Robert Hall, Calum Ferguson and Tara Drummie of Studio Vans. (Credit: Raphael Rychetsky)

Janice Findlay, innovation programme manager with HIE’s Co-Innovate programme, talks to  North Uist business, Studio Vans, about their innovative modular fit-out kits for campervan conversions.

Based on the Isle of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides Studio Vans has just completed a 12-month project to design, develop and bring to market their innovative campervan conversion solutions.

The concept involves producing standardised frame support kits, furniture modules and interfaces to connect them all together. 

High quality ‘click in and click out’ modules can be adapted and changed over time to suit the customer.

The company secured a grant from the Co-Innovate Programme to employ a project manager to take the project forward.

Calum Ferguson studied Product Design at the Glasgow School of Art and joined the business back in July 2021 to manage this project.

When I asked Calum about his role, he told me it was the ideal fit for him.

“A creative role in a new and innovative business based in the islands was a rare and enticing opportunity!” he said.

“I was able to apply my project experience from working as a designer, maker and artist which focused on creating and emphasising the relationships between people and their environment.

“Here at Studio Vans, we build spaces to allow customers to best engage with their outdoor environment and lifestyle.

 “Working with a small team and seeing the project through from early development to a kitted-out van has been really rewarding and meant that no two days have been the same!”

The project also involved looking at a new way of doing business from the islands and had a strong focus on sustainability.  Robert Hall, Founder of Studio Vans goes onto explain,

“We knew it wasn’t practical for mainland customers to come to the island to get their vans fitted out, so we are building a network of manufacturing and installation partners on the mainland who can do this for us. This links high-value, creative jobs across a geographic network to the core island operations of the business.

“Creating and developing this model is vital for the growth of the business.

“Sustainability forms part of our ethos where we reuse and recycle the company’s products while collaborating with designers such as Still Life Workshop to melt-down and repurpose ocean plastic into objects that can be reused.  Our products are designed to outlast the van.

“We want to operate a low carbon business through material and supplier choice as well as providing the customer the option to select a local designer to keep product travel miles to a minimum .

The support from Co-Innovate has accelerated this vision and allowed the business to not only employ a dedicated project manager but also access expertise from academic partner, Atlantic Technological University (ATU), formerly the Institute of Technology, Sligo.

Rob continues, “Working with Mark and Xavier from ATU has been invaluable.  They have both brought a wealth of experience to the project as well as energy and enthusiasm so much so that we plan to work with them on future projects.”

With the 12-month project now complete, what’s next?

The business is now emerging from a product development phase and has started the order process and manufacture for an initial range of fitouts. 

The order pipeline for the next 12-month period exceeds current capacity and so they are recruiting to grow the island team. 

Studio Vans’ ethos, to do no unnecessary harm (environment and community), has seen them moving into the electric vehicles market.

Rob explains, “We are working to help customers transition to this fast-moving emergence of electric vehicles using our modular fitout system and exciting partnerships as a sustainable way to do this. 

“Our business was recently announced as a winner of Scottish Edge 2022 which is a great boost for our team and recognition of the amazing work everyone has put in so far.”

Calum will be retained as designer and maker supporting the business through this commercialisation phase.

“This project has boosted my confidence in following through designs and ideas from conception to manufacture and I am excited to see where the next phase takes us.”

Join me next time where I catch up with a business who have developed a system to keep them on track with their clients.   

Co-Innovate supports small or medium sized businesses based in the Outer Hebrides, Skye and Lochalsh, Lochaber and Argyll and the Islands. While applications for the business and academia projects are now closed, business advisers can still provide advice, signpost to relevant support and help with networking for those looking to develop a new product, service or process.

Co-Innovate is supported by the European Union's INTERREG VA Programme and managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB). It is delivered in the Highlands and Islands by HIE.


Related Posts