Plastiki Boat Photo By Luca Babini
David de Rothschild is an all-round adventurer. Explorer, entrepreneur, philanthropist–whatever he’s doing, wherever he’s doing it, the California-based Brit is constantly breaking new ground in pursuit of his environmentalist ideals.
By Craig McLean.
David de Rothschild is a British-born, Venice Beach-based environmentalist, entrepreneur, inventor, and explorer. And in 2010 he combined all those interests in the Plastiki expedition, sailing a boat made from 12,500 recycled bottles from San Francisco to Sydney, a distance of some 8,000 miles. Eight years later this energetic scion of banking royalty is still doing things the hard but enlightened way. The 39-year-old’s fashion and grooming label, The Lost Explorer, is travel-friendly and nature-loving. He’s co-developing a Gore-Tex-like organic material called wool corkshell, derived from recycled bottle corks and merino wool, and alongside casual suits and hemp/cotton-blend T-shirts, he’s launched a range of balms—a venture that speaks to his training as a naturopath.
Then, when he’s not hiking, surfing, traversing one of the poles, or developing his environmental foundation Sculpt The Future, this rangy, engaging go-getter with model good looks is also launching a punchy-sounding alcohol…
Craig McLean: How do you apply your ethical brand values to Lost Explorer Mezcal?
Davidde Rothschild: It’s an interesting drink to tell stories with. If you think about it, if tequila is cocaine, mezcal is mushrooms—it takes you on a journey. Tequila is synonymous with the wham-bam consumer culture we have, whereas mezcal is about sit back and sip, which is antithetical to the instant world we live in. Why do we have to reply to an email immediately? And apologize if we don’t? What’s that about?
So I liked the idea that we started a company that said, “Hey, let’s stop and have a drink. Let’s get to know each other before we engage with each other.”
Then as I looked at how you make this agave-based spirit, it’s really interesting. As things become more popular and are consumed more, that puts stress on the environment that produces them. And it takes 10 to 30 years for some of those agave plants to mature. It’s one of the only distillates that comes from a non-annual crop.
When I met my partners, we had to discuss how we would make it sustainable and create a conversation about how mezcal is made and harvested.
CM: Is there a similar impulse—a similar organic connectivity—behind your development of new natural clothing materials? That is, taking something we love—fashion, style—but making sure its journey is as sustainable as possible?
DdR: Yeah. But this is probably an odd thing to say: I don’t think there’s such a thing as a sustainable brand. And I don’t think what we do is sustainable. I’m just doing the best I can inside a broken system. That’s why I put “Established 2025”
on the company. I won’t launch for 10 years. I’m in this experimenting phase. I can make things in the most sustainable way I possibly can. But as soon as I fly that product around the world that you want in two days, and you fly it back because it didn’t fit or you didn’t like it, that has negated all the good work we’ve done.
If you’re saying your product is going to save the world, really you’re just using that as a marketing gimmick. I’m saying I’m trying to do things better. And when I talk about sustainability, it’s about not thinking about your self-interest but others’ self-interest. It’s expanded self-interest. To me that’s the truestform of sustainability. Sustainability is not about what you wear, it’s more about what you do as an individual.
CM: So internal wellness begets external wellness?
DdR: One hundred percent.
CM: Tell us about The Lost Explorer’s chemical-free grooming products.
DdR: We launched at the end of last year, and we have more products in the line. That’s been my baby. I trained as a naturopath, and I want to bring that exploration. Go to 50,000 feet and look down. The world is becoming hyperstressed. Why? Devices. Technology. We’re moving away from nature, we’re moving inside. So we have conscious stress—traffic, noise, aggravation on your journey—and we have unconscious stress: the air we’re breathing, the Wi-Fi that’s hitting us… I wanted to focus on a wellness regime to mitigate that stress, and the antidote to our modern malaise is nature. We’re not externalized from nature. As we sterilize our soil, we’re sterilizing our guts. We see more pollution, we ruin the rain forest, we see more people with breathing problems, more hypertension, more diabetes, more cardiac problems. We are nature and nature is us.
Our detachment from nature was always seen as a sign of wealth. But more and more people want to engage with nature. And the wellness conversation is: We’ll bring some of that nature to you, through ingredients, through stories. We’ll bring you that sustenance. But that takes a while.
CM: What’s the flagship product?
DdR: The first three products were balms: traveler balm, emergency balm, movement/muscle balm. But the traveler balm is the one people have gravitated to. People like it because, well, it plays to their fears: It’s protection. People don’t want to get sick while they travel. So the wellness conversation is there.
