We take a trip to the coast and visit Haeckels, the Margate brand that champions locally-sourced, seaweed-based natural skincare and homeware, to meet owner Dom Bridges, an all-round coastal and conservation enthusiast.
Scientific glassware in the Haeckels studio
A close-up of Haeckels' Exfoliating Seaweed Soap Bar
Can you tell us a bit about Haeckels and how it started?
It all started around 6 years ago with Walpole Bay, a beach and tidal pool that, to me, looked very neglected. I became a beach warden and was near obsessive about cleaning it – 4 days in a row some weeks. I spent so much time down there I read up on the environment and discovered the uniqueness and abundance of seaweed growing there. I thought to myself that maybe if I created a product that came from this environment, then maybe I could change people’s perceptions and make them realise the insanity of neglecting it. I made everyone a bar of seaweed soap for Christmas, and from there everything else developed. I learnt that neglect is something that deeply upsets me, people, animals, and the planet. I also learnt the importance of manufacturing local products with a sustainable ingredient.
What does the name Haeckels mean? Where did it come from?
Haeckels comes from Ernst Haeckel, an incredible botanist who catalogued all manner of seaweeds and other living things with a very meticulous illustrative style. The name is my own private reminder too – I only have to see the name to remind myself never to deviate from the path of craft and attention to detail. If I do that the rest will follow.
What does a typical day in the studio look like? Do you have a routine that you follow?
We are a tiny, tiny team finding our space in an arena dominated by huge, huge companies, so each day has challenges and every day is different. But, I try to start each day by walking along the coast to work. I’m up at around 7 am every morning, and I say goodbye to my girls (my wife and daughter), take a stroll and clear my mind before heading to the making space. At the moment we are going through extreme changes and expansion. I’ve developed a more sophisticated product line, exploring new areas of algae and biofermentation, so everyone is working extremely hard at the moment. Overall, we are learning to embrace a more structured work ethic, new systems, and a better grounding as we move forward.
You hold one of two licenses to harvest seaweed from the English coast. What are the do's & don'ts that come with this?
We’re ocean farmers, essentially. We have a quantity that we can’t exceed, and we travel around different bays to further minimise our impact. As we do this we clean, we collect bag upon bag of rubbish, and we return any wildlife that might have mistakenly made it back to the lab. However, we enforce these rules ourselves. It’s just good human behaviour. The brand transcends everything we do, and that’s hopefully evident in the people that connect with us or use our products.
Having worked a 14-mile stretch of the Margate coast for over 5 years, what has been the strangest thing you have seen washed up on shore?
Well, not so much strange as impressive, once I saw one of the largest octopuses I’ve ever seen stretched out across the reef. From the top of its head to the tip of its tail, it was easily over 12 ft long – I’ve never seen anything like it! The contemplation that I might have bumped into this highly sophisticated creature whilst harvesting seaweed blew my mind. The surrounding waters are full of life.
Haeckels owner Dom Bridges in his Margate studio
The reefs at Margate are made up of chalk. What does this offer?
The reef is globally acknowledged as a natural phenomenon, composed of 145 million-year-old Cretaceous deposits. Marine life is abundant here, including mussel beds, over 20 species of sea slug, porpoises, grey seals, and varieties of seaweed not found anywhere else in the world. The chalk habitat here hosts large communities of crustaceans, burrowing piddocks, sea squirts, anemones, and sponges. It’s incredible and, through our findings, it appears that the chalk accelerates the seaweed’s growth.
You are a beach warden and coastal enthusiast. Are we doing enough to combat plastics in our oceans? What, as individuals, can we do to help?
The word is out that people are endangering the oceans with plastic – it’s common knowledge but is anyone actually doing anything? Exposure is very good, but the benefit is hard to assess. People, in general, are so bogged down in the groove of life, the stress and strain. It perpetuates a single-mindedness of survival and a sense of hopelessness. “What does it matter if I stop buying plastic at home?” It matters a huge deal.
Every one of us has the ability to make a change and contribute to the world we want to live in – this change of perception permeates into everything. From a different angle, banning straws and single-use plastics so they don’t ruin our oceans’ health is actually a direct attack on wasteful big business and mindless money-driven corporations who have the finances to make a difference, but only blindly chase profit. If we all start to stand together and question how things are done we can begin to move mountains. It’s all about unity, slowing down and, as one human race, not being taken advantage of.
If you could write a message in a bottle for someone to find in 100 years, what would the message be?
We don’t own anything, we are merely borrowing whilst we visit, so please love everyone and, most importantly, love the planet so we can pass it on.
Locally-sourced seaweed from the Margate coastline alongside various tools in Dom's studio