IT CAME FROM
He’s the self-styed ‘bearded weirdo’ making skincare products out of the local seaweed. But, with Haeckels, Dom Bridges is proving that what was once seen as a blight on Margate’s coast is rich with possibilities…
Dom Bridges is pretty sure that, in the early days, the locals thought of him as ‘the bearded weirdo on the hill’. But in the last year or so, he’s made slow and steady inroads into rejuvenating the reputation of one of Margate’s most pungent topics of conversation: seaweed. As creator and founder of Haeckels, an organic, seaweed-based skincare brand, Bridges and his foraging trolley have become a familiar sight in the Kent seaside town.
‘Haeckels was borne out of falling out of love with advertising and wanting to create my own brand,’ he explains. ‘It was an experiment to try to make a premium brand that doesn’t feel like it’s made by my mum in a shed in a tie-dye shirt.’
Part of the ethos behind his brand was attempting to create a positive out of a peculiar local negative. ‘Due to the structure of the harbour, the seaweed sometimes backs up into the water sluice gates,’ he explains. ‘If it sits out in the sun too long then it really starts to smell!’ The average UK coast gets between 600-700 tons of seaweed washed ashore a year. Margate gets 6,000-7,000 tons. ‘It’s a big topic of discussion as to how we manage it, so I thought there must be another use for it.’
Describing the raw material of his business as ‘a free sea vegetable that’s incredibly healthy’, Bridges remarks that his particular portion of the English coastline boasts three different types of seaweed, thanks to its prehistoric chalk reef. The variety he uses, the marvelously titled Serrated Bladderwrack, is a good source of vitamins, while he raves that another species, Dulse, ‘tastes like a bacon butty’ if you smoke it and eat it between two slices of bread.
He may come across as something of a seaweed evangelist, but it’s hard to deny he has a point. ‘It’s a heritage that we’ve always had that people have just forgotten about. I think we’ve really lost the respect for our beaches in this country.
‘I guess what I’m doing is not revolutionary,’ he admits. ‘It would be easy to say there’s this bearded guy charging £12 for a piece of soap, but it’s about raising the profile of the neighbourhood.’