Helen MacLeod: Dressed for success

Offered By Sea Design

Our latest Women in Yachting interview profiles a lady who has been keeping superyacht crews across the Mediterranean looking stylish and professional for nearly three decades. That’s no mean feat considering the pace with which trends come to pass.

Helen MacLeod is the founder and owner of Sea Design, a trusted crew uniforms and clothing supplier based in Antibes, France. Having helped chief stews kit out their crew in smart and contemporary yachtwear, MacLeod has become a go-to fashionista for many within the industry.

Outlining her initial introduction to yachting and subsequent progression into the world of crew uniforms, MacLeod tells Yachting Pages how her passion and beliefs have helped propel her into the successful businesswoman she is today.

Helen MacLeod profile

Did you have a particular passion for STEM science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects (that traditionally appeal more to male students) when you were younger?

No, I was not really interested in science at school; my passion was art and my goal through school was to go to Art school. However, my education changed direction when I visited a food science college and they offered me a place studying Hotel Management. I loved the diversity of the course and it certainly helped with my initial career as a stewardess and then later when I started my own business.

How long have you been in yachting and what is your role?

My yachting career started just by chance in the summer of 1985. A friend suggested we get out of Glasgow and head for the sun. At that time, I had no idea what a luxury yacht even was. We headed for the South of France, first stop Nice where the first few days were spent trying to look a little less white and then we thought we would look for work.

The only lead we had was a phone number of a girl from our hometown in Scotland. Luckily for us she was super helpful and suggested we headed to Villefranche where there was a number of yachts preparing for their summer season. We started work the next day, working together on board a 40-metre motor yacht which was then based in Monaco for the season. We enjoyed that summer going up and down the coast to St Tropez and then to Corsica. I really loved life on the water.

My first two years in yachting I was a stewardess. I became the chief stewardess on my third yacht.

A large yacht in its day. It was 50 metres. When that yacht was sold, I took on the challenge of a new build coming out of the De Vries shipyard. This job helped to change the course of my life completely. Firstly, it gave me the experience of trying to buy uniform for the complete crew and realising how difficult it was, with very few options available.

Secondly, when I had accepted the position the crew agent had omitted to tell me that the owners had planned to live on board. So, after 8 weeks, completely exhausted I decided that I wasn’t cut out for life on board and needed a rethink of my career path.

Photograph of Helen as a young adult

What steps did you take to arrive in the position you’re in now?

From the moment I stepped off the passerelle I knew I wanted to start a uniform company. Initially Sea Design was set up in the UK but after a year it became obvious that France would be a better base.

After starting the business, I had a lot of support from friends and colleagues that were prepared to place their uniform orders with me. Sea Design started in a little office in the Industrial area of Biot. Two years later we opened a shop in the Galerie du Port and then a couple of years after that we moved to the outside of the Galerie. In 2006 I purchased premises which we turned into the showroom that we are still in today.

At this point I created a new company with a good friend, Ann West, so that we could concentrate on the interior items, towels, linens, tableware, etc. This was something Sea Design had already started to develop but I had realised that it would be better to create and develop it as a separate entity to Sea Design. Thus, Cabin Shop was born in the old Sea Design premises.

What does a typical day hold for you?

I generally work from our offices-come-factory warehouse in Vallauris, a 15-minute drive from the showroom. Here we do all the personalisation of the garments. Our embroidery department has recently taken ownership of the very latest in two six-head embroidery machines and we also have the latest printing technology for our t-shirt printing.

I like to be around just to oversee general production. I also work on creating our own clothing range, working on prototype designs, the fabric sourcing, liaising with our production factories. I still get involved with sales and I still like to manage some of our key account clients.

I can really say no two days are the same.

What are some of the most challenging and/or rewarding aspects of your job?

The most challenging? Probably ensuring continuity in our garment range. Our own range is fairly easy but brands love to change with the seasons, which doesn’t go down well with clients only looking to get a few new items for their latest crew member. With the difficult economic situation, brands don’t hold the stock levels that they used to and that is a real challenge as we like to keep our clients happy.

The most rewarding aspect, of course, is when we get a big contract, and we see it through from start to finish. Then to see the crew all kitted out at a boat show really does give me a real sense of pride.

Helen stood on a yacht passerelle

Were there any obstacles along the path to your current position? Have you broken through any gender barriers, leading the way for other women?

I honestly don’t think I have encountered gender barriers. I started Sea Design at the age of 24 and only received encouragement from captains, crew management companies and yacht brokers. I was given some amazing opportunities for someone starting their own business at such a young age and that support has continued through the years.

What advice would you give to your 15-year-old self?

Believe in yourself and your abilities. Ambition is a real driving force.

What advice would you give the next generation of women in yachting?

It is really encouraging to see so many women making a career in yachting or the industry that surrounds it. I think if you have the right personality with the right qualifications and drive, then gender isn’t going to be a barrier.

Sea Design

Headquartered in Antibes, Sea Design is a leading distributor of superyacht crew clothing and uniforms in the Mediterranean. It has designed, manufactured and distributed uniforms for more than 25 years.

It prides itself on offering yachtwear and uniforms that are both stylish and contemporary whilst also being practical and comfortable to wear. A preferred store for crew clothing, Sea Design is renowned for providing a style and service that is delivered on time and within budget.

Among its specialities are formal wear, casual wear, sportswear, swimwear, outerwear, foul weather wear, chef wear, workwear and footwear.

If you require new uniform for your yacht, search for Uniform & Clothing specialists in the Yachting Pages directory. Alternatively, you can enjoy more interviews in our Women in Yachting series.

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