We met local makers Gavin and Kate Christman from Green&Blue, who design and make beautiful, innovative products that help support wildlife at their workshop in Perranporth.
What’s the story behind Green&Blue? How did you get started, and where did the name come from?
G: We started Green&Blue in 2005. The name came from my childhood memories of spending time in Cornwall – the predominant greens and blues of the rich landscapes and wonderful seascapes we have here.
We wanted to create products that put wildlife at the forefront, both in terms of the design and what we were trying to do. The way we create our products and the materials we use is really important – we use the finest quality materials we can, sourced locally wherever possible.
We’d both come from design backgrounds where there are an awful lot of large companies that very quickly offshore their manufacturing and whose processes change rapidly as they grow. I felt a little bit disillusioned about that. We wanted to create products and manufacture predominantly in the UK – to create real high-quality items that we could be proud of. That’s really what we were trying to achieve with Green&Blue.
What motivates you?
K: I’m passionate about design and wildlife, so to combine the two is a huge privilege. To work with Gavin and create products for wildlife which help create change and make the environment a better place is amazing.
Tell us about your products
G: We design with birds and bees in mind, predominantly. With our bird feeders and birdhouses, we try to create safe feeding stations and a safe habitat. We look at existing products, we look at issues, and then we try and resolve them – we try and design out problems. Certainly, with our range of bee products, we’ve identified what bees need and try to create products that cater for their needs.
How do you find working as a couple – do you each take on particular roles?
K: We met at work, so we’re used to each other’s nuances and ways of working – it’s challenging but brilliant. We know each other very well and we work incredibly well together. Sometimes in our design process I’ll do a sketch, and Gavin will say, ‘what about this?’ – and it also works the same the other way round. Our skill sets lie in slightly different areas, so I think we complement each other.
Who or what inspires you?
G: The natural world… everything outside that window right now. That’s where we spend our time; that’s why we develop products for wildlife. In terms of individuals, there’s no-one greater than David Attenborough – he’s an incredible storyteller.
What we realise now, from our work with solitary bees, is that most people don’t know just how important they are to us. So our biggest challenge, in one sense, is how we narrate those stories – how we spread the word that without solitary bees, we really do face great problems.
We also look at larger companies and think, ‘how do they manage their people, how do they make sure that their policies are as green or as well thought through as they can be?’ The company I’m most inspired by is Patagonia, the American-based apparel company. The profits that they make are measured equally against the good they can do with those profits. That’s certainly something that carries through at Green&Blue. Even though we’re a small company, we give as much as we can afford to each year to various organisations that we feel passionately about.
K: Gavin and I met at Dyson, and James Dyson was a huge influence and inspiration. Working with him was a really great start to the design world. His ability to think about form and functionality, trying and prototyping, and believing in what you’re doing had a profound impact on me.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced since you started the company, and what have you found most rewarding?
K: Probably the way we’ve grown in the past five years. We started off with one product, the Birdball, and we sold that product for several years. We were lucky with it: it was really innovative within the marketplace, and not many people were creating beautiful, functional products for wildlife.
Within the last five years we’ve really defined where the business is going, and where the focus of the business is; we’ve taken on new people and our roles have evolved. I still oversee the branding side of things, and the pair of us are involved in new product development, but having a team and managing people is certainly a new focus – having a good work ethic and looking after our team is fundamental. So they’re big challenges, because they make you think, ‘what do I want from a role, how do I want my employees to feel?’ We’re trying really hard to make sure everyone is happy, and as Gavin said, adopting principles from other businesses that we think are doing things that are really good.
G: Perhaps the most rewarding thing is seeing the passion the whole team has for what we do. The people that we work with are absolutely central to the business. Everyone really believes in what we’re doing and can see the rewards and the reasons for doing it.
Innovation and creativity are key to what you do. Can you talk us through how you create a new product?
G: Our backgrounds are in design in large organisations where you’ve got to understand the market and other products. You need to identify the problems of those products. I think the Bee Brick is a great example of that, because it is entirely unique in the market. We looked at other homes for solitary bees and could see their failings. We also recognised that there was fantastic resource in terms of waste material from the China clay industry which we could use to make really high-quality habitats.
It’s a real step change towards repairing the damage we’ve done to our solitary bee population. By asking the construction industry to take such a simple action, replace a standard brick with a bee brick, we see it as a ‘why wouldn’t you’ proposition. Environmental campaigner and friend of Green&Blue, Chris Hines said, “every house built without a bee brick is a missed opportunity” and we love that, it absolutely summarises the situation.
K: Our new product development starts with a passion for and an interest in a subject. I love birds, and I’ve known a lot about them since a young age. But that’s not enough – you have to really focus on functionality, you have to talk to lots of people in different sectors.
From a small sketch through to production there’s huge number of steps along the way, with lots of prototypes and lots of testing to get it right. The sketch is probably the quick part, and then everything else takes quite a long time. I think Birdball took about a year and a half in terms of production and getting it right. For us, using British manufacturers and making sure all our suppliers follow similar principles to us is really important.
What does a typical day look like for you?
G: The day generally starts with coffee for everybody, and we set a plan. We cast bee blocks every day, so the first job on the bench is de-moulding yesterday’s work and getting that ready for despatch. I make sure everyone’s happy to start with, as that’s the key for us, and then from there I hope to get some time in the studio where I can push on with new products and new product ideas – that’s central to my role.
K: I normally get in and get briefed by Faye, who’s our marketing manager. I look after our brand, so a typical day might be looking at some website design or packaging. When we’ve got a new product launch, it’s everything from the photography to the look of the packaging. Sometimes it’s more hands-on. If Gavin and are talking about a new product range, we’ll be sketching and prototyping together.
What kind of clothes do you prefer to wear when you’re working?
G: I spend most of my time in the workshop, so hardwearing work clothes that can take a bit of a beating are pretty important to me.
K: I really feel the cold, so I like to layer up and be comfortable.
Where’s your favourite place in Cornwall to spend time as a family?
G: For me, it’s the top car park at Godrevy Lighthouse. We take our motorhome down there and spend the day hanging out and not doing a great deal. We’ve had such wonderful times there with the kids, looking for butterflies and trying to find crabs in the rock pools. If there’s surf, there’s surf, and if there isn’t, it really doesn’t matter. It’s a magical spot.
K: Holywell is a pretty special place for us. Walking along the beach with Tarka, our dog, and having the kids rolling down the sand dunes is always fun.
Gavin wears: Unisex Sailor Shirt
Kate wears: Trengrouse Top