There’s something about beachcombing that’s both reassuring and mysterious. Hugging the shoreline, toes dipping in and out of the surf’s foamy edges, beachcombers can count on the ocean’s reliable cadence to provide random and unexpected objects. These gifts from the sea provide inspiration and the raw materials for ocean-going Etsy artists.
One is Cortnie Alter of Madera del Mar. One Christmas, when funds for gifts were tight, she and a friend made driftwood wreaths. “As two surfer girls, we knew just where to find the wood,” says Cortnie, who grew up sailing and surfing along Southern California’s coast. The wreaths were a hit, and Cortnie’s Etsy shop enables her to reach both coastal and inland customers. “My favorite feedback is from buyers who live far away from the ocean; when they open up their package the smell of the beach brings them right back to a fond coastal memory. It gives me so much joy to be able to bring a little piece of the beach into someone’s heart and home.”? Cortnie takes note of local ordinances and collects driftwood only where permitted. “Also, picking up trash as you go is a great way to give back to the coast in exchange for what you’ve taken,” she says.
Picking up beach “trash” is the same way Rebecca Long of The Rubbish Revival collects her treasures: Rebecca makes jewelry and mobiles from sea glass, which results, she points out, from the carelessness of others. “I’d love it if not one more beer bottle was tossed into the sea, and yet I also love sea glass,” she says. Rebecca’s business grew from daily trips to the ocean with her newborn baby. “I desperately needed a creative outlet, so I started making sea glass mobiles,” she says. Thanks to the success of The Rubbish Revival, she still makes regular beach visits. “The ocean has an amazing restorative quality,” says Rebecca. “It takes trash that humans have carelessly dumped into it and makes something as wonderful as sea glass. I love that.”
Etsy’s nautical recyclers also repurpose manmade items, a longstanding nautical tradition. “When there were no radios, no Internet, no 3D printing, no Coast Guard, sailors refashioned, reused and upcycled everything,” says Sarita Li Johnson of The Landlocked Sailor. “There was simply no other way. When a line began to wear, you spliced it back together. When you got a new suit of sails, you kept the old ones for patch material. The arts of the common sailor had more to do with maintenance, sewing, and mending than with wind direction or navigation. ‘Nautical’ and ‘upcycling’ are inextricably linked.” Sarita Li and her partner, the Bosun, use skills learned while working on living history vessels to make rope-and-cleat towel holders.
Paula Sears of Bass River Rope Mats weaves doormats from fishing line. “I’ve lived near the ocean on Cape Cod all my adult life, and there are often articles in our paper about whales tangled in fishing line,” she says. “When I heard about the lobstermen of Maine turning in their float line I immediately thought of using it. It took three months and many attempts to make a mat, but now my husband and I weave every day.”
Athens resident Dimitris Tsapelas of Salty Sail works and lives near the sea and finds that many of his customers do, too. They’re especially fond of his key chains made from fishing net floats and rope found on Greek beaches. “I recently received an order from a couple that wanted key chains as favors for their nautical-style wedding,” he says. “Being part of such an important day for them was an honor.”
Hilary Neevel of Bellingham, Washington, opened Skookum Goods, which sells items made from sailcloth as an offshoot of her brick-and-mortar business, Skookum Sail Repair. She got her start when a customer asked her to dispose of an old sail and she couldn’t bring herself to put it in the dumpster. “Working with upcycled materials is a lot of fun, because each item is unique,” she says. “The idea that your bag had a previous life at sea evokes a lot of feeling and gives the items a life and character you don’t normally get.”
Repurposing items from the sea benefits more than happy customers. Maria Zlatko and her husband opened Marza Shop when he lost his job of 20 years. They’d collected items on the beach for years, and saw this as an opportunity to put into action their belief that anything can be repurposed. Maria credits the shop and the related visits to the beach with providing not only income, but comfort. “One of the ways to get through a difficult period was to enjoy the solitude of the sea and let the ocean, wind, and waves do their part in soul and body healing,” says Maria. “We consider ourselves blessed that we live so close to the sea.”