We chat bikinis and beach clean-ups with Mel Reid, the eco-warrior behind the sustainable Singapore swimwear brand Sandbar Swimwear!
Where are you from and what brought you to Singapore?
I’m originally from the UK, though I actually grew up in the Canary Islands until I was a teenager. That’s when my passion for the ocean started. I returned to the UK for university to do languages, which took me to placements in Brazil and the French Alps. I travelled South America and Southeast Asia, and worked in Barcelona and Milan. Then, I came to Singapore with my previous job. Eight years later, I was the company’s country manager. It gave me the tools I needed to learn how to run a business.
Tell us a bit about your background and foray into the fashion industry.
My passion has always been to protect the environment. I spent my last 10 years in recruitment, mainly in renewable energy. I set up the first renewable energy teams in Asia for my last company and spent most of my career helping clients build teams of project specialists to build wind, solar and hydro farms across Asia, while transitioning people outside of the industry into renewable energy. I loved bringing more people into renewable energy.
Later, as a mother, you realise how much waste is really made. The swimwear I was finding on the market for my kids was expensive, low quality and not recycled. It also quickly began to wear down, lose elasticity and fall apart. How much of this was making its way into our ocean, and how frequently must I buy swimwear for the kids? This inspired me to bring together my motherhood journey and my passion for the environment to create high-quality recycled swimwear that is made to last and be passed down. I created family matching lines so that all families would enjoy wearing it together and being a part of the cause!
What inspired you to create your Singapore swimwear brand Sandbar Swimwear?
I’m an advanced diver and over the past 20 years since I started diving, I have seen the ocean deteriorate. Even our most preciously protected marine parks are littered with plastic these days. It breaks my heart that we are consuming plastic at such an alarming rate that it’s making its way across the entire ocean and into animal bodies.
I created my brand Sandbar Swimwear so that we can make the biggest impact on our oceans, by reducing the plastic making its way there. I also want my children to be able to enjoy the ocean as much as I have – so preserving it is important. Being an environmentalist and a mum plus my love for the ocean is what really brought this together. If we can make the fashion industry sustainable, I thought, let’s make it from recycled materials and it can fund ocean clean-up projects!
What does a typical work day look like for you?
Where do I start?! Well, a big breakfast with the family kick starts the day. My son has a super early start at school. Then, I get some movement and fresh air by walking my toddler to playschool. Once I’m home with the house finally to myself, I start the day by checking our online orders, particularly same-day deliveries and personalised orders, to ensure they go out first. I tend to spend most of my day finalising new designs, talking to product testers, designing future releases, talking to our resort stockists from the Caribbean to the Maldives, and engaging with our customers. There seems to always be a big project. Currently, I’m working on our new shop design in Great World City, which opens in early November!
Sandbar Swimwear removes 1kg of plastic from the oceans with every piece of swimwear bought. Tell us about the swimwear brand’s sustainable ethos and why it’s important to you.
I have always been an eco-warrior, from using cloth nappies for my kids and collecting rainwater to wash them, to buying loose veggies, choosing tin or glass over plastic, using shampoo bars… these changes are great but small scale. I wanted to take this to the next level and involve other families that also wanted to make a difference. I loved the work that our partner Seven Clean Seas is doing to remove plastic and educate on the use of plastic. Funding these guys was super important to me. What was also key was finding a use for the existing plastic out there and reducing new plastics being made!
Any particular surprises or challenges you’ve found living and running your swimwear brand in Singapore?
I’ve been here 10 years now, and getting married, having kids and setting up a business all come with their challenges, from isolation to exhaustion! Making friends with other mums was essential, because you are able to share so much and it’s so helpful. Then, setting up a new business and reaching out to other entrepreneurs also on the same journey was super helpful. Being proactive in making these relationships is the best thing I have done, because you can share challenges, overcome them together and gain new ideas.
What is your favourite beach in or near Singapore and why?
Our family’s favourite has to be Nikoi, near Bintan, for so many reasons! They are big on sustainability; it’s a plastic-free resort and beach. On our visit, the kids loved running around and the water was just perfect for my four-year-old to snorkel in for the first time – so magical. It’s also a protected turtle nesting site so we managed to see some turtles hatching.
Further up the beach, there is a stronger current where a lot of ocean plastic gets washed up, so in the mornings we would collect that before relaxing on the beach. It sounds crazy, my friends know this well, but I love a good beach clean-up before relaxing. It’s so satisfying to collect as much as you can then truly unwind, knowing you’ve done some good and possibly saved some baby turtles!
Let’s talk Singapore swimwear. Do you have a favourite swimwear style?
Matching with my kids! My husband will do his father-son thing, and I will do mummy-baby girl. But I love that we can also alternate to father-baby girl and mother-son. That said, I love mixing it up and am rarely in the same top and bottom. This is what inspired our reversible collection – to enable everyone to mix and match. Also, our ribbed collection has the same tones as our printed collections, allowing multiple looks depending on your mood.
What are a few things you like to do in Singapore when you’re not working?
I love taking the kids out to the park or the beach, and seeing them explore and enjoy the outdoors. I also enjoy making things with them – teaching them how to bake bread, make ice cream and even our own soap. If we’re not outside exploring, we’re making a mess at home. Hopefully, they can become little eco-warrior creators too!
This article first appeared in the November 2023 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!
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