Cactus Tongue-DESIGN FORM & FUNCTION
Cactus Tongue story by Jon Taylor the founder.
My business is Cactus Tongue, we produce an aesthetically pleasing range of design led products for bike display and storage solutions for both the home and work, the Bauhaus form and function ethos is the cornerstone to our approach.
Our core bike hanger the original Cactus Tongue is highly versatile, allowing the bike to hang 3 ways, from the top tube, the seat tube or the handle bars. All of our products are designed and made in the UK. They are eco friendly, plastic free and are made to last more than a life time consciously putting the planet before profit .
How it all started, my skill set is design and art direction and in my former years I have been very privileged to have worked in top London agencies. I quickly worked myself up to board level as a creative director and enjoyed working with blue chip clients. I am also severely dyslexic and strug
gled with the boardroom politics which then led me to the decision to make the leap into becoming a freelance creative consultant working direct with clients and allowing me to work in a more aligned lifestyle.
I am also a life long surfer, and over the years I have gathered a large collection of surfboards, with the old adage of ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ this led me to design my own hanger for my own growing collection, taking me back to my art college days where I always loved exploring 3D design.
After making a few surfboard hangers for myself and also selling them direct to surf shops, back then I was asked to design a product to display MTB’s (mountain boarding).
Loving a design challenge I put my Bauhaus principles into action and started to design my first prototype, this is when the name Cactus Tongue came to mind. Making a flat cardboard pattern was required and as it lay on my studio desk, the shape was reminiscent of the giant cactus you’d see in old western movies (giant Siguaro cactus) Then in curving the arms to hold the product they looked like tongues… a cactus with tongues. At that moment the name was created.
I soon realised that the MTB market was a very small and limited commercial potential, whereas the cycling market was on a whole different level and being a keen recreational cyclist myself I re-de signed the product to work with most types of bikes.
Unfortunately while doing this and after making my first Cactus Tongue bike prototype I became seriously ill and everything had to stop, I had the fight of my life to deal with so Cactus Tongue was shelved. Fortunately for me I had a great medical team behind me and the best wife in the world and after two years later I emerged fighting fit and a very grateful person.
At this time I was approached by an ex work colleague of mine from my agency days who was looking to invest in Cactus Tongue, we met up and discussed my product and it’s commercial potential and how we could move it forward.
Then we started to look into manufacturing the product and this was also the era of off-shoring pro duction of products in the far east. But for us, going to China for production was looking too risky as you have to commit to very large quantities. As a start business up we believed in the product but financially it was still way too risky, so we decided India was a better option as they were able to ac commodate smaller production runs to start with. After a trip to India to meet the manufacturer owners and to look around their production facilities and to check that they were ethical with regards to their employees and were not using child labour, we commissioned them to do our first production run.
By this time the first production run had arrived in the UK we had ourselves a UK cycle distributor. But when our products were unpacked and checked we went from being very excited to very worried as we found that 30% of the order from India wasn’t up to our standard, this was a big blow as we were just launching into the market and this was not the best start with a major distributor.
At this point we decided to re-shore our product and to base it on the Brooks Saddle model of being British made, a high end product, highly desirable but not cheap. We were also able to keep a close eye on quality control and enable us to be flexible with short runs and gave us the possibility of offer ing bespoke branding.
We then set about up-grading the protective pads from rubber to handmade leather sleeves, up-grad ed the packaging to reflect our market position, started to advertise full page Ads in high end cyclist magazines like Rouluer to raise awareness and positioning, We also took exhibition space at a urban cycle show called Spin London.
I’m a great believer in seeing products in the flesh as it is really important to feel the quality and love that goes into our product. This was proven in an instant as we were approached by the British De sign Museum at the show and asked if we could be their main supplier for an up-coming cycle show they were planning to do.
Personally this was a very big feather in my cap and to top it all they wanted to sell our product in their British Design Museum design shop while the exhibition was on. The British Design Museum team did not disappoint us as the way they creatively used our product was outstanding. Different ways to hold
anything from a Cargo bike, fold up bikes, a Raleigh Chopper even to one of the earliest bikes called a bone shaker.
We have since gone on to develop more products in our sector and have had the privilege to have high profile people like Sir Paul Smith and Sir Bradley Wiggins to name a few as our customers. We ship to the 4 corners of the globe and we are currently looking for the right distributor in the U.S. but there is no rush, we currently ship quite a lot of our products directly to cyclists in the U.S. so it would make good business sense to look at expanding in that direction.
As our awareness continues to keep growing we are very fortunate that our UK distributor is not only a great company with great people to work with but they are also the distributor for the world famous Italian bike brand Colnago. So when they wanted to hold a Colnago owners day event and to cele brate the occasion they asked us to create a limited edition Cactus Tongue Colnago hanger. We set about designing this with the founder of Colnago in mind Ernesto Colnago his legendary status in the cycling world. We laser etched his signature into the cactus Tongue and with their iconic clover cut out of the stainless steel, we combined this with the handmade leather sleeves in a bespoke striped green, white and red as a homage to the Italian flag which is on every Colnago bike in some shape or form. They were so popular they sold out so quickly and they have became so popular that other Colnago distributors wanted to stock them for their customers. We would love to produce more collab orate branding with other aligned cycle brands as it is a win-win scenario for all parties.
More recently our core product is being used in a DC super hero film set which is due out hopefully next year which is very exciting for us as their highly acclaimed set designer Paul Austerberry specifi cally asked for our products and requested specific colour sleeves..
We never sit on our laurels and we are always receiving requests from customers and potential customers for which we are very grateful. We have also been asked for an alternative to leather for our vegan cyclists who love our product but not the leather sleeves. As plastic a no go area for us we started searching for a vegan leather option. After some research we found a company called Desser to which was started by Adrian Lopex and Marte Cazarez in Mexico making vegan leather out organic cactus plants which is not only amazing but is a fabulous story for us and is really an exciting find as the vegan trend of growth is huge. We are so proud to support the ingenuity and the creative minds in Mexico
What advice would I give to anyone? I have struggled with dyslexia all my life, which caused me for a long time to feel not good enough and academically disabled. But now I have turned it into my su per power, I now embrace that I see things differently and so I don’t hide my disability any longer, be grateful, be open minded, be flexible but most of all be you and enjoy what you do.