Hello and welcome to my new monthly column.
Most of you are probably looking at my name and the obligatory cheesy little pic and thinking ‘who is this person?’
Well, I’m not actually a journalist or author and didn’t even achieve a C-grade or above in English at GCSE, but I did like doodling and playing with Lego …
This rather weak skill set led me on a random and varied path through university where I studied product design, and on graduating embarked on a career in car design – after all what young lad doesn’t want to pen the next Ferrari?! Well, it turns out that 99.9% of car designers actually don’t pen the next Ferrari at all, rather they sit behind a computer drawing the technical detail on the back of a head lamp – yawn!
So I did what any sensible level-headed person would do, quit my first well-paid job, handed in my notice on my beautiful flat in Cologne and purchased an old left hand drive baby blue and white VW camper. I then travelled (the very long way) back to my parents’ house in Bedfordshire, along the way scavenging, skip diving and plotting my next move. Now, I must point out I’m not a hippy, don’t have dirty fingernails or smell of compost, but living in Germany had germinated (get it?) a thought in my mind that the whole eco thing made a lot of sense.
After explaining my arrival to my surprised and somewhat sceptical parents and making excuses for the oil now dripping on their driveway, I spent the next few months plotting my eco design master plan. I ultimately wanted to design smaller products: I would conceive the idea, design, develop and make the items by hand, out of scrap materials that I could scavenge. I would then sell loads of them and become rich!
It all sounded so easy on paper, so I got myself a part time job in a bar and spent every waking minute thinking of business names, cutting up scrap objects in the back garden, sketching ideas and building a basic website.
By January 2003 I was ready, I had beaten up several old trolleys and one resembled a chair; I had come up with the name Reestore; the most primitive website in the world was my shop window, and I had already chosen my Ferrari - as selling these beautiful chairs must be the easy bit!
I was wrong. You can have the most amazing products in the world but you need to make people aware of them, have a route to market and build a brand. It’s one thing being cutting edge and ahead of the trend, but it’s a huge challenge having to educate your potential customers who just think you’re a junk-loving nutcase!
After years of struggling to make ends meet, lots of part time jobs, living in a caravan, running a stall on Camden market and even trying to become a teacher, I finally accepted that I needed help. In order for Reestore to grow, I needed to let go a little and allow someone to help me nurture my baby.
In July 2007, I walked up what felt like the steepest staircase in the world. At the top sat five multi-millionaires who could change my life forever! Here I was on Dragons’ Den. I must confess, I honestly didn’t think they would take me seriously. I thought the producers who auditioned me saw me as one of those fools like in the X-Factor audition stages. Low and behold after a two-hour discussion (somewhat heated in places with a certain Glaswegian!) I had two new investors and shareholders in Reestore.
Nearly five years later I have a great team around me, we are producing furniture for The Body Shop, Smart Car, Google, Ecover, Saatchi and Saatchi, and exporting our work all over the globe. I am not going to lie – It’s been tough, and I’m going to tell you about some of my highs and lows over the next few months: my 100-plus hour weeks, learning the hard way about negotiating, how the budget can stitch you up, and maybe some juicy gossip about the Dragons and their Den!
I will also be sharing with you some of my new crazy ideas, updating you on current projects, telling you about some of my failed prototypes and generally using this space to rant about the world – hopefully somehow my words will be relevant to eco design! I also hope to show you how to make your very own upcycled creations at home. After all recycling is usually a pretty boring topic but it needn’t be. There is nothing more fun than making racing cars out of cereal boxes and elephants out of milk bottles!
Until next month my little future junk monkeys!