This week I had the chance to travel over to Inverness to meet the folks behind Surfers Attic – a recently opened surf shop in Inverness. The purpose was to discuss the possibility of a new range of surf products that could be manufactured by Rag Tag n Textile (I was also secretly motivated by the chance to browse the shop’s products and talk about swells, waves and west coast surf spots).
The Attic, tucked above a skate shop off the union canal, is a pocket of upstairs delight. Upon climbing the stairs you will be greeted by the wonderfully ambled interior built using wood from the local Community Woodland Trust, the first of many subtle indicators that this business is attempting to do things differently.
Colin at Surfers Attic spoke of the difficulty of finding home grown manufactured surf products at a scale befitting grassroots business. Many surf brands (while generally ethical) are still a product of a globalized mass produced supply chain, involving a complex series of dealers, sellers and minimum orders. In contrast Surfers Attic has attempted to source many of its products from Scottish businesses and some have been produced by social enterprises. You can buy Surf Attic Soap produced by Ness Soap (a social enterprise in Inverness) or colourful woolly hats from Zaini (a company based in Aviemore).
Why was I so enamoured with Surfers Attic?
I think it is because there is an underlying narrative to what they do. Yes, it is a retail outlet for surf products, but it is also a business with priorities beyond making money, seeking products from Scottish businesses and socially intentional companies. A family run business that was started around relationship, people and a love for surfing.
Let me digress into the world of paper in an attempt to give a parallel example of my enamour. There is a traditional rural paper factory in Nepal. The paper is made in an outdoor area the size of a living room with a production process that is simple, labor-intensive and cheap. Pieces of cloth stretched on wooden frames are dipped into and raised up through the slurry so they are coated with a thin layer of fiber, then they are propped to dry in the sun. In contrast, modern western paper factories are gigantic operations costing upward of a billion dollars. A big paper mill uses energy at the same rate as a small city as the logs are chipped and boiled in gigantic kettles of acid. Paper mills turn entire forests (a seventy-five acre clear cut per mill per day) into paper.
I think the western paper mill fails to appeal to the human need for narrative, and unlike all good stories contains no element of romance (you may ask what is romantic about paper, but I assure you my wallet has been previously wooed by Nepalese hand made paper).
Surfers Attic appeals to me in the way a white space retail outlet in a mall never will. Rag Tag products appeal to me in a way crafts sourced from Alibaba never will. Nepalese hand made paper appeals to me in a way the western paper mill never will. They are not businesses defined by efficiency, output, profit and loss but independent, bottom up companies challenging this standard definition through creativity. They are outside of our normal experience of business and growth capitalism, confronting the presumed incompatibility of ‘social’ business.
I would argue they have a superior narrative; a story worth buying into; a little pocket of romance in a world dominated by multinational companies.
So keep your eyes on the horizon for a possible collaboration between Rag Tag n Textile and Surfers Attic. And if you‘re in Inverness and in need of a little romance why not head over to the Surfers Attic. (Unit 1, 7 Canal Road, Inverness)
Rag Tag n Textile is a registered charity and social enterprise. The articles published on this blog reflect the opinions of their respective authors and not necessarily those of the organisation and its members.