I love gadgets. Okay, maybe I’m a geek, perhaps I’m a sucker to consumerism or is it just that I’ve fallen victim to the hipster marketing of the almighty Apple Corporation? Whatever the reason, I’ve got every iGimmick on the market and an iAccessory to match – Steve Jobs got me hook, line and sinker.
And you know what? I hate it.
I hate that I break into a cold sweat without my iPhone, I hate that a take an iPad instead of a notebook to a meeting, I hate that I am writing this now not by hammering the ink-laden keys of a weathered old Remington Deluxe 5 but by noiselessly arranging pixels on the screen of my MacBook Pro. I’m a film-over-digital kind of guy, but damn, when I see those shiny trinkets of technology I get sucked right back in. One of the things I dislike most is the fact that everything is wrapped in plastic, from the packaging it arrives in to the protective case it must forever be housed in.
But I have found a saviour to my excessive consumption of all things plastic, an ecological archangel to curb my polluting ways: iBark saved my conscience.
Toby Webber was working as a cabinet maker when he saw an idea that would ignite the first sparks of his own innovative business. Toby discovered a company in the US making wooden iPhone cases. A little bit bulky, not quite as finished as he would like and perhaps not as aesthetic as the beautiful, natural timber warranted, Toby saw the potential and so he began tinkering.
“It was a great idea,” he recalls of his first impression, “but I knew it could done better. It ticked a lot of boxes for me; it’s a sustainable product, it incorporates art and design and so on, and I just grabbed it from that day forward and went for it.”
Bamboo is a fast-growing, highly sustainable and incredibly durable material and Toby managed to source a company that could laminate and machine-cut any shape he asked for. Already familiar with the characteristics of wood, he crafted his first prototype, sent it away for testing and just like that, a business was born. The very organic, ecological nature of iBark aligns it perfectly with the greater Byron mindset, not denying us our pleasures, our gadgets or our connectivity with the technological world, but embracing it in a conscious and sustainable way – a fusion of nature and future. and, while the raw materials are obviously ecologically sourced, Toby examines every aspect of his business for ways to do things better, cleaner and more environmentally.
“I’ve always had some kind of earthly attachment,” he says. “I’m not the biggest hippie on earth, but I try to adapt as many aspects of my business as possible, from the cases to the packaging. I’m a part of One Percent For The Planet and a bit of a fan of Patagonia – I love their processes – they’re a very inspirational company.”
It hasn’t been an easy process bringing iBark to where it is now, on numerous levels. The support of loved ones has enabled Toby to develop and expand the business, ranges of Android covers have proven less popular than had been anticipated and the ability to create a product that is ecologically sound from process to packaging has been a gradual journey to fruition.
“The creative side, for me, is never a problem because I love creating – I don’t’ care how long it takes. The hardest thing at the start of a business is always money. Luckily I have a mum who’s got a little bit of money and my fiancée has helped me out a lot as well. Without them I wouldn’t exist.
“Right now, I’ve just redeveloped my packaging because, at the start, I did have plastic shells. That made me irate for so long, but I knew that sometimes you have to take a bit of a knock to grow further, that your future initiatives outweigh your starting point. I might start small and I might use a little bit of plastic at the start, but I know that the bigger I get the more I’ll be able to adapt and create a better business in the long run. I’m so happy that the case is sustainable and now the packaging is one hundred percent sustainable too.”
Toby creates the digital templates, tinkering away into the small hours on new designs and ways to spread the iBark technology into other areas. The iPhone cases are far and away the most popular, but the iPad cover is also drawing lots of attention. He has begun to incorporate leather, creating somewhere between his bamboo cases and a fully functioning wallet, and he has even begun experimenting with other materials, always of a sustainable nature, to bring his ecological products to a wider demographic.
“I have just developed a iPad Mini cover. I did do a Samsung one as well, but i’m just sticking with the Apple products. Apple consumers are definitely more savvy when it comes to buying. Samsung users seem to be more functional rather than artistic and creative. But I hope to break that mould soon – I don’t want to be a one trick pony. There’s a company that produce plastic from a corn byproduct, so I’m trying to get that in the works as well to offer a compliment but still sustainable product.
“I’m looking at doing some jewelry, still made of wood and using the C&C and engraving machines, but as three-dimensional, interlocking pieces.”
iBark is expanding exponentially, Toby is continuing to explore new avenues of development, a self-professed mad scientist of design. A wedding to plan with his jeweler fiancée in May, a continual stream of markets and trade shows to attend, a swathe of outlets to stock and the usual daily tribulations of running your own company – life’s not a peaceful place for Toby Webber. But there’s nowhere he’d rather endure the maelstrom than Byron Bay.
“The one thing I’ve found with Byron Bay, with both mine and my fiancée’s businesses, is that, when you interact with people and you’re selling your product and you say you’re form Byron Bay, it’s almost like they all of a sudden get it. I feel that it’s definitely a nice compliment to your business to have Byron Bay behind you.”
– This article first appeared on Common Ground Australia on Jan 13, 2014