It’s the small things: Deer Isle company makes outdoor living comfortable

Posted July 01, 2011, at 11:48 a.m.

Sloan’s beat-up Jeep bounced as she and her cross-country skiing date, Joshua, headed out of Lake Tahoe. Joshua tipped his Nalgene bottle to take a drink and — bump — the water spilled all over him. After a few moments staring at the mouth of the bottle, he got out a notebook and started sketching.

Sloan saw how absorbed Joshua was in his work, so she turned up the music and kept driving, all the way to REI in Sacramento, an outdoor gear store, where they stopped to show employees Joshua’s sketch. No, they’d never seen anything like it.

Joshua Guyot, a robotics designer from a family of inventors, had drafted a simple design: a plastic object to be inserted into a wide-mouthed bottle to prevent water from rushing up your nose while riding a bike or running — or riding in a rocking Jeep. He called it “SplashGuard.”

“I realized that I could change the driver or fix the problem,” Joshua likes to say.

That was how Guyot Designs, now based in Deer Isle, began nine years ago. Since then, the company has grown to offer a line of Guyot-invented hydration products and outdoor cookware. Sloan, the company president, and Joshua, the chief executive officer, married and now have a 20-month old boy, Alden.

Their products are sold at large retailers such as L.L.Bean, Bangor’s Epic Sports, Cadillac Mountain Sports in Ellsworth and Bar Harbor, the international Container Store, Planet Dog and Fetch in Portland.

“When we started the company, Nalgene was really the only [popular] bottle,” said Sloan, standing in front of a wall of shelves lined with bottles of all materials and colors. “Now, we try to keep one of every bottle on the market out there.”

The Gription was the company’s second product. The lid and side handle is made for wide-mouth bottles, as is their product called Fireflye, which turns a clear, plastic bottle into a lantern.

“The hydration industry got really crowded,” said Sloan. “We wanted to focus on products made out of the cleanest and safest materials and wanted to move away from plastic to nylon and silicone.”

Guyot Design’s line of Squishy Bowls and cups earned Editor’s Choice from Backpacker Magazine in 2007. The set includes a 16-ounce bowl and a 6-ounce cup made from food-grade silicone that’s BPA free. The entire set weighs 5 ounces and can be packed down without losing shape.

“The whole design ethic is to make people feel at home in the outdoors, to make something that just puts your heart at ease,” said Sloan as she held a Squishy Bowl with her two hands cupped around it.

The bowls and cups can be heated up to about 446 degrees. That means you can cook cheesecake and miniature pies in them, which can be eaten with Guyot’s Microbites, lightweight utensils made of high temperature nylon polymer. They function as a spoon, fork, knife, spreader and spatula.

The dog bowls, inspired by the couple’s tiny dog, Ella Fitzgerald, are their best-selling product. Those, along with the SplashGuard, are the backbone of the company.

The products were manufactured by a United States factory until it closed and they switched to factories in China, which they try to visit once a year, unannounced, to evaluate the facility’s ethical standards and ensure fair pay.

In an effort to keep their products out of the waste stream, Guyot Designs asks that customers return used products to the company when they’re finished with them. They’re working hard to find recycling markets for every component of all of their products.

Five years ago, Sloan inherited a house in Northwest Harbor that has been passed down through the women in her family for four generations. The company headquarters moved from Los Gatos, Calif. to a second-story studio in Deer Isle. Its large windows look out over the water. As Sloan is training as a triathlete, she keeps her wetsuit at work and often swims home.

At any one time, they have five employees to help them in the office, including an intern.

“We’ve had so much local support. We’re committed to Maine and keeping a foothold here,” said Sloan.

In a corner of the studio, a rapid design machine is used to form prototypes of any three-dimensional object Joshua designs on the computer. Wednesday, Sloan held up a bottle of cloudy white plastic as an example of the machine’s handiwork.

“I can’t begin to tell you how many ideas have been launched out of it,” Sloan said.”It’s basically a 3-D printer.”

Their goal is to launch one innovative product a year, and they have several “top secret” products in the works this year.

“This is what the mind of some geniuses look like,” said Sloan as she walked into the Innovation Station, a room for Joshua’s computer, robots and various machinery surrounded by diagrams, metal boat parts and illustrations tacked on the wall. “It’s horrifying.”

Atop a tall book shelf that holds bins of random objects that inspire Joshua’s inventions was a dusty a red machine with propellers and flippers, lights, and a camera.

“This spurred him to be outdoors and make things for the outdoors,” Sloan said. “He has the heart of an adventurer and the soul of an inventor.”

Joshua constructed the remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) when he was in high school, painted red in honor Jacques Cousteau and his red hat. He built the ROV when a plane crashed into Otsego Lake in New York, his home state, and used the vehicle to explore the lake bottom with a camera.

“We just want to keep innovating and making outdoor products and making strong partnerships,” Sloan said. “We’re using the safest and soundest materials in the most beautiful ways.”

For information, visit guyotdesigns.com and or their YouTube channel at youtube.com/user/guyotchannel.

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