MOST of them began in a garage, don't crave fame but want to make a difference. Whatever which way their mindset, these surf-mad, eco-conscious entrepreneurs are making a name for their brands.
EAT YOUR WATER
When Liam Scanlan started his surfwear label Eat Your Water, one thought was firmly in his mind.
"I wanted to make it look like we were as big as the biggest surf brands and I wasn't a guy in the bedroom designing," he says.
Truth is, Scanlan was only 18 and living in his family home.
Now 23, Scanlan hasn't moved out but he's scaled: he's taken on a year's lease on a Mayfield factory to store his expanding surfwear range as his plan of "taking the business model of major competitors and adding to it" pay offs.
Notching up 180 per cent growth in the last financial year, Eat Your Water's turnover has hit seven figures. Scanlan was recently named, for the second consecutive year, in the Top 50 People in E-Commerce during Australian Retail Week in Melbourne - he was ranked 33, an improvement on 41st place a year earier.
"I am a big believer in e-commerce as the future, which is sad and good and unavoidable," says Scanlon, close to completing a double degree (Bachelor of Business and Bachelor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship) at the University of Newcastle.
A self-taught artist who uses and Apple pen and Ipad to sketch the designs splashed across his products, Scanlan is determined to ensure that EYW "replenishes rather than diminishes" the earth.
He's partnered with charities like the Marine Conservation Society and Wires and has hired an ethics and sustainability consultant as he strives to remove all plastic from his operations and ensure his Indonesian manufacturer does the same, and embrace a circular economy model that ensures his products don't end up in landfill.
"People forget that I am a kid who started a T-shirt business at 18 and I am still learning as I go," he says.
"There's so much depth to it all, it's intimidating."
Scanlan's environmental ethos is traceable to his respect for the ocean as a surfer and the agitated intellect of his generation.
"Last year I was watching the federal election and it was the first time I felt genuinely sad, my mates and I felt that hope was dimming with the realisation that the people who are meant to be leading aren't," he says.
"Businesses shouldn't have to wait for a policy to cut carbon - at the end of the day, we know what is right and wrong, and I thought, 'I am in a position to do something."
LONE CLOTHING CO
Mitch Samways has retail in his genes.
His parents, Col and Sharon, ran waveski manufacturing business Wavemaster in Broadmeadow. [Col now runs the operations Redhead].
The youngest of the three Samways boys, he left school at 14 to do an electrician trade.
In 2017, aged 18, he borrowed a heat printer belonging to a mate and started printing shirts in his garage in Redhead, motivated by the idea of having more cash for beer time with his mates at the weekend.
His brand name is all about the independence he holds dear as a young man.
Samways initially printed his T-shirts in a shared industrial shed in Redhead but as the merchandise grew in popularity at local markets, he bit the bullet and leased a small shop space in his home suburb of Redhead, printing in a smaller space out back.
When a slither of retail space came up on Darby Street at the Bar Beach end in December, Samways leapt on it, turning around the fit-out in four days.
Samways has learnt on the fly and though he uses social media to drive his business, he doesn't invest in advertising much.
"I like the old-school, organic and authentic feel of it, like meeting people, which is very stupid in a world where you can reach millions of people online, but in saying that we are still here," he notes.
Samways strives for his brand to be consistent and hopes to catch "both ends" of the market by offering modern-looking, classic surf T-shirts as well as retro designs.
He is casual about growing his business, saying he may open another shop but just wants to "stay consistent and keep the passion".
Though he loves his shtick, he doesn't ram it down the throats of his customers, which he reckons is a part of his success.
"We don't try to sell stuff, people are comfortable and they don't feel threatened to buy," he says.
"I would rather someone walk in and tell me what they have been doing for two weeks than me telling me what looks best on them. People are attracted to feeling loved.
"If they walk in the door, it's all our product so they get the vibe of what we are selling. It saves that sales pitch."
For now, Samways is happy working seven days a week, in his downtime surfing, having a beer with mates and going to church.
The latter habit makes him grateful.
"I have always said I don't think I was put here to make money, it's more to connect with people, which is why I do what I do. It makes me feel humble," he says.
"I earn enough to live, pay my bills and staff, I don't live an excy life anyway. We are turning over a shit-tonne of money but we have a lot of overheads."
WORKING two jobs, studying fashion design and building her own eco-swim wear label, Kellie Mitchell is, she laughs wearily, "grinding pretty hard right now".
'No matter how I am feeling, every single day I work on my business, it's better to take steps forward than back," she says.
A keen surfer from a young age, Mitchell was working in a Newcastle surf store when she noticed the amount of waste in merchandise packaging. At the time studying environmental science, she also noted a lack of swimwear that met her needs.
"I couldn't find anything that I was comfy in or suited for activities in the water - there was nothing that functional," she said. "It all looked super similar, teeny tiny cutsie. I have boobs, so a triangle bikini won't be supportive. I wanted something to hold me in and not have to move all the time."
Tapping into her love for the ocean (the name Elation evokes her mood when surfing) and her environmental values, Mitchell developed sustainable and ethically-produced swimwear brand Elation. Its swimsuits are made from Econyl® and *Repreve®, which turn waste such as ghost fish nets and industrial plastics into regenerated yarn. In addition, Mitchell uses biodegradable swim pouches and compostable mail satchels.
"The products are comfy, double-lined and firm," she says, adding: "The biggest feedback is that they are too cheeky, but I see all feedback as being positive because it gives Elation the room for improvement and growth. My customers are the most important aspect of my business and my job is to listen. I want to make all women feel confident in their own skin!"
Mitchell is designing her second collection - inspired by a recent trip to Lombok and a colour palette of pinks, oranges and mutual browns - which says "has more coverage to suit all bumps, curves and body shapes."
The 25-year-old acknowledges a slow retail climate but is happy to grow her audience: "People are still gaining trust in my product, they like to see it before they buy."
For that reason, she's been doing lots of local markets, and her pipe dream is to own her own surf store retailing ethically-produced, smaller designer brands.
LIKE a surfer seeking a perfect swell, Rob Carraro is optimistic that one day his Fader wetsuits will be as common on beaches as Hi-Vis vests on worksites.
A marine scientist with 30 years of diving experience, he came up with the idea of wetsuits and surfboards that camouflage with the sea in 2014. At the time, he was angry that West Australian authorities had flagged what he viewed as a "knee-jerk" move to cull sharks after a spate of fatal attacks.
Made in Brisbane from limestone neoprene with eco credentials, the wetsuits have a contrast gradient pattern that makes edges more fluid and obscures the shape of the wearer. Both the Fader fabric and surfboard decal mimic what light does underwater, helping to camouflage the surfer and board.
"The chance of a shark attack is very low; by using our wetsuits or boards that very low chance is made almost negligible," says Carraro, who has a range of design and innovation patents on both. His boards are made by local board shaper Jye Byrnes; the Fader was developed with wetsuit designer Gemma Cornish.
Carraro says the blue wetsuits are lighter, stretchier and more comfortable to wear than the traditional black suit, which he maintains merely attracts a shark's attention.
He is in discussions with a university to perform validation testing of his product but agrees it is a tough ask to "prove a negative".
"My biggest gripe with how shark research is done and deterrents tested - they put too much burley in and it affects them too much and the results are unnatural. It's like looking at the behaviour of a dog in a butcher shop," he says.
Carraro says many surfers "understand my product but say they don't want to consider it because once you do it can happen" - code for being superstitious of an attack. But slowly but surely, the brand is gaining traction.
He stocks adult and kids-size Fader suits in his Hunter Street mall store, where visitors often speak his mind: "I can't believe it hasn't already been done."