Tentsile is raising our time outdoors to another level with their concept of suspended portable tree houses.
The story of Tentsile has a pretty great beginning, one that mentions a combination of Amazonian deforestation and the Ewok tree village from “Star Wars” as the inspiration for a young Alex Shirley-Smith to begin a pursuit of building tree houses. The tale continues with a lofty sentiment, that forests can only really be saved if their trees find a new, more significant value beyond timber.
Shirley-Smith has a good line to go along with that thought: “If we’re all hanging out in trees, they can’t cut them down.”
So goes the narrative of Tentsile, a company that certainly doesn’t seem to have gotten its start with the intention to sell a lot of tents and make a bunch of money.
“To be honest, it was a purely selfish endeavor,” admits Shirley-Smith from his London office. “I just wanted a tree house I could take with me. I’d built tree houses for the last 15 years, and the problem with tree houses is they stay in the same place. You can’t take them on adventures.”
An idea was sparked, a prototype was envisioned, and a movement began.
Formal training as an architect didn’t quite prepare Shirley-Smith for what would become an intense search for the right design and materials. “Everybody got the concept, but they didn’t really get how it was going to be built,” he said. “On the manufacturing side of things, it fell between the cracks. It wasn’t really a tent, so tent manufacturers wouldn’t help us make one. The sailboat people wouldn’t help us, the parachute people wouldn’t help us, so we had to do it on our own.”
What followed was essentially two years of learning how unrelated architecture and the idea of suspended tree houses actually are. Tentsile’s original concept, a purely suspended and habitable structure with just three anchor points, was becoming difficult to view as a reality.
Nonetheless, the prototype was featured in a popular online forum covering green design, and was touted as the next big zero-impact architectural design. The online buzz continued, and Tentsile caught on even more, still without a design ready for mass production.
Shirley-Smith joined forces with Kirk Kirchev, who helped improve the design and make the product lighter and more easily packed, directly addressing the heart of the idea. The result was the Stingray, Tentsile’s flagship model that launched in the Spring of 2013 as the world’s first truly portable tree house.
More online attention, most notably in the form of images shared through social media outlets like Instagram and Facebook, helped push Tentsile’s notoriety even further. The word was out, and the demand was increasing.
‘Without Trees, We Don’t Have a Product to Hang’
From there more models, including the modular Connect, the Trillium hammock and the Vista three-person tree tent, were debuted and word continued to spread. Tentsile was able to deliver on the original promise of conserving the world’s forests.
As just a sampling of what Tentsile has done in terms of “giving back,” consider this: For every Tentsile tent that is sold, three trees are planted at the southern edge of the Sahara Desert to stop desertification. The company built the first-ever treetop eco settlement in Fiji. Tentsile partnered with Greenpeace to stop deforestation in Indonesia and save orangutan habitat in Borneo. They’ve even given the means for an Amazonian community to inhabit and protect land known for illegal tree cutting, so they can serve as 24/7 watchdogs.
Rest assured that list will be added to, says Shirley-Smith. “That’s a couple of on-the-ground, active uses that we are currently partaking in, but as we grow, hopefully you’re going to be hearing more and more from us. Our activist side is going to shine through a bit more,” he said.
But why bother? It’s great to give back, but not every outdoor company goes to such lengths. Why does Tentsile care so much?
“Without trees, we don’t have a product to hang,” he said succinctly. “Trees are our favorite places to hang out, basically. We love being in the forest, we love being in trees, and so we do what we can to save them and to promote their conservation. We are a conservation company at heart, so we’ve designed ways to help people hang out in trees in more comfort.”
More to Come
Tentsile’s amazing story and growth shows no signs of slowing down, as Shirley-Smith promises new product launches each year, and a continued effort to get the word out. He anticipates copycats to follow, so the more Tentsile can do to establish themselves as the portable tree house company, the better.
New walls which can be attached to Tentsile’s various tents are upcoming, with the ability to create more modular-style compartments. Shirley-Smith couldn’t help but boast about achieving vertical stacks that created a dwelling that’s never been done before. “I essentially made a six-person house from two small bags of gear that weighed, together, less than 25 pounds. I was really stoked,” he said.
No doubt Tentsile’s growing customer base will be stoked, too.