Back in 2013, our Founder Matt Tait was an Associate Creative Director working in advertising and getting a little tired of designing things specifically for the computer screen. He started thinking about how well-designed and iconic products can have a permanence to them. Matt realized that good product design could provide a lasting physical experience and impact upon the user. Matt began to take classes at a local maker shop called TechShop after work, learning everything from woodwork, to welding, to CNC programming. Within a year, he was making furniture and other products in his spare time to practice what he was learning. He felt fulfilled – creating products with his hands in confluence with his years of professional design work.
Around the time he finished his last course, Matt saw a vintage balsa model airplane kit at a hardware store and thought it would be a fun project to redesign. Realizing he had all the necessary tools at his disposal now, he worked for weeks to perfect the design, screen printing cardboard and cutting balsa wood in intricate laser-cutting fixtures he created, and assembling them one at a time in his basement. He decided to name it the Turbo Flyer®.
Though Matt never saw himself starting a business, he started showing it around at work and his friends and coworkers all wanted one. He thought it would be fun to build an entire website around this one product and launch it like an Apple product (dramatic photos and all!).
His 7 years working in advertising paid off. Once it launched, the Turbo Flyer® went viral! Over 35,000 people visited the website the very first weekend, crashing the site. For weeks on end, orders were rolling in non-stop.
Matt worked nights and weekends to keep up and eventually started to partner with local mom-and-pop manufacturers in the Detroit area to produce the products in higher quantities. This approach to local manufacturing upheld the original integrity and handmade nature of the products while having a positive impact on the manufacturing economy in the area. Over time things stabilized and Matt started thinking about adding new products such as our Sling-Slang YOYO to the line. But it was the Turbo Flyer® that literally launched TAIT Design Co. into existence.
Around that time, I (co-founder Audrey Elkus, hello!) found the website. At the time I was studying art, computer science, and economics at Wellesley College. My family has deep roots in the Detroit area and I had been looking for summer work close to home. The website looked great – I thought there was a huge team behind the products and I wanted to be a part of it.
I wrote into the general contact form asking if there was room on the creative team, and was surprised to hear that TAIT Design Co. was a one man show! Matt and I started working together that summer on the weekends, and realized we made a great team. I was helping design the packaging for a product that ended up as more of an art project – our Precision Mobile.
Along the way we were both getting a crash course in business. Stores were contacting us asking if they could stock our Turbo Flyers and YOYOs, and we were being written about in magazines as far away as Germany and Japan. We started thinking about turning this project into a real business.
So as I finished up school, I helped Matt before, (sometimes during), and after class remotely, on breaks and summers in-person, and after graduation, I moved to Detroit to join full-time. Now we own the business together 50/50. Matt oversees production and is lead on all product design, and I manage our sales and handle all communication. We have a dual role in art direction and business strategy.
So much has happened in the last 6 years! Our line now has 7 products, and everything is made with USA-sourced materials and assembled by hand at our studio. We’re now a team of 5 (plus our sweet studio pup Ray) and have a beautiful space on the East side of Detroit. Our products are sold in 250+ stores globally, and we’ve won awards and had our work featured in publications around the world.
In other words, we’ve come a long way from that humble basement beginning. And it can be hard to remember to stop and share updates when we’re in the thick of it. In order to be even more transparent about our work, we’re launching this blog. Welcome to State of Tait, where we’ll be sharing about the work and decisions that go into TAIT Design Co.
I hope you’ll find it useful, and I’m happy to answer any specific questions! Reach out anytime at email@example.com with the subject line ‘State of Tait’.
Thanks for reading!
Audrey / Co-Founder