Not many people can build a business out of selling old fishing nets, but somehow Danielle Clayton makes it work.
In 2010, Danielle quit a job she loved as a sales rep for Billabong NZ to buy a one-way ticket to the Maldives and work on a surf charter boat. There she met her fiancé and they spent the next three years working as surf guides.
It was in 2012, while still working as a surf guide, that Danny started her blog under the name Salt Gypsy. The goal of Danny’s blog was to connect with other like-minded female surfers living the same surf-centric lifestyle and showcase cool surf gear from independent women’s surf brands.
“At the time, there was little to zero support for independent surf labels from mainstream surf industry and media. At the same time, there was a whole market of women, myself included, who didn’t want to purchase from mainstream brands or wear big, logo-driven products.”
Halfway through her third season working and surfing under the tropical sun, Danny was becoming increasingly conscious of covering up from sun damage. Not finding anything in the market that suited her personal taste (or surf guide wages), she decided to make some of her surf gear.
“I made a couple of pairs of lycra leggings to surf in and it quickly became blindingly obvious how practical they were for surfing. They didn’t pull down in the surf and your legs were protected from the sun.”
“As there was zero marketing around the very concept of surf leggings, the original Salt Gypsy blog allowed me to showcase surf shots of me wearing the leggings. By the end of that year, I had built up enough of a community through the blog and Facebook that I was able to generate pre-orders for the first iteration of our customisable Salt Gypsy surf leggings. The rest, as they say, is history”
What started as a blog and a couple of pairs of leggings eventually grew into a budding business. Salt Gypsy advocates and promotes style in the lineup by producing fashion-forward and multipurpose ocean activewear. Danny has spent over six years actively promoting the idea of stylish and functional women’s surf-wear, as well as leading the way in sustainable, independent women’s surf business operations.
“I want women to feel comfortable and awesome in the gear they wear – gear that is mix & matchable with other brands and allows an individual’s style to come through. I’ve seen firsthand how feeling rad in skintight lycra (a bit of an oxymoron for a lot of women, I know!) translates into higher confidence levels in the water.”
Danny started Salt Gypsy as an extremely lean startup business, using her blog as an initial platform that evolved into her brand. With each iteration of her product, she continually tweaks and improves the quality and processes, with the goal of building a sustainable and ethical business.
“I literally began with two pairs of leggings and zero capital so I had to think outside the box on how to get paid upfront and fund production. The answer was customisable surf leggings, made to your design and delivered four weeks later. I used my blog as a platform for sales and it eventually evolved into a standalone women’s surf brand, reacting to wholesale enquiries and expanding the product range. It’s the universal start-up story which began with not finding something in the marketplace, and ended up with me creating it for myself.”
One of the truly unique things that separates Salt Gypsy’s products from other brands in the market is their choice of fabric. Salt Gypsy uses a recycled nylon lycra, made from ECONYL® 100% regenerated nylon yarn, which is produced by the Italian Aquafil Group. The yarn is made from a mixture of discarded ghost fishing nets collected from the ocean and textile and carpet factory offcuts, that are shipped to a mill in Slovenia. There it’s put through a re-polymerisation process and mixed with textile yarns (including a lycra knit fabric) and made into carpets as well as different types of textiles used by fashion and swimwear brands globally.
“I first came across ECONYL® and the Aquafil Group while researching sustainable nylon lycra and textiles in 2015. As soon as I found out how to source the lycra version, I haven’t looked back and it’s non-negotiable for me to use this longer-lasting, excellent quality fabric across our product range. (My parents even have ECONYL® carpet in their house in New Zealand!) I believe this fabric, and other recycled nylon lycra like it should be industry standard, not the exception.”
Danny made the conscious move to sustainable production materials, and while she believes there is a shift by fashion and swimwear towards more sustainable textiles in their manufacturing, it’s not happening fast enough. The fashion industry is currently the second highest polluting industry in the world, so switching to sustainable and upcycled production materials would have a huge effect on a global scale.
