Named after the 19th-century German botanist and artist Ernst Haeckel, Dom Bridges’ skincare brand Haeckels was borne from a single bar of Margate seaweed soap, made out of desperation after calling time on a soul-sucking gig in the advertising world.
The moment of truth came for this very successful TV commercial director while he was working on a shower gel advertisement in Shanghai. “They siphoned out the product and put in something that would foam better for the camera,” Dom has said. “I realised I was putting all my creativity into things I didn’t use and didn’t think the planet needed. I called my wife and asked her to come and get me. I couldn’t do it any more.”
Unemployed, Dom and his soon-to-be-pregnant wife Jo moved to the seaside town of Margate where long walks on the seaweed-strewn beach ensued. Dom had cultivated an appreciation for the many health benefits of seaweed, thanks to his stint living in Asian and consuming it so frequently, and was keen for his friends to as well.
And so Dom’s first bars of seaweed soap were created and were dispersed among friends – not that they used it.
“I explained it was a good vegan bar of soap and they said the reason they weren’t using it was because it looked so nice and they just wanted to put it on display!” says Dom. “Which got me thinking…”
The more he experimented, the more magic powers he discovered. “Seaweed hydrates, it’s rich with valuable vitamins, minerals and amino acids; it’s anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory; it’s all-natural, and all around us,” he says.
Dom now holds one of only two licences in England to harvest seaweed from the coast, and takes this responsibility seriously – rightly seeing himself as a farmer with custodian over a precious natural product.
Since the seaweed soap days, the Haeckels range has grown to include natural moisturisers and lip balms, incense, candles and even perfumes all made from ingredients sourced from a 20-mile radius of Dom’s laboratory in Kent.
There’s an anti-inflammatory eco marine face moisturiser, natural beeswax lip balm and a hand cream that uses unique natural extracts with hygroscopic properties to capture water molecules on the surface of the skin.
Rather than using natural ingredients to create a sense of a place in a fragrance, the Haeckels team travel to locations, hunt down ingredients growing there and take them to their affiliated lab. Some of the ingredients found on their journeys are unique and unused in perfumery, making these fragrances impossible to describe and completely unlike anything else on the market. The final product is bottled in cannisters that are etched with the weather conditions on the date the ingredients were harvested.
Dom’s lab is now a thriving retail and natural spa space on Margate’s main strip: Cliff Terrace. “Despite knowing that the town was behind me, I was scared to open the blinds and share my little world with everyone,” says Dom. “It was the final hurdle – and since rolling them up, I’ve learnt to continue to share everything.”
Upstairs is Haeckels House: home to thalassotherapy-inspired treatments like traditional seaweed wraps and baths, massages, facials, manicures and reflexology. The space is complemented by a mobile ‘Sea Bathing Machine’ – a wood and herb-burning sauna on wheels inspired by the pioneering use of open-air treatments offered by Margate’s renowned Sea Bathing Hospital.
Not content with a service and retail offering, Haeckels are also investing in packaging innovation with the goal to become entirely plastic-free within two years. The result is a lightweight, fire-resistant packaging made from mycelium (the root system of mushrooms) sawdust, flax and hemp husks that can be reused, composted or planted in the garden rather than being thrown away.
“Every member of [the Haeckels] team plays multiple roles – formulating, making, designing, photographing, programming, planning and installing – leading to the impression of a company many times our actual size,” says Dom.
“We are a self-sufficient tiny giant.”