How I Lost Faith in Conservation

Thanks to years of work in South America as an activist for the coastal environment, I was deep in the surf industry. After the catastrophic 2010 earthquake and tsunamis in Chile, I doubled down on my coastal conservation efforts. With a ton of support from great people and organizations such as Save the Waves, Waves for Water, Patagonia and many other individuals, foundations and companies, I poured my heart and soul into helping local Chilean people dig out and recover from that disaster.

It was inspiring and wonderful work and also an incredibly difficult time for me. As a surfer and coastal conservationist, seeing Chile’s gorgeous coastline devastated by a tsunami was heartbreaking, and eye opening. Eventually I grew exhausted from this work and realized I was burnt out and disillusioned with the nonprofit world. It was time to excuse myself from the process.

I needed a break, and I took one: I quit my dream job with Save the Waves and I walked away from my deep commitments as a volunteer for Proplaya and Coastkeeper. I moved to a cabin in the woods in the Point Reyes National Seashore and for 3 years I sat quietly, reflecting on my work, surfing, and doing what gave me joy: creating art, writing, being outside, and working with my hands for a living. I did a lot of woodworking and farming. I reconnected with nature in a positive way after seeing nature’s frightening side in Chile. I made a short autobiographical film, The Ocean Inside, about this introspective and healing moment in my life. It was a great time.

After 3 years of this I was ready to be “out of the woods” both literally and figuratively. So I took a job in San Francisco as a filmmaker for the fast fashion industry, a salaried corporate gig with one of the largest apparel companies on the planet. It was my first “real” job, with decent health care and retirement benefits. I had a corner office on the 14th floor and I learned all about elevator etiquette. Little did I know that I had jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire!

They sent me to Bangladesh where I filmed what I later coined, “corporate propaganda” for the largest clothing factories in the world. I witnessed first hand how the global apparel system puts the pursuit of profit before human health, the environment, and safety. Personally, I put profit before my own spiritual health. I lasted 2 years in this job and it wasn’t pretty. I barely escaped with my soul. 

But I also discovered a fresh perspective on the global apparel industry and the future of making things. The truth is, poorly paid humans living at or below the poverty line make every single piece of mass-produced clothing that we wear -- and people will continue to do this under those conditions for many years to come, in spite of what the technology and apparel industries tell us about a vague and bright future.

Dozens of hard working, aching hands touch every square inch of our clothing, no matter how clean and high tech and automated we believe our manufacturing systems to be. Millions of people work very hard for very low pay in overseas factories every single day to make the things we wear.

Around this same time I met my wife Joyce, who works in sustainable fashion. Joyce is the creative director for Wildlife Works, the only apparel factory in the world that can boast of being fair trade certified, carbon neutral and protecting wildlife and wilderness lands in Africa. Its workers are paid a fair wage, they receive free child care and health care, and their apparel jobs replace unsustainable jobs in local deforestation and poaching in the savannah. She too was a refugee from fast fashion and like me was searching for a better path forward.

As a result of our shared life experiences in conservation, apparel and adventure, Joyce and I designed the surf poncho: the world’s first fair trade, carbon neutral surf changing poncho. It’s a functional and stylish piece of pre- and post-surf wear that can be used at the beach and on the streets. The surf poncho by Marlin Ray fills a much-needed gap in the surf gear business: useful stuff that looks great while being good for the Earth.

The years I spent working with Save the Waves, Proplaya, Coastkeeper, Patagonia and other surf industry brands are finally rubbing off on me. Our new work with Marlin Ray is an epic amalgam of direct experience and knowledge earned through years of adventure, hard work and sharp observations.

Marlin Ray inhabits a constantly evolving apex in our lives spent surfing all over the world, working in conservation, witnessing suffering and success in the apparel trade, sailing in solitude on the open ocean, collaborating with innovative and visionary companies, and making real things with our own hands. 

At Marlin Ray we don’t have any misconceptions about saving the world — but we aim to change a small slice of the planet through small acts of business, conservation and kindness. Little by little, slowly but surely, through this tiny new apparel company we’re showing the world that there is another way, a better alternative to mega corporate fast fashion.

Join us and support the surf poncho by Marlin Ray. For the shore and more, we’ve got you covered. Joyce’s journey to Marlin Ray is coming soon to the Stories Blog.

Very truly yours, 

Josh Berry.