The light bulb went off over Jeff Wapner’s head one sleepless night in 2011. He was living in Brooklyn and working for a major marketing company, designing and building elaborate pop-up stores and mobile exhibitions for the likes of Delta, Heineken, and Google. Wapner loved the job because he got to be creative with his hands, but something always irked him ― without much room in New York’s urban confines for storage or recycling, most of the projects’ leftover materials went straight to the landfill.
As Wapner, a sailor and surfer, lay there, he stared at his quiver of surfboards in their bags. Nearby was an old sail that had been used in a fashion show and was now destined for the dump. And that’s when it hit him. Why not give the sail ― available, malleable, and already made to withstand salt and sea ― a second chance at life as a board bag?
A few years later, Wapner returned to his hometown of Santa Barbara and set to work turning his idea into a livelihood. He bought a handful of industrial sewing machines, taught himself how to work them, and experimented with all sorts of padding, strap, and liner options. He’d drive north and south to collect sails that were stretched or torn, sometimes needing six people to help fold and haul giants that moved 100-foot boats. Along the way, Wapner met grizzled mariners and high-geared adventurers, each with histories woven into the Dacron of their sails. Just recently, he met a man living on the Mesa who’d spent six years circling the world.
Fast-forward to present day, and Wapner’s company ― Paradise Is Divided Into Blue and Green (intoblueandgreen.com) ― is off and running with a dozen different bag sizes for sale, as well as a collection of shirts, totes, and pouches. Everything about the bags is either recycled, upcycled, or eco-friendly. Kiteboarding control lines are repurposed into zipper pulls and old anchor lines are used as handles. Most of the fabrication is done right here in Santa Barbara. A stickler for detail, Wapner incorporates the sails’ familiar zigzag stitching into his designs, all one of a kind with splashes of shapes and colors, sometimes even the original sail number. “If I like it enough that I want to keep it myself, I know I’m on the right track,” he said.
So far, customers have been “extremely stoked,” said Wapner, especially about the bags’ thick padding and lasting durability. His competition is big brands like Dakine, who make their stuff overseas with little regard for sustainability or aesthetic. Wapner’s products, therefore, cost a little more, but the price difference is very much worth it, customers say. What the long-term plan is for Paradise, Wapner isn’t sure. He’s the type that goes with the wind, explaining: “‘The future is none of your business,’ I tell myself.” Right now, Wapner spends some of his days washing and ironing newly acquired sails, a slow and repetitive operation he’s learned to enjoy. The process releases the smell of the sun, wind, and sea baked into the fabric, “almost like a blend of spices,” he said. “It’s the sail’s way of telling a story.”