Like many great business ideas that change the status quo, Justin Floyd’s came as a result of a conversation about an industry with a problem.
He was talking with a Dartmoor sheep farmer who admitted that since the local carpet factory had closed, he no longer had a viable outlet for his low grade wool and he was probably going to have to burn it. As a marine product designer, working with composites like fibreglass and carbon fibre, Justin’s mind immediately saw an opportunity to create a sustainable alternative.
Justin and his wife Hannah live and work in Buckfastleigh, a small market town, nestling quietly in the shadow of Dartmoor that was once a thriving centre of the English woollen industry. Justin explains that the decline of the wool industry, and the local companies that supported it, cut the heart out of his town, so finding new ways of working with wool gave his business a clear sense of purpose. Solidwool was born not only with a mission to create jobs but also ‘beautiful, soulful products that are designed to last’. The challenge was to create a strong, yet sustainable, composite material that used fleece from upland UK sheep that would otherwise go to waste.
What Justin has invented is a remarkably beautiful material that can be moulded into any shape required. He has been inundated with enquiries and product ideas from all over the world, but settled on building chairs as the first product to showcase Solidwool’s aesthetic and practical qualities. Early commissions for their Hembury chair have included the prestigious Hauser & Wirth Gallery as well as one of London’s leading home-wares superstores.
Justin says, “We believe Solidwool can be considered in place of most Injection Moulded Polymers (Petrochemical derived Plastics) and fibreglass. Wool is used as the reinforcement, bio-resins as the binder.” One of the biggest hurdles Solidwool faced was finding an environmentally sound and less toxic resin to bind the fibre into a solid form. He goes on, “The bio-resin we currently use has roughly 30% bio-based renewable content, sourced from waste streams of other industries, such as wood pulp and bio-fuels production. Their green chemistry eliminates most of the harmful toxins in normal resins, but this is just the start – we are doing what we can with the resources we currently have. There is, and always will be room for improvement.”
3D CAD software is essential for any product designer but Justin was a bit daunted by the thought of investing in a large workstation required to run it, especially since he often needed to work remotely, away from the office and his workshop. He admits that was pleasantly surprised to find the ideal solution being assembled in Portsmouth, by a company that shared his ethos and passion.
"It’s really nice to use equipment and kit from a business that have similar beliefs to us. It’s quite exciting to be using a computer that is made in the UK by people who believe in UK manufacturing, who understand what we’re doing and who are excited about what we’re doing too. Just having that kind of relationship with them is really cool."