CM: With Plastiki, you flagged the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans. Now more people know about the Pacific Garbage Patch
and the (literally) granular threat from plastic to our global water systems. Does that issue gnaw at you as one that’s foundationally problematic for the planet’s future?
DdR: Yeah, it does. Right now we have a really good grasp of the problems and of the solutions, but we’re operating in a state of economic dominance—we applaud companies who make massive profit at all costs. We could solve the plastic and pollution problems today. That’s where the frustration comes in, because you realize what’s topping us: greed.
CM: Of course, people will point to your family wealth…
DdR: Right. “You’re David de Rothschild, of course you can say that, you’ve got this and your family did that.” Listen, I profited from having a beautiful upbringing and opportunity to do something, and that gives a lens of understanding the system. I realized how fucked-up it is. We have a toxic love affair with oil, which is obviously what plastic’s made from. We’re making polyester clothing that is shedding microfibers into our water system, that we are then ingesting. It goes on and on and on and on…
So what should we do? We want to eliminate those fibers, and we could have a five-year global phase-out program. And if we all get in agreement about that, someone will invent or create natural fibers that actually can solve that program. But if you look at the stats about our consumption of plastic, I think we’re a long way away. But it is solvable.
CM: So is it time for Plastiki to ride again?
DdR: Yeah, I was thinking about rolling her out and taking her on tour. Plastiki stood for something in my mind: It was about unlocking a dream. So I want to use it as a platform for curiosity and for unearthing solutions. So I was thinking a lot around rivers: Ninety percent of plastic is apparently coming from 10 major rivers, most of them in Asia. So I
think I’ll take her into major river systems around the world. Plastiki will become Rivertiki, and I’ll use her as a hub for creativity, innovation, and solution-finding. I want to try and start that this year. I just need to figure out funding and getting partners on board. But I’d like to get Plastiki out of storage in Dallas and get her into shape and out on the Hudson outside the UN and announce this… I like the idea of having her in the center of cities—ocean crossings are cool, but no one sees them!
Photo By James White
CM: What motivates and energizes you?
DdR: I’ve always hated rules and being told what to do. Worthiness is the death of the cause—if you preach to people, you’re telling them what to do. Create information that is informative, educational, fun, accessible,unbiased, and tells it as it is. I want to get these messages about the environment out there in that way. Guilt and fear and negativity that come in the environmental space—I’m not interested in that. I want to celebrate and elevate nature. I want to have conversations where people have a sense of awe and excitement. Let’s go back to a childlike state of curiosity that thrills you. That resets you. What’s the best magic in the world? Seeing an octopus change color to disguise itself. And the best thing about the trick: Octopuses are colorblind, so how the fuck does it know what color to change to?
CM: You’ve been in California for eight years. Is it a good base for you?
DdR: I like the optimism there. Everyone can have a go, everything is possible. Some great technology will trickle in from the space companies here, like new fusion technologies that could give us clean fuel. And obviously the nature—I can go surfing first thing in the morning, then I can go hiking in the mountains.
CM: Any other immediate priorities?
DdR: I don’t think the company should profit a few. We shouldn’t have a traditional business model anymore. So I said to my [The Lost Explorer] shareholders, “I want to give 100 percent of our profits back to nature. I want to build a billion-dollar business and give away hundreds of millions every year.” It’s not about a few wealthy people making more. It’s about community. That’s when it could potentially become a brand: We can sell a dream, and people can be part of that dream. So I’m getting into the conversation about how we give everything away. But we’re not a charity, that’s really important: We’re a business, but one that can start to act more consciously and actually effect positive change through the way we’re acting. It’s not about shifting products; it’s about shifting culture.
CM: Finally, what do you like about Mission?
DdR: I’m interested in gravitating towards people who are doing things with integrity and looking through a new lens. That’s what Karina Givargisoff, the founder and editor-in-chief of Mission, is doing. She’s got a mission, and she’s on it. We’re at a time where it’s nice to sometimes jump into the slipstream of others who are swimming upstream. She is someone who is swimming upstream.
You’re taking on the biggest challenge of all when you’re launching a magazine. You’re trying to get time in people’s heads, in their space. You’re trying to grab their attention for a minute. And that’s one of the great challenges we face as we become more hyperstressed and more short-term in our focus.
Having a magazine with a sense of purpose is a beacon of inspiration and hope. That’s what attracted me to it. Good things beget good things. Supporting things that are not just about profit but about sense of purpose is really important in today’s day and age. That’s the glue that will pull these polarizing worlds together.