challenge was developing our team of sewers that could handle the production process. Most manufacturing processes start with fabrics on a roll and produce single style items in mass quantities. Our fabric starts from old sails and each is built with a unique section of those sails.
How do people react to your products made out of “trash”?
We’ve had an incredible reaction to our process from the community. We feel lucky to be able to do what we do. From picking up a couple dozen sails from one of our sail recycling partners to seeing the end product on adventure with one of our customers, the whole process is what we’re most proud of.
How important is the aspect of reusing resources and sustainability to your customers?
I think we have different types of customers that relate to our product lines in different ways. For some, our SailstoStuff recycling program is the deciding factor when making a purchase. For others, the utilitarian design of the line is what drives support for the brand. Either way, we hope we’re helping people realize that beautiful, durable and high-performance accessories can be built using recycled fabrics and materials.
How many BagTowels have you sold in the last years?
By the end of 2016, our team has built and shipped just over 4,000 BagTowels. Additionally, we’ve diverted over 200 sailboat sails from ending up in landfills.
Do you consider your new Sail Blanket the bigger brother of the BagTowel?
I love that description! We rely on our community and our customers to help us develop and design new lines. Throughout the past two years, a lot of people have had interest in a bigger towel or blanket. The Sail Blanket is our answer.
How do you personally use your Sail Blanket?
Speaking from personal use of the blanket, I love using it at home. If you need to find me on a Sunday, I’ll be wrapped up in it on my couch, binging some show on Netflix.
Can you tell us anything about the history of its material, which boat it comes from?
I just picked up samples from our sewing team yesterday. It’s so fun to open them up and check out the unique sail pattern on each one. I can’t pick one!
From our Kickstarter production, all of the sails come from our SailstoStuff partners in Southern California. We are developing a more robust storyline between a sail being recycled and it ending up in your hands! We’re really excited about exploring this more over the next couple of months.
What about the original materials and using them close to the skin? Aren’t sails impregnated with any toxic substances?
For the majority of our current lines, we use spinnaker sail. This is a ripstop nylon which you will find in all kinds of products you use close to your skin.
Have you thought about shipping your goods via sailboats to reduce carbon emissions?
We have never thought of shipping via sailing. Perhaps a hu! reader can invent wind-powered trucks and give us a call! As for shipping, we currently use recycled bags and boxes to ship everything. We’re working on some non-traditional shipping bags now to close the loop even tighter on our process.
Do you see a special connection between surf culture and sustainability?
The connection is in everything that the natural forces on this planet give to us. I rely on the oceans, mountains and rivers for my sanity. When you develop such a connection with the environment, there is no option not to try and do your part to sustain it.