We are completely and utterly honoured and in awe of Jason Thawley and all his achievements, not only because he is extremely modest but because his designs and products are just awesome. He talks of his love for climing trees and that nostalgic feeling of being a kid and i think that what he has done is tap into that feeling that many of us get as adults stuck in offices all day, of wanting to get outside into nature, but do it the coolest way possible.
Firstly, tell us a little about your background, how did you get into sustainable product design?
I was mixed between art and science at school and loved design and technology so went on to do a mechanical engineering degree at university. Following that I picked up a product design job designing pro-sound equipment, mixing desks, amplifiers etc. and just developed a love of making functional useful things that got used by thousands of people. I was really passionate about natural materials though, a love for the outdoors and as an engineer efficiency in design and manufacture led me on a sustainable path to utilize recycled and sustainable materials in my designs. With a big shift at the time to volume, far-east manufacture and thorough a big change in personal circumstance I decided to set up my own studio specilising in sustainable product design – at first using the growing trend of LED’s in lighting and mixing new technologies and modern design with sustainable materials like wood and recycled plastics and metals and some traditional, hand crafted manufacturing techniques which started to become my ‘style’.
What inspired the Tree tent idea and how did you initially go about developing it into a prototype?
I’ve always loved woods and forests – I used to escape to them as a boy and just felt a sort of peace there. I used to climb trees with my cat and loved getting up high, and stuck sometimes, and feeling the trees move in the wind with me clung onto the side. You feel a connection with the earth at that moment, not sounding too much like a tree hugging hippy, but that was something special and stuck with me which if probably the catalyst for wanting to make something that got me back there.
I’d seen a Canadian chap make some wooden treehouses that were suspended between the trees rather than the typical structure attached firmly to them which gave me the impetus to start drawing something up. Initially the tree tent was a concept picture on my website then one day got a phone call for a TV production company who were making a new show on small, quirky spaces and wanted to feature it. I sort of blagged it that they were a real thing and then after putting down the phone realizing I had about 2 months to properly design it, build it and put one up with the cameras rolling – no pressure then! Anyway, myself and a couple of friends who were into designing airships and hot air balloons set to it and we got the first one up and featured on the show.
After developing your first successful tree tent product, what was the general response? You went on to develop other structures following this, how were they different and improved?
The show went out and at the same time the whole ‘glamping’ scene was a growing trend so we started to get lots of enquiries for them and so a business soon grew. We made a few here and there and they turned out to be popular with people wanting to come and stay in them. They caught the imagination and so got picked up on a lot of blogs and editorials and so interest grew more. We had people who loved the design but then maybe didn’t have trees so the other structures were developed to meet that other demand and fulfil my love of organic architecture.
With more and more people wanting to be off the grid and self sufficient could you see these products becoming the future of outdoor living?
The concept definitely will be – with outdoor living comes adaptability, caring for the environment and creating living habitats that don’t impinge on the surrounding environment. All our products aim to do this – just like the Mongolian yurts were designed to do but with a bit more modern innovation. We want our stuff to blend with its environment or enhance it. Things like geodesic domes are ok but they tend to look like a giant alien golf ball that has crash landed into our countryside. Or products take ques from nature and our use of materials reflect what’s around them.
How easy is it to incorporate eco friendly sustainable products into regular homes?
From a consumers point of view – challenging. There’s a lot of ‘eco-wash’ around some products and others may be energy efficient and sustainable but are hard to get right in the home for ease of use and aesthetically pleasing. Lighting is a big bug bear of mine. So many energy efficient lamps on the market and people don’t know how to choose them correctly so you get terrible light, colour temperatures, and dazzling light from them that make you feel pretty withdrawn after a while. My biggest recommendation is just to invest in pieces – especially furniture. Something that’s going to last, made from a good local craftsman or an ethical company and something that you can and will want to repair if it wears out or gets damaged. Chipboard furniture is only good for the skip if it gets damaged.
Since your episode on channel 4’s George Clarks Amazing Spaces, have you had loads of interest in the structures? Any cool projects in the pipeline?
As touched on above it’s what kickstarted the real production of the Tree Tent and set it going as a business. It’s probably about 4 years ago now and I’m finally turning it into a real company after developing the product and others around it. It’s been 4 years of bloody hard work to keep it going to the point where people have now invested in it and I’ve put together a management team to do the stuff I’m not good at or just giving me the time to do what I’m good at. We’ve just formed a new company called Tree Tents international and have the funds and expertise to start selling our structures worldwide and installing into some amazing places. We’ve got some interest from a projects in Canadia, Norway and Croatia at the moment and hope to be able to turn all this into a lifestyle business where I get to travel, see some amazing places and get people enjoying the wilderness in a low impact and exciting way. It’s also great, as a single parent to my two young kids, to be able to do something I love and have the flexibility to care for them too… and build something exciting for their future and for them to see me take my passion and turn it into a career.
Along side all your amazing inventions, you have also completed a 90k self build in Brighton. What advise would you give to anyone wanting to start a project of this scale?
Just follow your dream but be prepared to put in an extraordinary amount of hard work, sweat, lots of tears and emotions into your project and never give up. Ask lots of questions, pester suppliers for discounts and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Use whatever you can and turn problems into solutions and be creative. Don’t settle for the ordinary – this is your chance to do something different.
Greatest achievement so far?
Wow – staying sane!… and strong willed for the sake of my children and in the process keeping my business and passions going without too much compromise. We’ve had a tough time – we’ve lost their mother, my wife, with unbelievable ups and downs over the past decade but never lost sight of the important things in life and kept going through it all. I also built a tree house for Bear Grylls last year which was epic!
Finally can we take a peek at your work space?
You can find Jasons amazing products and keep upto date with what he’s doing by following the links below: