As Harvey continues to wreak havoc across the Gulf coast, it’s impossible to escape the images of communities decimated by the storm and the flooding in its aftermath. Gearing up for the kickoff of the Save The Waves Film Festival’s east coast tour, I can’t help but be reminded of the devastation that Sandy wrought on LBI only five years ago, where the tour will be visiting in just a week. To the visiting outsider, like myself, it’s hard to imagine that beautiful barrier island as a disaster zone in the not so distant past.
I recently took some time to check in with LBI local and Jetty co-founder Cory Higgins to discuss Harvey in the context of his experience with Hurricane Sandy. We talked about how that reshaped his approach to life, business, and the brand that Jetty has become. Jetty is one of only four certified B-corporations in the surf/outdoor retail industry – for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency – out of over 2,200 brands. That puts them in the company of Patagonia, Olukai, and United by Blue – all companies that are more focused on making a difference than just making money.
What follows below are excerpts from our candid discussion:
We’re closing in on the five-year anniversary of Sandy. Looking back, would you call that a defining moment for what your company has become? If you were able to communicate to local business and government leaders along the Gulf Coast of Texas, what simple advice would you offer in this moment? What silver lining, if any, can they look forward to?
No doubt that that was a defining moment for Jetty. It wasn’t thought out, we were just in a position to do our part to help, and it kind of took on a life of its own. First off I’d like to offer our contact info for anyone down there that wants to talk further about how we got our community back on their feet after Sandy (email@example.com). But the best piece of advice I can offer is the main piece of advice that we were given by our friend Jon Rose from Waves 4 Water, and that was to focus on helping your circle. It’s going to be overwhelming with how much there is to do and how many people need help. You can’t do it all, so just focus on your family, friends, and neighbors. That will have a ripple effect and you’ll end up helping more people than you realize. The silver lining is that the community will end up better than it was before. Going through a tragedy brings everyone together and the community will be better for it. Just takes a ton of heartache and hard work to get there.
What brands and business leaders have been your role models? Why?
Being that we are based in New Jersey, there has never been a clear path for us through the surf industry. It has worked to our advantage though, keeping things unique and fresh to our Northeast Heritage. But the path to get there has been bit more steep, with a different set of challenges. Locally, there is a small group of business owners who we’ve always turned to for business insight on things as we’ve grown. Industry-wise, I think Patagonia has been a big influence for us, mainly in terms of their social responsibility as a company. It’s satisfying to be able to make decisions, as small as they are sometimes, that make a positive impact in the end.
Where do you want to see Jetty in ten years? You’ve recently ventured into beer, any other product lines we can anticipate in the near future?
In ten years I just hope we have continued our sustainable steady growth and are positioned as one of the most respected outdoor lifestyle brands in the space. If we can continue to make killer gear, stoke people out, and make a positive impact on our environment and community then we are winning. We launched a Hot Sauce/Cocktail Sauce hybrid last year, then a beer this year with some pretty amazing success. We’ll continue to branch into categories that are relevant to our customers that help to promote the lifestyle. You can definitely anticipate some expansion with the beer into other styles, and then we are currently working on expansion on our women’s line to tighten that up a bit. No other plans right now, but that kind of stuff seems to happen fast – one of us has a good idea and then we just execute it quickly. It’s nice to be a small team and have the ability to make fast decisions.
You formed your own non-profit in 2013, The Jetty Rock Foundation, as a direct result of your Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. The foundation works with local high school students, community members in need, and local environmental organizations. You’ve done a great job utilizing film to tell these stories and enhance the outreach and impact of your work. What do you feel is so effective about this medium to engage and empower your audience?
What’s amazing about the film is that it allows you to take your time and tell the story you want to tell, how you want to tell it. There are so many small stories that fall through the cracks and get overshadowed, and to tell those stories on film it can level the playing field and give them a voice.
The Jetty Rock Foundation’s latest project is centered on “oyster recycling” in the Barnegat Bay. In layman’s terms, what does it mean to recycle an oyster?
Oysters need shells to grow on. They don’t grow in the sand or mud, so unless the spat (baby oyster seed) has a shell to land on to grow, they will float into the mud and die. So recycling an oyster means to get shell back into the water so that oysters have the stuff to grow on and create a reef.
Beyond being a delicious seafood staple, what’s the significance of this oyster rehabilitation program for your local community?
The oyster program actually doesn’t cultivate oysters for farming or consumption. 90% of the world’s oyster reefs are destroyed, so the focus of our program is to begin to regenerate natural reefs, which filters our water, creates habitat for sea life, and protects our coastline. A single oyster can filter 50 gallons of water a day.
Our recycling program has 4 tanks for setting oyster spat on shell. This has to be done so they will survive when you dump them back in the bay. Each tank holds 300,000 oysters spat per round of set. Each round of set takes 1 month, and you can do 6 rounds per year (during warmer months – they won’t survive in colder months). So by the numbers:
-4 tanks x 300,000 per tank = 1.2 million oyster spat per round
-1.2 million x 6 rounds per year = 7.2 million per year
-7.2 million x 50 gallons of water each oyster filters = 360,000,000 gallons of water filtered per DAY
-360 million x 365 days a year = 131,400,000,000 BILLION gallons of water filtered per YEAR
-that equals 475 Empire State Buildings filled with bay water that we are able to filter per year… and all of this only costs $60,000 per year to do.
So a $20 donation to this program will help filter 43 million gallons of water a year. Crazy, huh? Pretty cool to think that we can feasibly clean up our waters by just getting oysters back out there and regenerating the natural reef that used to be out there.
Note: To learn more about The Jetty Rock Foundation, come meet Cory at the east coast kickoff screening of the Save The Waves Film Festival on Friday 9/8 at Farias Surf & Sport in Shipbottom, LBI. The STWFF is proudly presented by Corona x Parley, with support from Patagonia, Clif Bar, Peak Design, Klean Kanteen, Escape Campervans, Poler, The Inertia, Tito’s Vodka, Suerte Tequila, Firewire Surfboards + more. Event tickets and more info can be found here.