The room was packed, 50+ pairs of eyes staring intently at Belinda Baggs onstage. It was clear the turnout had surpassed all of Patagonia’s expectations, good effort Cornwall.
The talented logger and bodysurfer best known for her graceful and fluid approach, is a passionate advocate of Fairtrade and a sustainable surf lifestyle.
Having worked with Patagonia for over 10 years, she’s watched the concept of taking social and environmental responsibility turn into a core belief when manufacturing products, and subsequently become a certified Fairtrade company.
The evening with Belinda in association with Patagonia and Down The Line was a chance to hear her stories of the sea, but the message ran deeper than the simple joy and mindfulness of surfing. She described her motivations behind helping promote the mind-set of ‘taking responsibility’ and delved deeper when we caught up after the presentation.
“I discovered that surfing and travelling could become an excuse for each other, but I became aware of the concept of leaving a footprint.”
I grew up as a poor surfer and I never had much money
Balancing the functionality, style and price of an item with our social/environmental conscience can be tricky, especially when prioritising the demands of every day life. But this is the concept; the purpose-built gear we invest in awards us hours and hours of water-time, so if we can give a little back to improve the lives of those who made it, we probably should.
“I feel like all our decisions as humans have an impact on the environment and each other, so we should make them consciously when we purchase items.
“I grew up as a poor surfer and I never had much money. I chose to live a simple life and not have a lot of stuff. But the stuff I did buy, I was very conscious about the decisions of buying it. I think when you see actually how much impact something like Fairtrade has on someone’s life, a couple of bucks to us is the difference between changing their lives. And I think we need to remind ourselves of that constantly when we’re making decisions.”
When Belinda first visited Sri Lanka on a surf trip a few years after the 2004 Tsunami, it’s coastal areas hadn’t yet regenerated.
“Locals were yelling at me, pointing at what was on the roof of my car. It was of course my surfboards and after many animated explanations I left with a funny farewell of shakas and kids shouting ‘hang ten’ as I made my way down the street.
“This time I had the opportunity to go with Patagonia to see one of its certified Fairtrade factories. As grommets, we’re never really prompted to ask where our gear comes from, so I was intrigued and excited to go and check it out.”
The industry had rebuilt after the disaster and it was during this visit that Belinda saw Fairtrade in action.
“It was clean, their bosses were helpful and nice and they were in a good situation. But I couldn’t believe how much pressure they were under to maintain the speed and efficiency of their work. There was heavy dance music playing in the background just to keep people alert. I just thought, wow… imagine this being a non Fairtrade factory… Imagine what the bad factories are like.”
The day after her visit, Belinda surfed in the pink shirt she’d helped sew 24 hours before and was struck by the collective effort behind our garments.
“I never really thought of our items being so humanised. The fact that one shirt can pass through 40 sets of hands before it’s finished and that there are real people sitting behind those machines, extremely talented people operating them. It does hit home.”
The notion of leaving an environmental ‘footprint’ is something Patagonia tries to minimise, forging the production of more environmentally conscious items including wetsuits containing natural Yulex rubber. As a surf ambassador, Belinda tests the gear in challenging, ever-changing conditions.
“Logging is a place I feel quite feminine, quite delicate and there’s a lot of finesse involved. It’s light, fun, whereas bodysurfing is more about a real connection with the ocean and although it can be the ultimate fun, it’s also about exposing myself to wild places, the raw energy of the earth.”
“Choices in the water all have consequences and it’s the same in life.”
With Belinda’s words in mind, I left with a new sense of responsibility and the intention to buy some swim-fins.
Image Jelle Mul