In 2012, veteran surf photographer Jack English was offered a job with Getty Images. Although it would have been lucrative, it would also have put limitations on his creativity.
Those who know English understand his intense creative convictions. From his roots as a photo editor at Surfing magazine through today, he's been contributing to the surf community in some form for nearly four decades.
Instead of accepting the position, English decided to open his own photo database, with an entrepreneurial spirit that is often found within those who dedicate their lives to the ocean.
That entrepreneurial spirit is still alive, with a slight shift in focus. English is still creating iconic imagery, but now he's doing it with a new company – one that he founded earlier this year with his daughter Eden, 9, out of their garage in North County San Diego.
Sea of Seven, while still a fledgling T-shirt brand, is stepping into 2019 with a goal of speaking to youth in a different way – unique to the Southern California region – and representing what is arguably the bedrock of the ever-evolving surf lifestyle and culture.
English has been embedded in this culture since his early 20s, when he was offered a full-time surf photographer position at Surfing magazine, after capturing from the water the largest wave ever photographed at Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu. He went on to eventually become a staple staff member of TransWorld Surf magazine, in the height of surfing media’s rise in the ’90s and early 2000s. This afforded him the opportunity to travel the world, creating thousands of iconic images of the world’s best surfers.
But just because English has been immersed in surfing for the majority of his life, doesn't mean he knows exactly what the future of the sport looks like, he admits. In fact, he argues, "it looks a lot different" than what most surf brands out there are currently doing, and that’s part of the allure in putting Sea of Seven’s flag in the sand.
"It's like I'm backstage with the band at a concert, and someone asks me, 'How did the band sound?' You need to ask the people in the audience," English relates, explaining how it’s easy to become disconnected with what’s happening outside the surf industry when you are so immersed in it. "On the one hand I feel like I've lost touch with which brands the kids are wearing these days. Down here, it seems like everyone’s wearing thrift store clothes."
In that regard, English wanted to offer up an aesthetic that reflects his values and vision – "more of a nostalgic Americana vibe" – that has been imbued with current youth culture (with help from his daughter and community) to create a collection that strays off the beaten path compared to other high-earning surf companies in the space. "That's what I think is cool and needed," he explains.
Sea of Seven is a small, curated offering of T-shirts for men, women and youth, and surf-inspired prints, represented through English's eye for raw, photo-driven storytelling. He wants the messaging to be inclusive of anyone who enjoys our planet's oceans, which is reflected in the company’s namesake.
Beyond that, the start-up is also working on increasing awareness around a principle near and dear to the English family: helping those less fortunate.
Spending countless hours at their favorite beach in Oceanside, California, the English family wanted to help the homeless population that was so prevalent there. After brainstorming ways to help, Jack had an "aha" moment.
"I was thinking, 'What would a homeless person want besides food,' and then it dawned on me: We're already selling tees, let’s give them away, as well. You know the feeling you get when you put on a brand new T-shirt – how good it feels? Well, just imagine how happy that would make someone feel who's probably been wearing the same shirt for weeks, if not months."
Sea of Seven has been giving out blank T-shirts to San Diegans in need, and as the company grows, hopes to expand that outreach by donating or working directly with children's hospitals, as well as animal and homeless shelters.
"In the end, I just want to be a brand that gives back – to me, that means so much," English says. "I just wish more companies did this – I feel we need more people doing good in the world."
As for what the future holds, Sea of Seven is optimistic about what growth could look like, encouraged by friends in the industry who see the potential in the simplicity of a grassroots, art-driven company backed by English’s strong vision.
But that doesn’t mean they are looking to land in every surf shop. English explains: "I hope to stay true to what I believe in, from the single-fin surfboards to the vintage-style motorcycles and my passion for film photography. Just like any brand, you want to make it, but at the same time not lose focus on what you represent."
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