Ed: Sydney Chaney Thomas is a Moraga-based writer and businesswoman with three books to her name, all currently available on Amazon. She is also co-founder of a sustainable sailing apparel company called Ocean SF, and operates a nonprofit that works to reduce plastic waste called the The Trident Project.
Sydney teaches entrepreneurial marketing at UC Berkeley in their International Diploma Program and, in addition to this column, she writes a popular lifestyle blog, which can be found at sydneychaneythomas.com.
Transition, Work & Motherhood
April 19, 2019
I’ve spent this long and rainy winter working diligently on my sailing apparel clothing line. It’s something I love, so I can work tirelessly and talk about it endlessly.
Sailing differs from other sports, with few exceptions, in that once you are out in the ocean you can’t turn back for new or different gear. There is no lodge to go into to warm up and you can’t head back to the car like you can on a hike. You can check the weather, but won’t know if you’ll get wet or not.
When I was learning to sail I was out on a J-24 and took a wave down my back. I was wearing a storm jacket and under it a polyester fleece jacket. It was a relatively mild September day, but after four hours in the cold wind wearing wet clothes I was freezing and highly uncomfortable. When I got to shore I was shaking and had to sit in my car for several minutes warming up before I could even drive. After that I was determined to buy the right gear. What I found was more of the same. Everything was made of polyester.
Wool is hyperthermic in that it continues to keep you warm even when it gets wet. Later, I learned that many of my sailing buddies wore their old wool sweaters on the race to Hawaii because that was the only thing that kept them warm.
I designed a jacket and hired a former Gucci pattern maker to make a pattern. I was able to produce a prototype in Los Angeles six months later. Amid many obstacles I was able get my first production run produced andsold nine months later.
As I continued my research on natural fibers I learned more and more about the nanoparticles in clothing and how they are shed into our water systems and drinking water when washed. Polyester fleece is not only not warm when wet it is a major threat to the safety of our drinking water as it can not be filtered out. There are drastic consequences to wearing polyester fleece. The idea that someday we will be drinking our polar fleece jacket is now a known fact.
I went on to mill my own 100% Merino Wool fabric and continued to improve the fit of the signature mid-layer as I knew how important it was to get it right. I made seven prototypes. The jacket was tested on the 2018 Pacific Cup race to Hawaii by three sailors to rave reviews. It was amazing for me to see photos of sailors in my jacket on a boat 1,000 miles from land. The jacket performed as predicted at night when the squalls would soak the crew. The crew would then lay the jacket out to dry in the sun the next day. It was extremely gratifying to know that I had nailed it.
I have a deep love for the natural world, from hikes in the hills in my backyard in Moraga, California, or skiing on a mountain top in Whistler, Canada to sailing in the San Francisco Bay. It is not something I simply enjoy it’s something I crave and can not live without. I also love fashion and beautifully made clothes. As a girl growing up in rural Oregon I used my own money to buy a subscription to Vogue and Women’s Wear Daily. After college I used my first paycheck to buy a Louis Vuitton satchel purse that I still have to this day. Ocean SF marries my two passions which has given me the determination to do whatever it takes to make my products as beautiful and technically functional as possible.
As a member of The Berkeley Yacht Club Race Committee I have met some incredible sailors. One of them Will Paxton, 7 time National Champion of the Express 37 Nationals, and 4 time winner of the race to Hawaii. In July we met for lunch and I gave him one of my jackets. He told me he would make no promises as he is given gear constantly. Six months later he joined my Advisory Board and now tests all my products.
When I started this company I was in Portland, Oregon and went to the largest sportswear store on the West Coast. I stood on the second floor looking down on a sea of clothing. With the exception of a few t-shirts it was all made of polyester which is petroleum based. I knew that day that my mission on this earth was to make soft, warm, comfortable clothing of all natural fibers to be worn in the natural world.