“To me, it’s a no-brainer. As a small business in today’s climate of sustainable consumption, there is simply no other way to operate other than as environmentally and socially responsible as possible.”
“While there are a handful of great businesses leading the way, more global companies really need to shift their business model to be more in line with the consumer shift, that is not only happening now – but happening rapidly as more and more people choose to use their hard-earned spending power on small, ethical businesses such as Salt Gypsy. If we can do it, why can’t they?”
In addition to Salt Gypsy, Danny is also involved in a few other businesses and projects. Along with her friends and local Byron Bay fashion and lifestyle photographer, Ming Nomchong, Danny opened a retail store right in the heart of Byron.
“Sea Bones is women’s coastal concept store that combines our shared passion for showcasing independent creative brands making cool products for our beach-centric lifestyle. It’s also been a great sales channel for each of our product lines – you can find Salt Gypsy surf gear and Ming’s photography and product collaborations throughout the store.”
In 2014, Salt Gypsy was picked up by Urban Outfitters in the USA, resulting in huge international exposure for the brand. Along with all her successes, Danny has had challenges along the way, the biggest of which being lack of capital during various stages of her business.
“Hands down the biggest challenge for me has always been a lack of capital and not knowing how I’m going to pay for production, scale growth, pay my rent, or even feed myself at times. The biggest lesson I’ve had is to always find the opportunity in a problem: to become comfortable with problem-solving and calculated risk-taking on a daily basis.”
One of the biggest drivers of growth for Social Gypsy has been social media, in fact, Danny credits social media and her blog for building her business in the first place.
“Had it not been for the ability to utilise Facebook and my blog, I would not have been able to connect with a global audience and launch my product to them right off the bat. While there’s been a shift in platforms, social media is imperative to connect with your customers directly, on a daily basis. This kind of connection and feedback has helped shape our business over the years and it’s been so awesome meeting customers and building a community in real life who have purchased or followed us online for some time.”
Danny has been running the business as a sole operator for so long largely due to the online systems she has researched and implemented along the way. She automates as much as possible across inventory management, her e-commerce website, accounting, and social media platforms. She has been able to build a business that can be remotely operated for periods of time and accessed anywhere with an internet connection.
Despite this, Danny (like many business owners) does have to juggle her work/life balance and her business can become a 24/7 job at times. She started to build out her team to help better manage her time and makes sure to regularly take time out to refresh and recharge.
“After starting a second business and working six to seven days a week for the past year, while struggling to keep up with the rapid growth of each business, there’s been zero balance! But I’m now eight months pregnant and am literally being forced to slow down and reassess how to manage everything. By slowly building out a team and working with some talented women, I’m starting to reclaim some balance in preparation for this next chapter.”
Danny has big ambitions to grow Salt Gypsy into a globally recognised brand. In the short term, she’s looking to take her business to the next level by beginning production with a large Australian factory that has the capability to help her business scale and grow.
“In the long term, we’d love to generate a million dollar turnover – pretty rad for a business that started with zero dollars and two pairs of leggings! In 5 to 10 years time, I’d love to see Salt Gypsy with its own solar-powered fair-trade factory, Salt Gypsy surf villas in key surf locations around the world, a take-back programme where customers can return lycra gear which is then upcycled again in a fully closed-loop system, Salt Gypsy as a globally-recognised leader in sustainable surf & swim fashion and a concept store in California… we can dream, right?!”
Danny took a gamble on herself when she started her business, and it has paid off. When asked what advice she would give to any aspiring business owner or business owners who are just starting out, she had similar words of wisdom:
“Find a business name with ‘stickability’, register it, trademark it, and buy the domain. Then quit your job. Once you’ve made those things tangible, there’s nothing like not knowing how you’re going to pay your rent or feed yourself to light a fire under your butt and make it happen. Then, persevere.”