09 Aug 2017
Venice, Italy
Sustainable Textiles and Clothing

At any one time, there are an estimated six billion boats bobbing on European waters, and nearly one fifth of them are sailboats. While watching them glide along the horizon may be a romantic sight, it is often easy to forgo the amount of waste produced by sailing. A boat changes its sails every six to eight years, producing up to 50 square meters of material waste. The onus is then on individuals and sailmaking companies to limit the amount they send to landfill.

That is where Camilla Morelli’s company, Camoz, comes into play. Camoz recycles old sails and sail cloth scraps to create bags and accessories, reducing the amount of sail waste that goes from sea to sea of trash.

An affection for sea and sail:

Morelli does not just run a business involving sailing — she is a sailor herself. Despite growing up in the mountains, Morelli fell in love with the sea at a young age. She and her family spent summer holidays in Croatia, where she watched people sail around the bay, hopeful for the day when she could join them. At 17, she took her first month-long sailing trip to Greece and has been finding ways to be back at sea each year since.

After graduating from university, Morelli participated in a program in Venice to restore wooden boats. It was here that she mastered the art of sailmaking. In 2010, she had the opportunity to move to a sailmaking company in La Rochelle, a small marine community in Southwestern France. That company was much larger than the one in Venice: 60 people sat crafting sails, lengths of fabric unfurled on huge tables lined with sewing machines. This was when she first realized the amount of waste that could be produced in a sailmaking loft.

Turning sail cloth waste into bags:

The sailmaking loft in La Rochelle was also where she had the first chance to make bags from sail cloth waste — an act motivated by necessity as much as creativity. At the end of February 2010, Mother Nature delivered the workshop a violent blow. Cyclone Xynthia slammed the coastal community, flooding the town and leaving the sailmaking loft buried under more than a meter of mud and seawater.

The submerged sail cloth was deemed unusable and was about to face its fate in a dumpster when Morelli decided to pack it up, drive it home to Italy, and wash and reuse it in order to make bags. “We still use some of that sail cloth in our bags today,” Morelli says. “That was really the beginning of my idea.”

As Morelli is the first to point out, recycling sails is not a new concept. “Sailors in the past would make their travel bags using the old sail of the boat,” she says. “Now, there are many businesses doing this kind of stuff. But seven years ago it was just beginning and we really had no idea what was out there.”

It was not difficult for Morelli to shift from sewing sails to making bags. The one obvious difference is that accessories have much smaller dimensions, but Morelli does the construction on her same industrial sewing machine. And while sailcloth was created for sailing, turns out it is not bad for fashion, either. Camoz’s website has a page dedicated to materials, including swatches of dacron, kevlar, taffeta, and carbon, fabrics that are functional for sailing and also interesting in their texture and color. “The sail cloth is very light, but [it is] strong and durable,” Morelli explains. These materials make up the core fabric of Camoz’s bags, with the occasional featuring of upholstery from an old boat chair or the bag used to wrap the sail.

The result is unique bags and wallets with a distinctive nautical chic. Morelli incorporates elements like rope straps and ties to pay further tribute to the bag’s beginnings. The company’s name is a combination of Morelli’s first name, Camilla, and “oz” the acronym for ounces, the unit of measurement used to weigh the fabric of a sail. Here is another measurement: 385 meters; the current amount of sail cloth Morelli and her company have saved from a landfill.

Recycling old boat sails:

While 50% of the material used for Camoz’s products come from unused sail cloth, the other half comes from old sails. A study estimates that at least 80,000 boats reach the end of their life each year, leaving their hull and deck, rigging, and sails to be dismantled and, in the ideal world, recycled or upcycled. Unfortunately, this happens with only 2.5% of the boats. That means a lot of old sails, and an ocean of waste.

To this measure, one of Camoz’s latest collaborations is with Sail and Rigging, a sailmaker in Chioggia, Italy. She sews sails in their loft two to three days a week, and during her time persuaded the company to begin recycling their old sails. “Usually old sails are destined to be destroyed, and the impact on the environment is negative, especially because of the chemical products used on sails,” says Marco Schiavuta, the Owner of Sail and Rigging. “There are some companies that have succeeded in launching products created from old sails and by going that way we hope also to manage our small contribution in lessening our environmental impact.”

As Camoz has become better known in Venice, boat owners have started calling her to donate their sails. One of the interesting benefits of these donations? Their stories. Each Camoz product includes a tag with a short tale about the sail’s history. Morelli recalls the story of one fellow Venetian who brought in his sail: “He wanted me to make bags for his crew, and said we could use the rest of the material. He was able to tell us the path he had plotted and the boat he used — that story is in those bags today.”

Looking at Camoz’s online shop, one may notice a few color bursts that look too bright to come from a ship’s sail. That is because Morelli has started to tinker with kitesurfing sails, and brought back a colorful suitcase full after a recent trip to the Canary Islands. She also accepts donations of these sails. “For people it is waste so, they do not mind donating,” Morelli says.

A lack of boat waste regulation:

There is a lack of consistent regulation around what happens to boat waste. “I work near a marina with many, many boats,” Morelli describes. “You see old things thrown away all the time. There is regulation only for varnish and oils, but not for the light maritime waste such as sails and upholstery. But these things produce waste too.”

To counter a lack of regulation, it becomes the responsibility of individuals to treat the sea in a sustainable way. Morelli sees Camoz as her small role in that. Today, there are many companies in Italy, Europe, and around the world upcycling sails into bags. Morelli sees these less as competition, and more as fellow sea savers. Her sales and sails come primarily from the Venice area, and she says the hyperlocal market is the same for many others: “We all have our areas where we collect and sell, and the more of us there are, the less that gets wasted.”



Website: http://www.camoz.it/

Etsy shop: www.etsy.com/it/shop/CamozRecycledSail

Facebook: www.facebook.com/Camoz-206346452774961

Instagram: www.instagram.com/camozzz

Photos: Courtesy of Camoz

Hilary is a journalist, photographer, and maker of things. She loves working with entrepreneurs to share their stories and has done so around the world.Hilary Duff
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