Jason and Camilla Iftakhar
INHABITAT: Tell us a bit about your background in eco-design. What made you decide to focus on scooters?
I was first introduced to the concept of sustainability and eco design whilst studying for my degree in product design and engineering at Middlesex University. I was enthralled and excited about the idea that we, as designers could have a positive impact on the world with the products and services we design.
My third year industrial placement saw me working for two very different companies over a 14 month period – a paid position with a toy design consultancy designing happy meal toys for a high-street fast-food chain. This was my first real taste for the industry and was in many ways surprised, disappointed and awestruck at the volume they operated at and its impact. Second placement with a product design studio in London. Once again I was surprised and dumbfounded at the lack of ethical and sustainable values that the studio and more importantly clients followed. I couldn’t understand why everyone had sustainability on their lips but were really doing very little to support it. Even the small things like just good material selection was not an option. There were many commercial, political and marketing reasons for this and I sympathized and understood but didn’t necessarily agree.
Upon graduation I went on to study an MA in Product Design at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London. I was fortunate enough to be introduced and taught by some of the industry’s most contemporary and leading designers. My master’s degree show had three projects, and all were ethical and sustainable in their own way. Notably a project called RAW BENCH, this project looked at the supermarket chain and turned their infrastructure into a super manufacturer. The concept was to use the waste cardboard and their mechanical bailing machines to manufacture a product onsite using their existing infrastructure. In this case, it was a piece of furniture for the supermarket. It was commercially a success and demand grew for the benches, so I took out a loan, acquired a machine and started manufacturing.
Post MA I went on to freelance for a design studio off Portobello Road where I worked on a solar powered boat for the Serpentine in Hyde Park. I then left and set up my own one man design studio with my own clients. The dream was to build a consultancy that had the ethical values and sustainable values at its core and to make them commercially successful.
That’s when I was introduced to the PLASTIKI project - I worked with David De Rothschild for two years and helped them to design a solar powered boat that sailed from San Francisco to Sydney. The boat was made out of recycled plastic bottles and the team in the USA engineered an amazing new material called Seretex out of recycled plastic bottles. The idea was to sail to the Pacific Garbage patch and in an ironic way raise the profile of the plastic in our oceans and the problems this is causing to the organic life out there.
During this time that I dreamed about creating my own brand and more importantly to be smart in everything that we did. From the concept to the business structure we wanted to make it commercially super successful and not scream and shout about being sustainable or green. As a designer these kinds of words are so overused I think we have totally lost the meaning at times.
I had toyed with the idea of a folding scooter during my degree in 2001. However, it wasn’t until 2010 that we had the vision and Swifty Scooters was born. We wanted to create a company that offered an amazing product full of smart and clever features that people would want to pick up and use as soon as they saw it. The idea was that in the background there were lots of sustainable agendas that we would implement and not really tell the customer, such as local sourcing and waste management, low energy manufacturing and our carbon footprint.