Interview with Sheree Commerford, Captain and the Gypsy Kid

 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you grew up and what the inspiration was for starting Captain and the Gypsy Kid?

I grew up on Cane Farm in Northern NSW in a small country town where my folks still live today. From as young as I can remember, I wanted to travel the world and work in fashion. Lucky for me, I had parents who believed it didn’t matter where you came from or what school you went to, that you could do anything if you were passionate and worked hard enough. The short story is that I decided university wasn’t for me and hitched a ride with a family friend to the big smoke (Sydney) where I studied fashion design at night and worked retail in the day to support myself. I dropped out halfway through to pursue styling and from here I started traveling and working on fashion campaigns all over the world. Captain and the Gypsy Kid (CATGK) came later after the birth of my second child Captain. I had started a fashion label five years prior, before the time of online shopping and Instagram, and I was struggling with the workload and raising two small babies. On the outside, it looked very exciting. I was loved by industry heavyweights and key retailers with a loyal following, but on the inside, I was barely surviving. It wasn’t having a positive impact on me, the babies, the business or the planet, so I made the decision to close up shop, which was really hard at the time. Having the kids gave me an entirely new perspective on life and what was important to me, so I threw all of that into a melting pot and came up with CATGK. With no agenda or grand plan, it became a community for families and I became a storyteller.

Image of Sheree and her child working in the garden

What do you think are the most important messages we need to be communicating with each other in regards to the future of the world's wild places?

That we must all take responsibility for the future of OUR planet. Even though it may seem like we are so far removed in our own worlds from these wild places, we are in fact all connected. Humanity and nature are infinitely entwined and unless we find a way to coexist, then we will no longer exist. Outside of the cold hard fact that we need fresh air and water, flourishing ecosystems and the evolution of other species to survive, how can the human spirit remain without the world's wild places to give us hope, freedom and connection?

Photo of Sheree in a snowy field accompanied by a quote that reads, "If you're always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be"

How do you think stories help to connect people and what makes them so powerful?

I believe it is the last, honest form of human communication. It’s how we fundamentally relate to one another by sharing empathy and emotion, which makes us feel like we are a part of something. They bring us together. Stories for me are about connection and truth. In a world rapidly growing with new forms of digital communication, tech sounds and devices, I believe storytelling to be more important than ever.

What has been one of your favorite stories CATGK has covered?

I have had the unique privilege to share stories of those that inspire and uplift in the most profound ways. Some famous, others unknown. I have no favorites, not one. Actually I lie. The video we did for Qantas about where I grew up, which is a story we had my father tell from his perspective, might be the greatest tale I ever tell. He is a man of a certain generation, raised in a tough environment and a man of the land in the truest sense of what it means to be an Australian farmer. Yet, here he is, with few words, saying so much about the about the enormity of his love for his family and the land that gave him a truly contented life. I actually tear up every time I think of it or watch it. It has had a huge impact on me.

Sheree sitting outside holding a pair of binoculars

How does sustainability play a role in your and your family's life and what are your thoughts on the future of sustainability for our planet?

We started making changes in our family by asking simple questions about all aspects of our family life: from the way we run the house, do our shopping, pack the kids' lunch, travel, spend, recycle rubbish, wash our clothes. This led to questions like what is the environmental impact and what are our sustainable options? This doesn’t mean that we have ticked all the boxes- far from it- but the most important thing is that the mindset of our family has changed. The conversation and the questions are now a part of our family fabrication. We still forget, make dumb decisions and can be lazy, but we now recognize this. And each member is championing the same outcome and supporting each other to make the right decisions. It really is a journey of failures and successes. Sustainability for the planet is in fact just that. We won’t sustain the planet unless our actions stop having a negative effect. Climate change is a direct result of the way we live. Something we didn’t know in the past, but we do now. From big industry to individual actions, one day sustainability won’t be a thing, it will just be normal. The way we live. That to me is the future of sustainability, the new normal.

Horses moving into the distance of mountains

What do you think young people look for in brands? How important is authenticity and transparency in regards to sustainability and putting planet in line with profit?

Now, there is only one way to do business. If you are starting a company and it is not a product for purpose with transparency in your supply chain, then I truly believe that you will not survive the marketplace. All businesses, if they want to compete, must make the change to sustainable practices. This will be the new normal. The way we consume is changing at a rapid pace and the landscape of retail is constantly unknown, BUT one thing we do know is that millennials make up the majority of spend and three out of four will choose a sustainable product over another. They are seeking it and willing to spend more to have it. They don’t care about pretty packaging; they want to do the right thing. Bring on the future.

What does wilderness mean to you and your family?

It’s not by chance that whenever we want to fill up our life buckets or connect as a family, we seek the wilderness to do it in. I’m not sure if I am describing it well, but I think it is because this is what makes us feel ultimately human and our humanity is put in perspective. The wild is the world’s greatest classroom with all the answers.

Collage of photos of Sheree's children enjoying nature

Do you have a thought or philosophy you would like to share based on your life experience so far?

That there is success in failure. As humans, we are destined to f%#k up in some way, but how we deal with things is the real measure of who we are. It takes the ultimate courage to recognize our mistakes, learn from them and turn them into something great. That really shows who we are and what we can be.

What is your favorite animal and why?

If you know me well, then you know that to date we don’t have a family pet. People might mistake this as not being a pet lover, but it’s not the case. Raised on a working farm, it was innate in me that animals belonged outside in nature and not in our lounge room. I don’t subscribe to this theory even though it has had a lasting effect on how I feel about protecting animals in their natural habitat. Seeing animals free in the wild gives me the ultimate hope for humanity.

An image of Sheree and her family on a stack of red rocks in the middle of the American Southwest

Can you tell us about an experience in your travels and adventures that may have been life changing or has left a big impression on you?

Travel to me is very much about the people we meet and the connection we have with our children when we are outside social restraints and routine. From a conservation perspective, our visit to Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park made me see for the first time the negative effects tourism can have on conservation. The park is amazing and they do a great job of protecting it. The reality is that they need the tourism dollars to do this. It was at times disheartening to see independent safaris full of tourists with selfie sticks and cameras jostling to get closer to an elephant or leopard quietly resting in the wild while drivers were yelling at other drivers to get out of the way and trucks were going off the designated tracks. And all along, tourists were driving the frenzy by wanting that perfect photo and offering dollars to get it. I didn’t know if we were helping or making it worse. Even though we had a wonderful guide who was a naturalist and very respectful of the park's conservation codes, I walked away both completely moved by this incredible experience in the wild yet very aware that my choices as a tourist are very important because of the industries we fuel and the side effects of them environmentally and culturally.

An image of Sheree's family snuggled into a brightly patterned blue quilt