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From: Vol. 1, Issue 39, December 21-January 3, 2006

By Rebecca Nordquist
San Clemente Times

After moving out of town nine months ago, Gary Ward’s sandal company can call San Clemente home again

Gary Ward is sitting behind his desk in Ocean Minded’s new San Clemente headquarters. Life-size photos lay propped up against the walls and boxes remain unpacked, but the sandals that the company manufactures neatly line the corner shelves. After a nine-month stint in an Irvine business park, Ward’s happy to be back. And that’s probably an understatement. “We outgrew our space in San Clemente,” Ward says of the location on Los Molinos that they occupied for eight years, “and then we outgrew the Irvine space. My priority was to bring the business back to San Clemente because that’s where its roots are.”

But that wasn’t the only reason why Ward pushed for the move south. “Being back in San Clemente is good for both my family and Ocean Minded,” says the father of four. “I can be the family guy I want to be and work in the best place. When you can find that balance, that’s what life’s all about.” To Ward, that means the ability to do things like watch his daughter Shannon’s high school soccer games; meet his wife, Carolyn, for lunch; and make it back to the office to finish up some work.

And after hitting the $2-million mark for 2006-and an anticipated 30 percent growth for next year-there’s plenty of work to do for Ward and his nine employees. “For a long time, we just sold to the core surf shops,” says Ward, 46, who founded Ocean Minded in 1997. “We’re starting to branch out now to places like PacSun, Tilly’s, Zumiez and Patagonia stores.”

In addition to fashion and function, the principles that Ward founded his company on are also gaining his product mainstream attention-and sustaining current customer loyalty. “When we first started, our motto was ‘Don’t be blinded, be ocean minded. Keep the beach clean,'” he says. “We hold beach cleanups in conjunction with surf shops and promote giveaways at NSSA [National Scholastic Surfing Association] events-whoever brings the biggest bag of trash gets a free pair of sandals. We also donate two percent of our sales to the Surfrider Foundation. We pride ourselves on being the eco-warriors of the surf industry.”

According to Ward, 80 percent of its product used is recycled, and the company uses hemp for the upper soles and natural cork when possible. “It’s difficult to be at 100 percent,” he admits. “But we use natural hemp twine and paper hangers instead of plastic, and our packaging is recycled polybags. We’re as conscious as we can be.” And next year with the launch of its new kids’ line, Ocean Minded will give away the children’s book All the Way Back to the Ocean by Joel Harper (yes, Ben Harper’s brother) with each purchase. “If kids read books like this now, then they grow up thinking about the environment,” he says.

And Ward takes his environmental stance outside of his business, too: every time he goes to the beach, he picks up a minimum of 10 pieces of trash. He actually calls it being an ocean custodian. “I surf Lowers seven days a week,” he begins, “and when I leave the beach, I leave my area way cleaner than when I found it. My wife and I have four kids [Lauren, 21; Dane, 19; Shannon, 15; and Anna, 7], and I’ve instilled taking care of the beach into them-so it’s a healthy place for years to come.”

Ward’s custodial work doesn’t stop there. As a 22-year resident of San Clemente, he helped start the town’s Watershed Task Force with Stephanie Dorey and Mark Corsineau. He’s also ventured up to California’s capital to fight against the proposed Foothill-South (241) Toll Road extension.

“Keeping the oceans clean isn’t just a surfer thing,” Ward concludes. “The ocean does something for everyone. It’s such an attraction.” And Ward aims to keep it that way.

Join Ocean Minded for a beach cleanup on the north side of Huntington Beach Pier on Dec. 23 at 9 a.m.

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