Polar Bears growl about Inkwellnessmv marketing


Inkwellnessmv, LLC, a company launched this fall, has prompted howls from members of the Polar Bears, a long-standing informal gathering of early morning swimmers on the Inkwell beach in Oak Bluffs. While dozens of other companies have adopted the cachet and name recognition of Martha’s Vineyard to promote products, Inkwellnessmv has rankled some of the Polar Bears by using the name and pictures of the group in promotional material.

“Some people have been confused,” said Caroline Hunter, a member of the Polar Bears group. “Many of the Polar Bears were disturbed about the literature, and the web site. We don’t know anything about their products. We don’t denigrate them, or endorse them.”

The Polar Bears have developed a camaraderie and ritual over more than 70 years of meeting on Oak Bluffs public beaches. They are fiercely proud of the group’s informal, democratic nature, and its openness to all who want to join. Oak Bluffs homeowner Ed Redd said most of the group share the sentiment that Inkwellnessmv’s use of the Polar Bears name is not appropriate.

“We welcome anybody that wants to come down and enjoy an early morning swim,” Mr. Redd said. “We have a quiet ritual. It rankles us when people come down and attempt to use that wonderful Vineyard openness for proprietary purposes. It’s not a political group; it’s not a business group. We’re irritated when people come down and record the things we do, take pictures of our rituals, to try and sell a product.”

Wellness intentioned

Inkwellnessmv, an online retailer of beach clothing, skin products, coffee, wine, and other products, staged a launch party on Columbus Day weekend on the Inkwell, the popular public beach across from Waban Park where the Polar Bears gather early each morning.

It cites the Polar Bears as inspiration for a line of healthy living products, and uses the group’s name and pictures of the group in promotional material. The company says it is using the Polar Bears as one example of the positive, healthy influence of the Island’s African-American community, and says only two or three people are stirring the controversy.

“Our mission is best represented by the ever-inspiring tranquil mindset and wellness practices of the Polar Bears,” the company’s Facebook page reads. “The line of Inkwellness products are developed under the same philosophy of the great informal Polar Bears institution; wholesomeness, serenity, spiritual uplift, fellowship and stuff that just makes you feel good.”

Leah Brown, the founder of Inkwellnessmv, owns a health care company in North Carolina. She was reluctant to discuss the tiff in a phone interview. She said she spent childhood summers on Martha’s Vineyard, and now owns a home here. She said she and her immediate family members are members of the Polar Bears.

“The Polar Bears are not a formal institution,” Ms. Brown said. “They do not have a trademark. I used pictures of people swimming publicly on the beach. I was inspired by the Polar Bears. I feel like I should be able to write about my life. Inkwellness is about something good. All we’re doing is promoting the brand. We’re attracting many celebrities. This is a wonderful thing for the Island.”

Unhealthy dialogue

The friction sparked some sharply worded exchanges earlier this month. In a letter to the editor of The Martha’s Vineyard Times, Ms. Hunter asked the company to stop using the Polar Bears name and images.

“A business called the Inkwellnessmv violated and exploited the good faith and openness of the Polar Bears by using our name, images, and rituals in the introduction of Inkwellnessmv products to Martha’s Vineyard,” Ms. Hunter wrote on behalf of the Polar Bears. “The Polar Bears of Martha’s Vineyard are notifying the Martha’s Vineyard community that we are not associated with and do not endorse Inkwellnessmv products.

“We have asked that Inkwellnessmv immediately destroy any and all videotaping and photography taken of the Polar Bears, our members, our exercise circle, our songs, our rituals, and our activities.”

In a letter to the editor published in today’s issue of The Times, Leah Brown questioned the authority of Ms. Hunter to speak on behalf of the Polar Bears.

“I am a Polar Bear myself, however I have no knowledge of an election of Ms. Hunter as the Polar Bear’s official spokesperson,” she said.

Ms. Brown said, “There is no evidence of any intent to violate and exploit the good faith and openness of the Polar Bears, as claimed. The Inkwellness brand simply captures and promotes the essence of a longstanding tradition of healthy and spiritually enriching lifestyles and the wellness practices of African-American, health-conscious vacationers. That, we believe, is a wonderful thing.”