Meet the man who turns seaweed into soap

Dom Bridges has always had a beard. Indeed, it cost him his first job. Straight after art school nearly 20 years ago he was about to sign a contract to work at a prestigious graphic design company when he noticed the clause demanding he shave it all off. As it turned out, they did him a favour. He ended up working in advertising instead, and quickly became a director, travelling all over the world making ads for the likes of Coca-Cola, Nissan, KFC and Lucozade.

‘It was good fun,’ he says. ‘But over time, you just realise that you’re putting all of your creative spirit into selling things that you don’t necessarily believe in.’

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Margate man Dom Bridges harvests natural ingredients from the Kent shore and uses them to make acclaimed grooming products

 

In 2010 Bridges and his wife, Jo, decided to move out of London to the seaside town of Margate. It was here, sitting outside a pub one day and hearing his friends complaining about the smell of the seaweed washed up on the beach, that he had his big idea: what if he could make a business out of it? He began to research and discovered that the bladderwrack that grows plentifully on this part of the Kent coast is an ingredient in super-premium skincare products. So he gathered some up and made it into soap, then created his Sailors Beard Oil ‘because I needed it’.

PHOTO: Jo Bridges
PHOTO: Jo Bridges

His Haeckels brand is named after the 19th-century German botanist and artist Ernst Haeckel, whose detailed drawings of nature he has long admired, and Bridges likes to say that his products are ‘made of Margate’, using natural ingredients that are sourced locally whenever possible. His shop, just above the town’s shiny Turner Contemporary Gallery, is like a cross between an old apothecary’s and a mad professor’s lab, with all his infusion and distillation equipment in the back.

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All of his products are unisex. The Sailors Beard Oil was lauded in Esquire magazine as one of the best male grooming products of 2014, though he confesses that just as many women buy it to use as hair conditioner.

‘I filled it with as much good stuff as I could,’ he says.

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He now sells everything from scented candles and smudge sticks to lip balm and bath products, plus a range of perfumes bearing GPS coordinates instead of names. Each one was inspired by a particular spot along his stretch of coast, using ingredients found there. ‘People are really taken by the concept of it,’ he says. ‘Instead of it selling this fantasy realm that’s unattainable, it’s a real place and you can go there, or at least research it and find the origins of the scent.’

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The brand is growing fast. Bridges is getting interest from boutique hotel chains and big-name fashion designers, and has just been offered the chance to open a shop in Shoreditch. ‘That wasn’t really on the agenda, but was an offer we couldn’t refuse,’ he says with a grin. ‘It’s a real buzz, taking Margate to the city.’

 

Photo: Dom Bridges’s Haeckel brand is named after a German botanist Photo: Jo Bridges

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