Robert Schmidt has been in the surf industry for a long time. Over the years, he has served as a designer and creative with OP, creative manager with both Quiksilver and Rusty, sales associate with T&C, and owner/manager of Katin. But around five years ago, he decided he was tired of being involved in the corporate side of surfing. His own personal wave count was way down, and he just didn’t feel like he was doing the things he was truly passionate about. He sold Katin, got back in the water, started exploring the backcountry more, and made a concerted effort to get back to his roots.
At the same time, Robert spent a lot of time talking with friends and peers in Hawaii, and grew concerned about the damage that was being to the ocean and reefs around the islands. He wanted to do something about it, so he decided to do what he was good at—start a brand. But this time, he was going to come at it from a completely different angle. He decided to do everything backwards—to build slowly, not emphasize profit margins to begin with, and instead really focus on figuring out how exactly this new brand would support the environment and clean up the oceans around Hawaii.
He eventually settled on Reel Aloha Life as his brand—a fishing-influenced ocean lifestyle brand that gave a nod to the local culture that he so admired in Hawaii. While product is still in development, he is adamant that he wants everything to be focused on sustainability. And more importantly, he has committed to donating a large portion of any proceeds to the University of Hawaii to fund a scholarship that will be paid directly to master’s level students who are working specifically in the field of ocean sustainability and preservation. (The scholarship may also be available to undergraduate students if the focus of their work is relevant). Since Reel Aloha Life hasn’t officially launched yet, Robert is funding the first year’s scholarship out of his pocket—but he is confident that the brand will soon be in stores all over, generating a profit cycle that will go straight into the hands of passionate students who are working to preserve Hawaii’s precious ocean ecosystem.
This is not the first time that Robert has used his business acumen to support good causes. When he owned and ran Katin, he wrote a $599 corporate check every month that was given to a trusted associate who distributed the money to families with special financial needs. He wanted all of the aid to go straight to these families, rather than getting tied up in the politics and management fees of nonprofit foundations, so instead he simply had his recruiter choose people who needed support each month, then “hired” them for “brand marketing purposes,” paying them as much as he could without having to file a 1099 and exposing them to taxation. In essence, he and Katin were simply giving away money each month to help people put food on their tables and keep their kids clothed.
While his focus with Reel Aloha Life is slightly different, it is obvious from talking to Robert that his intention is very much the same. He didn’t start the brand to make money. Instead, his goal is to raise awareness about environmental issues in Hawaii and fund the academics who are looking for creative ways to solve these issues. I can’t think of a better reason to start a company, which is why I was so excited when Robert dropped off a bit of product at the shop and told me his story. I am looking forward to the brand’s official launch, and can’t wait to get them in the shop!