It’s no secret that for over a decade Margate has been undergoing a reboot thanks largely to artists who arrived in search of achievable rents and a more nature-filled life. Dom Bridges’ story is a little different, but happened during this exceptional time for the seaside town. His seafront luxury cosmetics shop Haeckels is a prized Margate landmark and the story behind it is enthralling – in large part, because it revolves around local seaweed, botanicals and ocean mud. This most easterly point of Kent – Thanet – is home to many different forms of algae and in the past seaweed was collected for use as manure while some brown algaes were burned to make ‘potash’, a material that was then exported to Holland for use in glazing pottery.
In 2012 a high octane job as a director of television advertising had left Dom feeling dispirited and in need of a change. He quit work and moved to Margate with his wife Jo where, inspired by nature, he began his next path as the founder of his brand. Haeckels, now famously, has the seaweed of its locale at the heart of its skincare products and has gone from being a local phenomenon to something you can find in the world’s most desirable boutiques – Liberty, Bergdorf Goodman and The Ace Hotel among them.
Dom and his team live by the motto ‘from the ocean for the ocean’ because the sea is both a source for health-giving ingredients, as well as their motivation for being as sustainable as they can be. Haeckels has a bottle reuse policy and even a ‘Rubbish for Product’ scheme that encourages customers to bring rubbish collected from nearby Walpole Bay to the shop, in return for a free body cleanser. We salute this thinking!
Here, Dom tells us about his brand’s incredible journey and why life has ended up being not quite as slow paced as he’d imagined.
When you started the brand, you talked about wanting to do something local to Margate. Did you ever consider anything other than Haeckels as a concept?
“No. I’d spent years creating films and with Haeckels I wanted to create something more tactile. Something you could touch and something I could use to connect people and the environment around the sea.”
How did the seaweed idea hit you and is it still a central ingredient in the product lines?
“It’s been well documented that the idea came from the smell emitted from Margate’s harbour which can, at times, become fragrant due to the volume of seaweed washed up at low tide. Having spent time in China where seaweed was a delicacy and something shown huge respect, I felt it was a great opportunity to make something using it.
Seaweed in its raw form and its extracts continue to be part of the DNA of nearly every Haeckels product and we continue to experiment with more uses of it.”
Can you tell us more about how the brand has grown since it began and what the journey of experimentation and creating products been like?
“It’s grown organically, word of mouth has been hugely powerful for us. Social media is a wonderful thing to have, but it means nothing unless our products meet the needs of a customer or fail to excite them. We don’t really advertise, we don’t have a PR agency currently, but we have strong values and a real belief that we can build a business in Margate that creates jobs, opportunities and incredible products that can be sold around the world.
Product development is the really exciting part of my role as founder. We have two labs in house and we constantly look to nature for inspiration and try to find solutions to the problems we have with the world today, such as the effect pollution has on our skin.”
How does Margate and its people effect how you do things – do you draw inspiration from your locale other than its beautiful natural ingredients?
“Margate and its community are everything to us. Without them we are nothing.”
How does it feel to be the second person in the UK to have a seaweed license?
“It’s an honour to have the ability to harvest this incredible product, but also a great responsibility. We take it very seriously and involve ourselves in beach cleans and now reward those that take part with free product from our store.”
What’s a typical Haeckels’ week if there is one?
“There really is no typical week. This week we’ve had meetings with Dreamland about making a new scent, we’ve been testing new products, welcomed a new therapist to our treatment rooms whilst also planned our new packing format using mycelium [a living material that can be used like plastic for packaging, but grown from mushroom roots].”
Was there a defining moment for the brand when you realised you were really onto something?
“Not really. It has been really organic. One of the things that always blows me away is when someone in Japan or Los Angeles orders from us online. The fact that we can turn seaweed into a product and someone across the other side of the world decided that it’s the exact product that they want to have in their home.”
Can you tell us about the recent re-brand and re-design of your shop and lab?
“It’s a work in progress still, but for us the Making Space, Shop and Treatment Rooms should be peaceful, inspirational and encourage people to be themselves. All three spaces should be sensorial and show what can be possible in Margate.”
You share beautiful photos of Margate on Instagram – was it the intention to show a side of Margate that’s not so commonly shared and do the images relate to the scents you make?
“We have an incredible photographer in house, Sam Scales. He’s been with us for some time and is a local lad. We don’t have content plans or strategies, we work on impulse and inspiration. In truth, yes the images are related to the scents and products because it is this environment that has inspired us to make this business in the first place.”
You’ve done various pop ups, do you have anything coming up that you can talk about?
“Wait and see. Our big focus is new product development and expanding our treatment rooms. We can’t wait to reveal some of these new ideas.”
Can you tell us more about your mission to reduce and reuse – it’s an issue that Another Country is also passionate about.
“We are from the ocean. All of us. That’s where we all began. If we can use the ocean and its properties, such as seaweed, to inspire people to care for it more and care more for themselves we have been successful. We’re very much here for the long term, we’re not here for a quick buck on the back of a trend to use less plastics or natural products. We actually believe in it and we want to be doing this in 100 years.”
How different is life before as a film director in London, to life now as the creator of Haeckels in Margate?
“It was supposed to be a quieter life by the sea, but I have never been busier and never worked harder. The difference is that it is infinitely more rewarding to create here and that we can see what we are doing is having a positive impact on our home.”
Thank you again to Dom for his time, we’re huge fans of what him and his team are doing in Margate. If you’re interested in trying out their wonderful products, feel free to explore our Haeckels collection below.