All photography and videography courtesy of Patrick Rynne and Waterlust.
I first discovered Waterlust when my colleagues started sporting eye-catching whale shark leggings. As I looked into it more, I discovered a purpose-driven brand that creates environmentally responsible products and intriguing media to encourage a culture of scientific curiosity and adventure. I had the opportunity to get in touch with Patrick Rynne, the CEO and Creative Director of Waterlust, and pick his brain about the brand, the journey, and what water means to him.
What was the inspiration behind Waterlust, and how did it become a reality?
The idea behind Waterlust was born during during the second year of my PhD. I had been working on the conventional methods for disseminating science to the world like papers, presentations and conference posters, and [I] was finding the entire process a little dry. I noticed there wasn’t much room for creativity and expression and felt like that kind of outlet should exist. I had the idea to use film and photography as a medium to bring marine science to life but needed an opportunity to test the concept. In December 2011, my adviser told me about an experiment in Australia he was participating in and invited me to come film it. From that trip we created our first few online videos. They were well received, and I felt motivated to make more. That was seven years ago, and we’re still going!
You challenge others with the question, “What does water mean to you?” but how would you answer that for yourself?
That’s a tough one! For everybody it means something different, but for me water and the ocean in particular has always been a place I go to recharge the batteries mentally and physically. Ever since I was really young, there was something about the solidarity and peacefulness of that environment that really helped me find clarity in life and process through challenging times. Land is pretty jammed packed with humans and all our challenges and stresses. Bodies of water are the few places left on the planet where you can just be totally immersed in nature, away from it all. I love that.
What has the journey been like from the beginning to where Waterlust is today?
It’s been a lot of hard work but mostly really, really fun and enjoyable. Most folks only see the media work or products once they are done, and I think it can seem like we live a perpetual vacation at times. The reality is that making that stuff requires a lot of behind the scene grunt work that isn’t all that sexy. But that’s life in general if you want an organization to work.
At the beginning Waterlust was more like a side project, and we didn’t worry too much about any “long term plan." As the years passed and we realized we wanted to do this as a career, we had to start figuring out how that might happen. It has been challenging for sure but hugely educational and enriching for our entire team. We’ve always joked that even if it doesn’t work out down the road, we’ve learned so much along the way that it absolutely has been worth it. Of course we hope that isn’t the case, and have grand plans for Waterlust to be around for a long time.
How have people responded to this purpose-driven brand?
Around the time we started thinking about the future, we realized we had to have some kind of business model. We thought about becoming a non-profit and trying to survive from donations, but for whatever reason, that didn’t feel right. We thought that clothing was an exciting opportunity because if we could figure out how to bring the stories of marine science to something you wear, it would spark conversations every time people saw it. That seemed like a complimentary outreach strategy to our media work. We describe the concept as “advocate apparel” and started experimenting with it three years ago. The reaction was immediately positive and impactful, and it has now evolved to become the primary focus of our business.
What lessons have you learned along the way?
Too many to list! There are lots of little things involving photography, videography, website design, utilizing social media etc. but what I like to share with people most is the idea that if you want to bring something to life, you can do it. I think that most people can achieve anything, it’s just a matter of how hard they are willing to work and what they are willing to sacrifice. Some pursuits may come easier to some people. That’s unavoidable. They may have more resources or a background that makes them more suited for it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it too. I’m a huge advocate for talking less about what you want to see in the world, and doing more to make it a reality.
Working toward healthy oceans can seem overwhelming sometimes. How do you stay motivated to continue encouraging adventure and scientific curiosity?
Large scale problems can feel overwhelming and cause a paralysis of inaction, the environmental crisis being perhaps the biggest of them all. It’s like waking up to a massive list of chores and feeling so deflated that you just end up sitting on the couch. Doing that is to admit defeat, and to keep this planet inhabitable, we simply don’t have that option. It’s better to start chipping away and staying positive. The state of our oceans is very scary, and we could take a doom and gloom mentality and try to scare everybody into changing their ways, but I’m not convinced that actually works. Instead, we like to focus on what you can do today, this week, this month, this year. Celebrate the small victories, build the momentum and challenge people to make incremental improvements. Make your bed, do the laundry, do the dishes. Keep checking things off the list, and next thing you know your chores are done!
Tell us a little bit about your advocate apparel and how it can make a difference.
Advocate apparel works in two ways. The first is that by wearing a conversation piece you are creating opportunities for advocacy. If a garment is unique, attention grabbing and beautiful people will inevitably ask about it. Each of our products is paired with a certain marine science topic and we provide the customer information about it and resources to learn more. For example our whale shark printed gear is a collaboration with the Marine Megafauna Foundation, a non-profit that performs scientific research and conservation work around the world. We champion their work and pass on information to the consumer so that they can educate themselves about the issues surrounding the species. That way, down the road when somebody asks them about what they are wearing, they can share that information and hopefully create another advocate. The second way is with money. We donate ten percent of profits from each product to the partner organization. At first, these donations were pretty small, but over the years we’ve gotten to the point where we are now donating tens of thousands of dollars annually to various organizations, and we hope as Waterlust grows to give even more.
How can people learn more about Waterlust, get involved in your mission, and see some of your amazing projects?
The best way to engage with us is through social media like Facebook, Instagram and Youtube. We also have a newsletter that you can sign up for on our website to get notified every time a new project is published.
Maddie is the creator and editor of The Thalassofiles. Her background is in marine biology, and she has a not-so-secret desire to embrace limitations, immerse herself in the great outdoors, and try new things. And then write about it.