hæckels won’t stop until it’s perfected wellness

8 mins
24 May 2023
hæckels won’t stop until it’s perfected wellness

The cult Margate-based brand started with seaweed and made a beauty revolution

image Team Woo

words Rhys Thomas

Seaweed refers to thousands of species of marine algae. Seaweed lives in the sea, on rocks at the beach, in rivers, lakes, and beyond. There are tens of thousands varieties of seaweed, they’re all shades of green, red, and brown. You may know a couple: the very dark green papery wrapping around sushi is made from dried nori; kombu is a primary ingredient in dashi, a stock at the heart of Japanese cuisine, both are green. Laver is a traditional ingredient in Welsh cooking, Ireland calls this same ingredient sleabhac, it’s also green. Another popular seaweed to eat is dulse, which is red.

We’ve been eating seaweed for thousands of years. Apparently the Romans recommended eating seaweed for therapeutic purposes (they also used it to treat wounds). But there’s another way in which humans use seaweed in order to feel good, one that has an even longer history, and is currently experiencing a huge renaissance. That use of seaweed? Skincare.

There’s some evidence suggesting seaweed was used as a beauty product back as far as the 12th century in Ireland, and there are still places where you can get a seaweed bath there today, though far less than there used to be. Seaweed bathhouses were common in the north-west of Ireland about a hundred years ago, and some remain to this day. The most known one being in Enniscrone, County Sligo, established in 1912. Along with antiseptic and calming properties, seaweed is considered to be very hydrating, and many believe it has anti-ageing properties.

Exactly a hundred years after the Enniscrone bathhouses were founded, a new story began. This story takes place in Margate, 2012, a tranquil and charming seaside town on Kent’s north coast which has gained an air of coolness about it in recent years. Home to about 60,000 people, the spot is known for the Turner Contemporary Art Gallery, the harbour arm, good restaurants, and a long sandy beach which looks out onto the North Sea. In 2012, Dom Bridges, who previous had an illustrious advertising career, was a volunteer beach warden (and coastal enthusiast) living in Margate. He felt that seaweed, often seen as little more than an annoyance by beachgoers, was getting a hard time. He began to research the properties of seaweed, and started both harvesting and harnessing the power of seaweed. Initially he made a seaweed soap from seaweed he would snip off the sea floor and rinse in his kitchen. He gave this to friends. The first Hæckels product was born.

Almost 13 years on, Hæckels could be considered the most iykyk beauty brand in the UK, if not the world. You can find products everywhere from Margate to Osaka. Charlie Vickery, managing director, refers to Hæckels as a “360 wellness brand”. This means yes, skincare, but it also means candles that can elevate our personal spaces, scents to make us feel better when out and about, you get the idea. Crucially, both setting Hæckels apart from others, and underpinning their entire operation, is that they’re also holistically good. The products work well sure, but equally, Hæckels is trying to be genuinely sustainable. Seaweed is still at the heart of their products, particularly the beauty range, but using local produce is just the beginning.

At Hæckels, these sustainable innovations include dehydrating products to reduce water weight while shipping (“you just add water to the product at your house, it saves a lot of weight” Vickery says), it means the sheet eye masks are biodegradable, the seaweed has to be sourced as locally as possible (in Japan, products are entirely different to the UK because they use local seaweeds), in the UK it’s still sourced on the beaches, a five minute walk from the lab. The sustainability is holistic, too. With scale Hæckels are actually trying to reduce their price points, they want to be as cheap and accessible as they can, without compromising on costs such as hiring local glassmakers to create the bottles, and generally being as meticulous as all the above implies, across the board. “The beauty market is awash with people making big claims about stuff, and everything's all manufactured by the same manufacturer in Germany,” Vickery says, matter of factly.


Innovation is what keeps Hæckels lightyears ahead. They aren’t just focussed on seaweed as skincare, a trend others are now getting on. They’ve developed a series of edible products to help us to feel good both inside and out. Technically, these products are designed to aid beauty concerns such as having glowing skin among many other things, as they’ll work to improve our microbiome, “we’re focussing on the skin-gut axis” Vickery says. The edible produce includes a broth and chewy balls. There’s incense, fragrances, candles, there’s spas, there’s even been ideas of restaurants.

“There’s a 1000 nos for every yes when we’re coming up with products. I think it shows that while we could go and do things other brands are doing, we stay in our lane, we stick to our own ecosystem.” Vickery says. Adding, “we don’t like to lean on experience, we like to create a new path forward.”

Forward thinking, is the reason this is being written at all. There is ideally no limits for Hæckels, just constant improvements. “packaging is probably the thing that we are most nervous about, we’re so keen to try and do things to reduce our impact that occasionally there’s teething issues” Vickery says. Only natural, when you’re creating brand new solutions and have ridiculous customer demand. As it should be with all brands who want to change the world, Hæckels biggest challenge is achieving its aims, making their ideals possible. A recent development in their pursuit for true sustainability is Spiraglow™, a brand new algae they invented in their own lab.

Vickery says “if we keep growing, in a decade or so, the volume of seaweed we’re harvesting might not be sustainable, so we’re finding ways to create our own in a lab, where there’s minimal impact. We should be able to keep improving the algae over time too.” Of course, for a small brand like Hæckels, which hires more-or-less fifty people, having their own lab that invents brand new products is a lot, but they see it as completely essential for their operation.

You may wonder why Hæckels don’t shout about the fact that they’re growing brand new algae in labs, or that their products biodegrade and are so reasonably priced than in cases they don’t really make profit. “Because it doesn't feel authentic. We let the products speak for themselves.” Says Vickery.

Being a small business with big dreams (and too much demand, products are often sold out), means that Vickery, like many of the staff, are doing a million things at once: trying to maintain order while thinking about the future. It’s clearly high-pressured, and relentless busy, yet Vickery seems to walk around with an air of calmness to him. The entire building, which used to be a casino (insert your jokes about the irony of a company taking risks here, reader), has a sense of calmness to it. Vickery was getting a facial just before the interview, which is a real ambassador for the brand move, but he says “I’m a bit of a go to the pub with my mates kind of guy when I do get the time.”

There’s a burning question as we’re wrapping up the interview, which is: if you want to be as sustainable as possible, why would you make a 360 wellness company selling skincare and candles at all?

“I think it's about looking at the skin barrier and other things we product as a way to deliver personal wellness. It's almost a benefit on your confidence and your aura, the way that you behave by having confidence in your skin. And that has a value in itself.” He says.

In a world full of consumption and waste, it can sometimes feel like we don’t deserve nice things. You could argue that Hæckels is doing what it can to deliver the best of both worlds. In a tangent we fall down earlier in the interview, Vickery says “it's such a shitty time in the world, trying to find these pockets of goodness, that you're able to enjoy is really important.” That rings true for what the brand is aiming to do.

Products are selected independently by our editors from the woo online store, a carefully curated platform for feel good fashion, beauty, wellness and lifestyle, as well as externally. Items on sale are subject to change pending stock availability. Discover more here.


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