Editor’s Note: Some parts of this interview were shortened and edited for clarity.
If you walk down the Esplanade on certain sunny days in the future, you may come across a group of people relaxing in colorful hammocks. These are the creations of Matthew Santens, the founder of The Elevated Movement.
The Elevated Movement is a company that aims to sustainably produce beautiful hammocks. They offer artist-designed hammocks and support independent art by ensuring these artists receive thirty percent of profits. They also provide templates that allow you to custom-design your own hammock. The fabric they use is made from 100 percent recycled plastic, and the amount of energy needed to produce it is less than half that needed to produce virgin synthetic fibers. Moreover, they have partnered with the nonprofit organization Plant With Purpose to plant two trees for every hammock sold — after all, you need two trees to hang a hammock.
The Tech met with Matthew Santens to find out more about his company and how he came to found it.
The Tech: Could you tell me a bit about yourself, and how you became interested in hammocks?
Matthew Santens: I grew up right outside D.C. and went to college for a semester, but then decided I’d rather be traveling. I spent some time in California and moved to Boston three years ago. Traveling and being outside sparked my interest in hammocks. I started camping in hammocks. If you hang up a hammock and a tarp, you don’t need a whole tent, so you don’t have to find flat ground or worry about rocks. It’s nice — a lot lighter, fun, and more comfortable.
TT: How did you get the idea of The Elevated Movement?
MS: As with anything, if you start doing something enough, you start to look for ways that you can make it better or make it a part of your life. I was spending a lot of time in hammocks, and I thought that maybe I should try to earn a living from something that I’m passionate about. I wanted to do something creative. I have a friend doing these kinds of designs on shirts, so I saw the technologies available and started doing research into how to use them with hammocks.
That’s where the idea of the artist-designed hammocks came from. Soon afterwards, I realized that I was enjoying nature in a product that’s hurting nature, because the hammock fabric itself is either nylon or polyester, which are petroleum products. I wanted instead to create a sustainable hammock, and that led me to finding out about companies that make polyester fabrics from plastic bottles.
TT: When and how did you start making your idea reality?
MS: I’d been thinking about the idea for a while, but I only really started back in mid-August. That’s when I sewed my first hammock. I had some savings that I used as initial funding for working on prototypes, and when I was ready to place the first order of ten hammocks, I told friends on Facebook, who ordered them at a price that just covered the costs. They got to test the hammocks out and tell me what they liked and didn’t like, and since then I have done a couple more batches with different fabrics. Now I’m running a kickstarter campaign to raise money for the first run of production.
One thing I haven’t compromised on is that everything is made in the United States. The printing and sewing facilities are in South Carolina, and the textile mill is in North Carolina. It’s hard to find suppliers that are 100 percent United States. Something that says “Made in the USA” might not be entirely true, because many manufacturers get the materials from overseas and then assemble here, or use materials from here but assemble overseas, because they want to save on cost. There isn’t a lot of production happening in the United States that isn’t specialized, so getting, for example, the metal pieces made was difficult.
TT: How do you print the designs onto the hammocks?
MS: We use sublimation dyes. You know how when you wash your face you use hot water because it opens your pores? That’s how sublimation dyeing works. You have the dye on a piece of paper, and it gets pressed with heat and pressure, which expands the fibers of the polyester, sublimates the ink (turns it from a solid into a gas), and fuses the ink into the fibers. Unlike screen printing or direct to garment printing, the design can’t fade or flake off over time, because the fibers themselves are dyed.
Our printing facility is cool. A lot of issues with dyeing are because the water with the dye can be toxic and there is runoff, but this facility has its own water treatment and recycles all its water. They have been using the same water for 20 years, and don’t require any new water to be brought in.
TT: Who are the artists?
MS: Right now we have eleven artists, with four designs from each. A hammock is the same size as a large painting or tapestry, but you can bring it around with you, so it is a creative way to help artists get exposure, and we found they were receptive to this.
TT: Tell me more about the technical design of your hammocks. How big are they and how do you hang them?
MS: Our hammocks are 10 feet by 5 feet wide, which is between the standard sizes for single- and double-person hammocks. When you lay in a hammock you lie on the diagonal, like intersecting the major axis of an ellipse, so the longer and the wider the hammock is, the more diagonal you can be, and the more comfortable you’re going to be.
There are different methods for hanging hammocks. Normally, they come with heavy carabiners that you have to attach to straps that you put around a tree. I chose a method that would minimize weight while being user-friendly, and I wanted to keep everything attached together. At each end of the hammock a strap is sewn on, which you loop around a tree and secure to itself with a triglide buckle – it’s like putting on a belt. The hammock weighs only 10 ounces, and the straps weigh 7.5, so the total weight is just over a pound, which is really light.
TT: Where can I get a hammock, and how much does one cost?
MS: The hammocks are going to be about $135, which is right in line with others on the market right now. Our Kickstarter campaign ends at midnight on April 27, and the people who bought a hammock through that will be on a waiting list, and we will be sending out 230 hammocks to them in June, July, and August. After that we will start full production and take orders through the website.
TT: Why did you choose to partner with Plant With Purpose?
MS: One of the communities I am a part of is the Valhalla Movement, which tries to make sustainable living more mainstream. To me, making hammocks out of recycled products is awesome, but it’s not the end. I think we can take a more active role in reshaping our landscape. By recycling and replanting, we could take a landfill and over time bring it down to nothing, while turning it into art and a bunch of hammocks for people to enjoy, and in the place of that landfill there could be a new forest.
Plant With Purpose had by far the best scores out of any environmental nonprofit on Charity Navigator, which is a website that ranks nonprofits against how much of their funding goes to the cause, what their financial transparency is, etc. Plant With Purpose works worldwide, finding places worldwide where there has been deforestation or damage to the waterways, and plants trees in those areas. It’s not just about planting trees, but about planting them in a place where the community can benefit over time. For example, planting them by a riverway to prevent erosion creates richer soil that can be used for agriculture.
TT: What was your favorite part of this whole process so far? And what was the most challenging part?
MS: My favorite part, apart from the first time I saw the hammocks and got to go camping in them, was researching — it’s getting to go down the rabbit hole. Knowing there is an answer, but not knowing what that answer is, and then working to find it, is very rewarding and fun. It’s been a constant educational journey, learning about different fabrics, methods of sewing, printing processes, and so on. That’s also the hardest part — trying to find the right manufacturers, the right suppliers, etc.
It has also been exciting getting to meet some awesome artists, and to hear from others how much they believe in the project. I get at least one message every day from someone I don’t know, saying that they support me, and that’s just an amazing feeling.
To find out more, go to The Elevated Movement’s website at http://www.theelevatedmovement.com/.