Bermudian creates world’s first eco-friendly wetsuit
Gray Robinson broke both his legs and was stuck in a wheelchair for a year.
Although he could have dwelled on the negative he instead decided to make the time count.
Maluku is a world-first; a sustainable line of seashell-based wetsuits that he created during that time.
“Put a guy in a wheelchair for a year and nothing else to do …. I was working 70-plus hours a week, researching factories all over the world and I happened to land the perfect timing,” he said.
“They’re very durable. [A big interest with] wetsuits is their elongation, the way they stretch. [Ours are] better than petroleum-based wetsuits and they're warmer.”
The warmth comes from the thermal lining, which is also ethically-sourced.
“It's a red, thermal type of fleece-like material. Ours is made from recycled materials, so our polyester and nylons, everything about the wetsuit – on top of the calcium carbonate rubber material – all of the other processes are from recycled materials. So we’re really on the cutting edge because we were first to the market, from branding to putting this first on the world stage.”
Mr Robinson, an all-round outdoorsman with a kite school here and in locations around the world, launched a Kickstarter campaign last week to get funding to take the water sports apparel brand forward.
“As an outdoorsman, surfer, snowboarder, having lived a life in extreme sports, I have a deep respect for nature and if you're surfing on some of the beaches, you see all the plastic and the garbage in the sea and it's heartbreaking to think of the microplastics. As a human race we really need to change the products we buy.”
The move into natural energy - wind, salt and solar power - needs to take place much quicker, he added.
“But my interest comes from just being in the outdoors and seeing the destruction; what plastic is doing to our beaches. That was one huge push in that direction to create a wetsuit/watersports apparel line. We hadn’t been given a choice. We just accepted the fact that we were going to put on an oil-based wetsuit.”
His hope is to grow Maluku’s ethical line to compete with major surfing companies.
“We basically will [offer] board shorts, bikinis, sunglasses, caps – everything that a Billabong, Rip Curl and O’Neill product line has,” he said.
“The wetsuits are our star products but multiple shops in Bermuda sell our brand of sunglasses – the South Shore gas station, Pier 41 down in Dockyard, The Pro Shop.
“The polarised lenses on our sunglasses have seven-tier technology. So the quality of the lens is the same as a $350 pair of Oakleys, but they're less than half the price.”
Four per cent of the profits will go towards rebuilding coral reef systems inside the company’s namesake, an east Indonesian archipelago called the Maluku Islands.
“We've already sourced a company that will work with the NGO and it’s been able to regrow coral reef systems,” Mr Robinson said.
Customers can return wetsuits at the end of their life cycle and get a discount on new ones. In the works is a scheme where people can also get a discount on a new suit by sending in an oil-based one to be recycled into yoga mats
“So in doing this, our hope is to change the virtuous cycle of how a company both operates and gives back to the environment. [One] that puts people first, the planet second and profit third.”
Mr Robinson was living in Tarifa, Spain in 2018 when he fell 23 feet and broke both legs in a “pretty silly” accident.
“I didn't have keys to get into my apartment and it was cold and late. I decided to climb the side of the building to enter into the window and as I got to the windowsill, the pipe broke off the building.
“The problem was the public healthcare system in Spain. When they pulled me back together they didn't tell me I wouldn't have any movement in my left ankle again because I destroyed the articular circulation.”
Mr Robinson spent three months in a wheelchair and had to learn to walk all over again.
“I could walk but I had no movement of my ankle. I realised I needed to find a solution. So I found a specialist in Madrid who does prosthetic ankle surgery.”
After a ten-hour operation he was back in a wheelchair for another three months.
“And then I had to learn how to walk again,” he said.
He returned to Bermuda to recuperate in 2020, just as the pandemic hit.
“I literally arrived back on March 19. I was actually case number five of the coronavirus in Bermuda, funnily enough.
“They picked me up in hazmat suits and the works and took me to a government quarantine but it was a great feeling to be back against all the odds, to be given a second chance to walk again.”
In the two years he spent here he was able to kitesurf for the first time since his accident and open a kite school at Pompano Beach Club.
“I'm still not 100 per cent. I'll probably never be able to run again because I used to run long distances and it's an artificial joint,” Mr Robinson said. “It's not made, I don't think, for running marathons. But I have good mobility and I feel lucky and grateful to be back out on the water.”
After Bermuda he went to southern England where he established kite schools in Camber Sands, Brighton and St Ives.
“The Spanish school runs on its own. I have a head instructor there and he runs a team.
“A lot of our clients, even in Spain, come from the UK so it only makes sense to build a series of schools closer to London. Brighton's only two hours from London. Camber Sands is arguably the most famous spot in England for kitesurfing.”
Even when there was a possibility he might not walk again, despondency didn’t ever set in.
“I have too much to live for, too much drive – both to build my companies and to want to get back on the water and have a normal life myself,” Mr Robinson said.
“I am pretty optimistic and I’m grateful that I have a pretty incredible support team around me in Spain and my family in Bermuda.”
View Gray Robinson’s Kickstarter campaign here: bit.ly/3acoDrx. For more information visit maluku.surf or bermuda.graykite.surf