Scottish Design Awards
Product design at this year’s Scotttish Design Awards was arguably the strongest category, with three awards being handed out in that section alone. Nord received an award and a commendation for its Utility Wallpaper and Drouth products respectively, while Coolstool Concept’s The Block Stool was also awarded. But it was Totseat’s Washable Squashable Highchair that won the judges’ hearts.
The problem of what to do with your wriggly toddler when eating out will be familiar to many parents. The situation frustrated Rachel Jones, founder of Totseat, when her baby daughter Freya started accompanying her to cafes and restaurants around Edinburgh.
The judges awarded Totseat the Grand Prix for its “superb combination of form, function and general all-round design excellence.”
But how did a mother’s frustration at a lack of highchairs end up winning her a design award? Although Jones is honest when she said “necessity is the mother of invention”, her journey to invention took her from pig farming in Aberdeen to New Zealand doing PR and then back to Edinburgh to set up her own PR agency.
Brought up between Edinburgh and the US, Jones majored in pig behaviour for her degree in agricultural science at the University of Aberdeen. She left Scotland to travel the world for a year on a scholarship, before returning to be education officer at the Scottish Agricultural College and starting evening classes in PR. In 1991, she moved to Shrewsbury to work in agricultural PR and then came to Edinburgh to work for Shandwick, before getting itchy feet again and moving to New Zealand as head of communications for the country’s largest independent engineering consultancy. In 1998, she returned to Edinburgh and started Great Circle, with Michael Groves, now her husband and co-inventor of the Totseat.
Jones stumbled on the production of Totseat after a particularly trying day out at a cafÃ©.
“She became really frustrated at places that didn’t have highchairs or only had filthy highchairs,” said Bev Kirk, a spokeswoman for the company. “One day she was so annoyed, she came home and started making a seat from the lining of her wedding dress.”
Needless to say, the seat is now made from slightly more durable material than Jones’s tartan wedding dress having gone through several prototypes – with the help of Jones’ husband Michael Groves and dozens of friends – but the concept remains the same: to supply a safe, comfortable child-seat for occasional use. After months sourcing ethical materials, going through rigorous testing and securing distribution, the Totseat was launched in October 2004 at the Baby & Child International Fair, in Birmingham.
The design is typically simple, but incredibly effective. Made up of three parts, one fastens round the back of the chair to support the baby’s back, while a tunic-style piece hooks over the top of the chair. The baby then sits on the seat and the remaining piece of material is pulled from beneath it and fastened around the baby’s waist, in a baby-walker style. To adapt the seat for different chairs, two buttons can be used.
Using materials designed by Squigee and Gilbey & Cheyne, the seats are fully machine-washable, colourful and hardwearing, and are manufactured using UK suppliers. Making sure the seats were ethical was important to Jones. “Rachel would never have outsourced manufacturing abroad; she’s very committed to producing Totseat in the UK,” said Kirk.
Retailing at £26.99, Groves and Jones are endeavouring to give a percentage of Totseat’s annual profits to charity, and judging by success so far, that could be considerable. The Edinburgh-based company secured distribution in John Lewis at the beginning of this year and continues to add to its stockists.
Jones, who has taken a well-earned break following the awards, said: “To be perfectly honest, we are completely overwhelmed and winning this prestigious award for product design is absolutely fantastic. It makes all those late nights and the hard work of the Totseat team all so much more worthwhile.”