Sand Cloud’s Mission to #SavetheFishies through Beach Towels and Eco Apparel
In 2014, Steven Ford and Brandon Leibel had just finished college and were working in cubicles at a San Diego call centre, dreaming of quitting their day jobs to become entrepreneurs. They would soon spend nights and weekends selling their first idea, the pillow beach towel. One of their first customers was call centre colleague Bruno Aschidamin. He joined them in presenting Sand Cloud on “Shark Tank” in 2016, and the three made a deal with Robert Herjavec. Today, Sand Cloud is a thriving sustainable lifestyle business with millions of dollars in global sales, and a marketing plan centred on their mission to “#savethefishies”. We spoke with CEO Brandon Leibel about Sand Cloud’s growth and purpose.
Parvati Magazine: You’ve said that when you first tested selling t-shirts and sold 500 in the first day, you realized, “We don’t have a towel company, we have a brand.” How has that influenced your choices for growth?
Brandon Leibel: It was surprising, but gave us the idea, “Hey, we have a community that not only wants towels but is willing to wear Sand Cloud across their chest on a t-shirt.” It excited us because it allowed us to reach people that don’t live by the beach, lake or river, yet still identify with our mission.
Parvati Magazine: You donate 10 percent of your profits to ocean-focused non-profits. To date, these partners are in San Diego or Hawaii, close to your headquarters. Do you plan on expanding globally? What is your criteria as you choose new non-profit partners further abroad?
Fulfilling a Mission to Protect Marine Life
Brandon Leibel: We are definitely looking to expand. We want to work with non-profits that are grassroots and on brand with our mission of protecting marine life and the oceans. We look for non-profits that are community-based and need social media help. We give them a platform to share their mission and reach our followers.
It’s a win-win because we provide our followers, who are all about our mission, with premium content from these amazing non-profits and letting the non-profits take over our channel and show what they’re doing daily.
Parvati Magazine: In 2019, you set the goal to make everything out of recycled material by the end of the year or by the beginning of 2020. How has that gone? What has challenged your team as you move to a product line of fully recycled materials?
Brandon Leibel: We’re almost there. All our apparel is made either from organic cotton or recycled plastics. Our water bottle is made of glass and bamboo. We have metal straws. We have bags from recycled material and excess fabric. Our towels are in transition to being made from one hundred percent organic cotton. By mid-2020, we should be close to one hundred percent all organic or sustainable.
The only challenge has been the timeline; waiting for our towel manufacturer to get our organic cotton, understanding the incurred costs, and working in the margins. It hasn’t been too painful. It just takes time.
Parvati Magazine: You’ve said that your market has been 90 percent female, mostly Millennials and Generation Z. What are some of the challenges you see in broadening your reach, and what are your strategies for overcoming them?
Brandon Leibel: [Millennials and Generation Z are] the primary audience that resonated with us, because we’ve been focusing on using social media to reach people that want to connect with a brand like ours and support a mission. From there, it’s coming out with products more aimed at an older demographic, potentially men’s in the future, although obviously our towels are all unisex. It seems women between the ages of 18 and 35 are the ones who are passionate about the environment and marine life, and we want to keep them happy and also see how we can expand and reach other people outside of that.
Parvati Magazine: Your ambassadors play a key role in sharing the #savethefishies message. How do you bring them on board? What is one of the most memorable things an ambassador has done for your brand?
Brandon Leibel:We find ambassadors that are passionate about our mission and love our products. The perks of being an ambassador are that you get a lifetime discount, you get featured on our social media and you get sneak peeks at product we’re working on before anyone else does. Ambassadors are a community of people obsessed with the environment, with marine life conservation, and who ultimately want to support Sand Cloud. We sponsor beach cleanups around the country and tell ambassadors about it so they take part. One of the coolest things an ambassador did for us was that when we had an event in Florida, someone drove in from six hours away, wearing all Sand Cloud stuff, to take part in the beach cleanup. That was really cool.
Parvati Magazine: MAPS, the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary, provides protection for the unique Arctic Ocean ecosystem that balances our weather patterns globally. It is home to seventeen species of whales, seals, walruses, polar bears, hundreds of species of fish and millions of seabirds. Given your commitment to #savethefishies, what is your position on MAPS?
Brandon Leibel: I support Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) as they give the ocean and the fishies an opportunity to recover and rejuvenate, and as such I support the principle of MAPS protecting the critical Arctic Ocean ecosystem for the good of all.
Brandon Leibel is the CEO and Co-Founder of Sand Cloud, a brand founded on the beaches of San Diego around the mission of sustainability and marine conservation. Sand Cloud sells Turkish towels, sustainable clothing, and accessories.