As you may have heard, in March 2019 we launched a new product Flexi-Hex, a 100% recyclable, adaptable surfboard packaging system. Their products align with our goal to provide customers with the best board building materials and Flexi-Hex shares our ethos to lessen the surf industry’s impact on the environment. (Click here here to learn more about their product)
Since launching their product line in 2018, Flexi-Hex has eliminated 128 kilometers of 1 meter wide bubble wrap which is the equivalent weight of 300,000 plastic bottles!!
With two months of partnership underway, Flexi-Hex sits down with Kelli Wilson to learn about our ambition and how the surf industry has been responding to an easier to use, more environmentally friendly packaging solution.
CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND AND HOW FIBERGLASS HAWAII STARTED?
Fiberglass Hawaii started as a fiberglass and resin importer in the 1960s primarily supplying the construction and marine industries on island. It didn’t take long before surfboard manufactures came to us for supplies rather than import materials themselves. In the early 80s, Australian expat and surfboard blank maker, Ted Wilson, brought his surfing experience and industry contacts with him to Fiberglass Hawaii and has since grown the business into a world-wide force for composite materials distribution specifically targeting surf, boat, fishing, kayak and other marine customers.
Fiberglass Hawaii is a family owned and operated business. I grew up in our stores and started in the warehouse repackaging inventory as a summer job. As with most small businesses, I have my hands in just about everything. My current passion is finding exciting companies who share our values and are offering new and innovative products that we can bring to our customer base.
WHAT TYPE OF PRODUCTS DO YOU SELL?
We are a wholesale distributor and retail seller of raw materials for the composites industry. Anything and everything used for surfboard and boat manufacturing from blanks to resins to fiberglass, carbon fiber, core materials, pigments, tints, acrylic paints, tools, packaging supplies – you name it, we probably have it or can source it.
FIBERGLASS HAWAII HAS A FAR REACHING AND LOYAL CUSTOMER BASE. WHY DO YOU THINK FIBERGLASS HAWAII HAS BEEN SO SUCCESSFUL?
Despite rapid changes and technological advances to the way business is done, over the years we have managed to maintain our “old school” business ethics which has cultivated lasting relationships with vendors and customers alike. There is a lot of competition in this niche market so customers come to us for our comprehensive product line and our staff’s technical expertise. It isn’t enough to sell a product based on having the best price; customer service and direct access to industry experts who will talk you through your project sets us apart from the rest. Our brick-and-mortar stores allow for a personal feel and immediate access to product and experts. We aren’t exclusive to wholesale; the backyard, first-time, DIY-er is our target in-store customer.
We are lucky to have partnered with industry leading product manufacturers and top brand names. Customers know that we work directly with manufacturers, and in some cases, help to develop and design products specific to their needs; they see the commitment we’ve made to bring them the very best there is to offer.
WHAT SHIFTS DO YOU SEE HAPPENING WITHIN BOTH SURF CULTURE AND THE SURF INDUSTRY?
Surfers and manufactures are both embracing a wide range of design and construction methods. With nods to the past and respect for the makers who paved the way, while keeping sights and ambitions high for the future, we’re seeing new ideas and designs being implemented and creative and diverse business plans emerging. There will be a gradual generational shift where the big name shapers retire leaving opportunities for up and comers to push the industry even further.
Automation and overseas production manufacturing has changed the industry. Access to surfboards at lower price points from large retailers has opened the sport up to a wider audience which is fantastic for the growth and popularity of surfing, although unfortunately, not necessarily the best for small businesses like ourselves. Automation and technological advancement are inevitable but have also contributed to the loss of the hand crafted surfboard. This is why the new generation of makers is so exciting to watch, we need to maintain the appeal of custom built surfboards in the US.
ARE SURFERS BECOMING MORE AWARE OF THEIR ENVIRONMENTAL FOOTPRINT AND ACTING ON THEIR CONCERN?
Surfers have a natural reverence and appreciation for the ocean and are regularly asking about new, more eco-friendly materials. At the end of the day surfboards are made of composite materials and although there are a few alternative products on the market, the huge majority of boards are still made from foam, resin and fiberglass. Customers were asking for Flexi-Hex as an alternative to bubble pack and other non-biodegradable or reusable materials that typically end up in landfills. With climate change being at the forefront of international politics and current events, we are excited to be able to offer this alternative packaging to those who are more environmentally conscious.
WHAT CONCERNS DO YOU HAVE FOR THE FUTURE OF OUR COASTAL AND MARINE ENVIRONMENT?
In the Hawaiian language there is a saying “malama ka `aina”, which means to live in harmony with and respect the land. We have the immense privilege of living in, operating in and working to support our local communities in both Hawaii and Southern California, two of the most enviable places to call home. Like most Hawaii residents and Californians, we are inherently invested in the preservation and conservation of our beautiful coastlines, oceans, ecosystems and unique climates.
Setting aside the larger debate of global warming and the resulting rising tide, we do what we can to manage our part in keeping our business as environmentally clean as possible. While we do operate in the sphere of hazardous materials, we are acutely aware of the responsibility that comes with that. Safe handling and proper use and disposal of these materials for both our employees and customers is of paramount concern. We encourage customers to read labels and request more information when necessary.
WHAT CHANGES WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE HAPPENING IN THE SURF INDUSTRY?
Sustainability, recycle, reuse, lowering the carbon footprint and reducing waste are on everyone’s mind these days. Not only will this help the planet but it also makes good business sense. The surf industry is moving in that direction but more emphasis could be on accountability and management.
DO YOU THINK THAT SHAPERS AND SURFERS ARE BECOMING MORE ACCEPTING OF ALTERNATIVE MATERIALS AND TECHNOLOGIES WITH THEIR SURFBOARDS?
Surfers have always been pioneers, from challenging the biggest waves and making the surfboards to ride them. This evolution has continued as materials and designs have changed over the years. There is a whole new openness to these changes in materials being embraced by pro surfers and the largest manufactures, it’s an exciting time in surfboard development.
FINALLY WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON FLEXI-HEX?
Flexi-Hex is the injection of innovation and design that has been needed in surfboard packaging and transportation for some time. The ease of use and focus on recycled materials has also certainly helped to cut down on packaging time. Ask anyone who has shipped a board using a commercial airline carrier, once that board bag hits the conveyer belt at the check-in counter and floats out of sight, you cross your fingers and hope that your board arrives at your destination undamaged. Flexi-Hex helps to add that extra protection and ensures that your board remains unscathed.
With more and more people educating themselves and caring about what the future of our planet will look like, products like Flexi-Hex will become a staple in our industry. If plastics like bubble wrap have the same fate that single-use plastic shopping bags and disposable drinking straws are facing in California, it may not be long before Flexi-Hex is the go-to packaging material. We’re happy to be part of that change.
Learn more and purchase at FiberglassHawaii.com