Now that I have more time on my hands, between wild fires and earthquakes, I’ve been reading about Albert Einstein.
I’m doing this in a casual sort of way, reading where he got his ideas for his theory of relativity. In case you’re wondering, he read philosophy from the 17th century, among other things. When he published his findings he was working in a patent office in Switzerland because he was unpopular with his University Professors and they would not hire him. In his off hours he solved the great mysteries of the Universe and published his theories on the speed of light.
He died of an abdominal aortic aneurysm in 1936. At the time of his death they attributed this condition to syphilis because he was widely known to be promiscuous. Fascinating, however, his brain was stolen by a Princeton pathologist who proved this theory unfounded as there was not a trace of syphilis found in his brain tissue. The cause was more likely tobacco use. He was warned off of his pipe by his doctors, but would gather discarded cigarette butts off the sidewalks on his way to his offices and smoke what tobacco he found in them in his pipe as he walked.
The one detail of my research that stuck with me was his love of stories and how important it was to explain the things that are important to us in story form. This is actually one of the great secrets of his success.
Einstein believed that people needed to understand what you were working on in story because they are then better able to absorb the details.
This made me think about my own story and mission in starting my sustainable sailing apparel company Ocean SF. Of course I’ve shared my story many times before, but I’ve not told the whole story.
To start at the beginning of the story, I had wanted to learn to sail for many years, but I only started sailing in September of 2015. I had been an avid skier for most of my life, but as my daughters hit puberty it was almost impossible to get them out of our hometown and up to the snow. I missed the pristine mountains, the days outside beneath the open sky, and I missed the adventure of skiing. I especially missed how every day had differing elements and the challenge inherent in getting down an often icy and treacherous mountain. Sailing was available much closer to home and shared many of these same characteristics.
My close friends said my immediate obsession with sailing made perfect sense since sailing was like skiing, but on melted snow. This was not exactly true, but I could understand their reasoning. Definitely the people to be found in both sports were very similar and so is much of the gear, but ski gear doesn’t work as well for sailing because you wouldn’t necessarily be forced to ski in the rain. In most instances you are able to go back to your car and drive home if you’re wet and cold. Not so in sailing. Sailing is a much different animal in this regard. There is no getting off the boat once it has departed the dock.
In my first months of sailing I was terribly cold. I would get back to the Marina and be shivering so violently that I couldn’t drive. This was a particularly windy and crisp year and putting in a reef due to high winds was not uncommon, but actually expected. Our crew was mostly inexperienced, so catching a wave down your back was the rule.
I decided to commit to buying the right gear when I earned my Basic Keel Boat Certification to sail. At the time, I believed I simply needed to buy the right clothing to keep myself warm and dry. Later, I found no amount of money thrown at this problem could make it so.
I began with the goal to simply be better outfitted. I bought my Gill storm jacket, gloves and Gill waterproof pants. But early on, I discovered I had a huge problem with the available sailing clothing options; they were all made of polyester.
To understand my clothing preferences we must go back in time.
I grew up on a farm and was raised by my beautiful mother and my much older war hero father. My mother was from St. John’s, Newfoundland and from a long line of sailors. My father was from Chicago. My father loved clothes and had his shirts and suits made in London. He also had my mother’s clothes made there as well. I grew up believing that all women owned the same suit in three different colors, or the same dress in five different fabrics. I grew up understanding the different weights of silk lined wool suiting and developed a love for wool and cashmere sweaters. Not just any blend, but all natural 3-ply fabric that doesn’t pill. Then, there were the shoes, wallets, passport and brief cases my father owned. The next layer to all of this were the saddles, art and furniture I grew up with.
“Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
My mother shared none of this. Although beautiful, and typically fashionably dressed, she was far more interested in her garden and all of the food she made or canned in our farm house kitchen.
I do love food, but I have always had much more of a passion for beautifully made things. This passion was passed down to me by my father.
My father bred and trained race horses. He taught art and history. He was a three time war veteran and had earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star in Vietnam. He had been a pilot and cartographer in the Korean War. Because of these things or in spite of them he had an infinite love of nature and life.
As a kid I abhorred polyester. I destained the polyester pant suits that replaced the beautiful suits my mother had worn. I was cold and uncomfortable on rainy wet days in the polyester garments that were bought for me. I found my purple striped polyester turtleneck so incredibly uncomfortable I could not wear it past noon and would call my mother to come and get me at lunchtime.
As I grew and began shopping for myself, I employed a “less is more” attitude from the beginning. I took two cotton button down shirts, a Merino Wool sweater and Levi’s to college. I added a wool coat and leather penny loafers. I had one dress. I brought with me the 100% cotton bedspread and sheets my mother had bought me in 7th grade.
When I did my first internship in politics, I found those beautiful suits from London my father had made, and wore them to work.
Out of college, I had conservative tastes, buying myself an ink colored cashmere coat and a very well known designer handbag. For skiing I upgraded to silk long johns, a cotton turtleneck and a Swiss down jacket. After that, I was rarely cold, nor too warm. As I got older I continued with an all natural conservationists mindset around all of my purchases.
When my mother downsized and moved out of her home, I took everything she didn’t want that my father had ever made or bought. I use his passport case, measuring tape and wine opener to this day. I drink out of his coffee cups and sit at his French burl-wood walnut desk. His mahogany coffee table and sideboard grace my family room. I still have his beautiful leather briefcase just as he left it; full of his aviation papers. I inherited both his love of the outdoors and appreciation for beautiful things. As I’ve grown older I see how these two things are synonymous. When you have a true appreciation for the outdoors, nature and it’s wildlife you can not stand to see it marred in anyway. Pollution, mass production and a disposable lifestyle are a threat to our landscapes and water ways.
The next layer is my training as an artist. I see anything that is made well as artistry. I see this in clothing, the elegant design of a piece of furniture, or a tea cup that is so fine it is almost translucent. I love and appreciate these things. Much of what I retrieved from my mother’s home was found on the curb with her garbage. She didn’t see the beauty in these things like I did.
When I tried to buy sailing clothes I ran into a big problem. Everything was polyester. I wanted to be warm when I got wet. I had suffered enough sailing in polyester fleece and getting wet in the cold wind. Yet, a sporty jacket in wool, that I could see myself wearing on a yacht, was nonexistent at the time. So, I made one, or I designed it, and had it made. I also made it in orange because I needed to ensure if I should ever fall overboard I would be easy to rescue. And, of course I wear it skiing too.
My unique story, background and sentiments make me the perfect person to design sustainable sportswear for the environmentally conscious.
The next steps for Ocean SF are undefined. If Albert Einstein were here he could provide a mathematical equation to what the cost is to buy or not buy sustainable clothing. Due to the environmental hazards of fast fast fashion the expense of continuing this path is quite astronomical. I should know, in the space of seven days I’ve been evacuated due to fire and shaken sleeping out of my bed by a 4.7 earthquake.
I am at a crossroad now. What my company will require is no longer someone who simply works following the basic entrepreneurial formula. From now on, it will require all of me, I do hope I’m ready, but I can’t imagine doing anything else.
“Tell me what you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? – Mary Oliver
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Love and blessings to all.