Flying Squirrel Outfitters
What do you get when you cross an amazing hammock design with incredible social change aimed at supporting seamstresses in Thailand?
A Flying Squirrel.
To find out more behind how Flying Squirrel Outfitters got its start and what’s in store for the future, Josh interviews Flying Squirrel Outfitters founder, Brian Carraway.
More about the episode...
Josh sits down with Flying Squirrel Outfitters founder Brian Carraway. Flying Squirrel Outfitters stands out by keeping the production local and keeping things personal. After Brian moved from Seattle to Chang Mai in northern Thailand, he fell deeply into the world of entrepreneurship bringing his passion for hammocks with him. We were lucky enough to sit down and listen to Brian's story; challenges, feats of success, and how his company is bringing steady work, a better wage, and a monumentally more comfortable work environment to seamstresses in a village outside of Chang Mai.
Have an opinion? We want to hear it! Join the conversation and leave a comment, check out show notes, and get all the links mentioned in this episode below
- Check out Flying Squirrel Outfitters website
- Follow Flying Squirrel on Facebook, Youtube, Instagram
- More about what FSO is all about
- Pick up a FSO hammock of your own
- An interview of FSO from our friends at Tree Tribe
What is Flying Squirrel Outfitters all about?
“...Everything is handmade in-house. We have a team of seamstresses in small villages in Northern Thailand that hand make every product from their home. So, they're literally at home, we give them all the materials, and they develop everything from the comfort of home with no set working hours…”
How did you start getting involved with such a strong social project?
“I was in Seattle working for about six years and, I just kind of up and decided to make a change in my life and I moved to Thailand...I wanted a hammock for my apartment at the time. I heard about, my now existing partner Udom, who was working with hill tribes at the time…”
Where does the name, Flying Squirrel Outfitters come from?
“… I was at a friends house hanging out one day and, a lot of people have sugar gliders as pets, so flying squirrels essentially. My friend had a few of them in his living room and it was exciting to watch. It just hit me in an instant, seeing their wingspan it kind of resembled a hammock…
What made you decide to move to Thailand from Seattle?
“My situation in Seattle was quite nice. I had a great job I worked for a company called Redfin...Back when I was there I think I was employee number 90. I learned so much in that startup environment and, that taught me those skills to start something up…”
Did you know you wanted to start a business when you left Seattle?
“It’s always been something that I’ve thought about doing. I think I knew it was on the horizon but that’s not why I came here. It was just the urge to travel, to have that experience. When I first moved to Thailand before I quit and actually moved here, I just met a bunch of really great people living out their passions…”
What came next once you figured out the logistics of manufacturing and developed a name?
“I have to say that, being in Chang Mai, there was a lot of low hanging fruit in terms of customer contact here. Chang Mai is a big tourist destination and I’m making travel hammocks, how perfect!...I immediately had a market of travellers here…”
How many iterations until you finally fully developed your hammock?
“Probably more than what I’m quoting, I can’t really remember. At least 5 or 6 different prototypes...How I was saying we really empower our team, they’re really closely involved with product development, as well. They really help us because they have that expertise with production...”
What are some of the features that standout other than the social aspect of Flying Squirrel Hammocks?
“The Design is different than a lot of traditional models. It opens up on two sides, so when it’s all packed up, it’s in a bean-shaped pouch, and on either end...It really sets up a lot easier and your hammock never touches the ground…”
Did you have any mentors that helped you develop Flying Squirrel Outfitters?
I would say a handful...My earlier mentors would be the owner of Trade Monkey, his name is Mark Weber. They work with local tribes all over Northern Thailand making a variety of products. They were the ones that really showed me what social entrepreneurship was all about…”
What is Flying Squirrels commitment to sustainability?
The biggest position that we take is that nothing is coming from mass factory production. My personal belief is that, if you take on the model that we take on and empower our production to be apart of our team, that translates to better quality. They take more pride in their work and they’re excited about it…”
What would you say has been one of the hardest aspects about starting Flying Squirrel?
“I’m in Thailand and it’s very different than where I come from. The cultural nuances are probably the biggest challenges and I mean that on every level of the business...In Thai culture there’s this idea of losing face. People are aware of the hammock project and if people were involved...But, if I can’t deliver than that seamstress would lose face in this community…”
What is your greatest fear and how do you manage it?
“I would say the biggest fear is not having work for the team and them losing trust in us...It’s certainly a lot of pressure for me to get the sales: sales will translate to more work.”
What have been some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made so far?
“Things went a little slow when we started having production issues with the straps. I think I really put a delay on the launch because we didn’t have those straps ready. What I should have done is I should have gotten the hammocks up and started selling them without the straps…”
What advice would you give someone that wanted to start a business?
“I think for anybody starting anything; do an inventory-- a self inventory and just be sure that is exactly what you want to do...It’s kind of a lifestyle. I’m never off, I’m answering customer emails at 10:30 at night...Flying Squirrel doesn’t do anything unless I’m moving it…”
Where do you see Flying Squirrel headed into the future?
“I want to grow our team...Ideally, I’d like to see us working more with these stay-at-home seamstresses who are very hungry for work. They get taken advantage of by local companies that know they don’t have to legally pay them. They can get away with it and pay them under the table because, again, these seamstresses don’t want to lose face within the community…”
What is the best part about running Flying Squirrel?
“I love the products. I love what a hammock represents, it’s a lifestyle wholeheartedly. It’s not just something that you string up when you’re tired, I keep a hammock on me at all times...The best thing is, the seamstresses are on facebook...They’ll see a video I posted of them and, I’ll see them share that post...I’ll have a Thai friend translate and, they’ll say something like, ‘I’m very proud to be apart of this and they see themselves being apart of this team’...There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing that...”