Many of you may already be familiar with the upside-down pot plant holder, The Sky Planter, which started life as an idea by a recent design graduate in New Zealand several years ago and has since gone on to woo people around the world as his company now exports to more than 40 countries, including the USA, much of Europe, Brazil and Argentina.
It is such a unique and clever, space-saving and, importantly, environmentally conscious product that it is no wonder it’s as popular as it is. We loved it so much that we have it in our store! So who is the designer and how did the Sky Planter come into being?
Creator Patrick Morris actually planned to become a sculptor and after studying ceramic design, he ended up doing a stint in the ‘City’ in London.
‘Though probably not his ideal to be “suited and booted”, this experience gave him the breadth to become an astute businessman’, explains his brother Jake who joined Patrick in starting their own venture. ‘We always wanted to get into business for ourselves but it was with the intention of going into the family business, then perhaps diversifying later.’
But as is often the case with well-laid plans, they can go wonderfully astray. And so they did. Here Jake tells me about how they started, how the product has evolved and where to from here for their company Bosske, whose name is delightfully derived from the old English word ‘bosky’ meaning ‘a small forest’.
Tell me about your backgrounds and how you have ended up where you are today?
Our family has been in the ceramics industry for more than three decades. Our parents established Morris & James Pottery in Matakana New Zealand in 1977, which grew to become the largest decorative ceramics producer in New Zealand. We grew up in a creative environment surrounded by garden pots, so Boskke is really an evolution of our upbringing, but taking things in a more contemporary direction.
Patrick studied his under-graduate design degree in ceramics at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art & Design in London. In his final year he was looking at how to bring more greenery and vegetation into spaces. His light bulb moment came when he realised that the ceiling is a completely under-utilised space and perfect for growing a ceiling garden, provided he could work out how to grow plants upside down. He began exploring this idea, and developed the early Sky Planter concept, which at the time was called the Antipode Planter in reference to its upside-down orientation and also a cheeky reference to our New Zealand origins.
We then got together shortly after his graduation and discussed establishing our own company to commercialise his Sky Planter product and use this as the basis to develop an urban gardening brand and future innovative gardening products. From there, Ross Stevenson, a chartered accountant, joined the team, bringing with him ten years project and financial management experience in the banking industry, which anchored our sales and marketing and creative pillars of the business. We have grown steadily since then.
How long did it take to get it from concept to product? What challenges, if any, were faced along the way?
In the first few months, before we even had a product to sell, we had committed to a small but expensive central Auckland office space, an unnecessary computer network and a trip for two to Europe on a sales exploration trip, thinking that success would be imminent and we’d have the cash flow to sustain dramatic growth. That was a huge mistake.
Equally, we were quite bold (some might say reckless!) in our approach to establishing production. Rather than find a sourcing agent to manage production on our behalf, Patrick built a shortlist of ceramic manufacturers in Thailand and he and Ross packed their bags and went with open-ended tickets and a commitment not to return until the first production run was underway. They returned victorious six months later, with the first shipment of stock on the boat. None of it had gone through a proper quality control process and sixty per cent of it was unusable on arrival. You make that kind of fundamental mistake once. We learnt very quickly that it was going to be a much slower process to get a new product to market on a limited start-up budget and had to revise down our expectations.
Being brothers has proven to be both a strength and weakness. But over time we’ve adapted to our new reality and now enjoy a robust working relationship, where we can challenge each other with complete openness and honesty, while still maintaining a close brotherly bond.
Tell me about the design concept and Patrick’s vision
Our approach to a product is what makes us different. In the case of the Sky Planter, Patrick didn’t look at just coming up with a snappy product. He looked at the whole context of growing plants indoors and then challenged our assumption that the best place for them to grow is on the ground.
In fact, the best place to grow plants in abundance is from the ceiling. His first sketch was of an entire ceiling covered in greenery, but he realised that in order to achieve that vision he’d first need to work out how to make a single plant grow successfully. The Sky Planter is that first step in a progression towards a much bigger picture.
How is sustainability important to you?
From day one we have talked about and been interested in evolving as a sustainable business. Our focus on gardening products in some way orients us towards this way of thinking, as we are encouraging more plants to be used in living and work spaces. If we are going to mass produce units we must be able to stand behind them if we believe they are making a positive contribution to the world. But the way we go about that has to be sustainable too, and we are working hard to achieve this. Our recently launched Sky Planter Recycled range uses hundred per cent pre-consumer recycled plastic and packaging, and the product has been designed to be readily dis-assembled for recycling, so we avoid putting the product together in a way that may inhibit the recycling process.
What does the future hold?
Boskke as a brand is, and will continue to be, focused on plant-related products. We would say ‘gardening product’ but gardening evokes an image that may be too narrow a definition for our long-term vision and for the world’s need as the years move forward. We hope that the idea of growing a garden from your ceiling becomes a convention.
Patrick has just written a brief for a group of Central Saint Martin’s students, which asks them to research and then paint a realistic vision of London in the year 2050. Boskke would like to be positioned to respond to that future need.
Practically, we are in the process of setting up satellite offices. We have had our London office for four years now and have just set up an office in Bangkok close to our suppliers. In 2014 we plan to set up another sales office in New York, in this way we should be able to run things with several small teams covering the key time-zones.
Creatively, Boskke is now in a position to bring in other guest designers. As well as working as the Creative Director, Patrick is also completing a Master’s degree at the Royal College of Art.
What a fantastic success story and I can’t wait to see what they think of next! Thanks Jake and the team at Bosske.