ARTIST INTERVIEW: Derek Michael of Happier Camper
L.A.-based Happier Camper manufactures small, colorful, and adorable vintage-inspired camping trailers. We spoke with founder Derek Michael about the interesting path that led him to his current passion and business. They will be joining EPCF for the second time this holiday season.
I first fell in love with classic trailers early on, watching my father carefully restore these campers in our own backyard. A few years ago I borrowed a fiberglass trailer from him and I fell in love all over again. I started taking the trailer out on weekends and visiting parts of California that I never knew existed. I was amazed at how comfortable, easy and efficient the trailer was, and that there were so many places where I could just pull it in, set up camp, and wake up to a beautiful sunrise. As my bond with the little trailer grew, I started restoring other vintage trailers and soon found myself with a driveway full of these egg-shaped campers. Happier Camper is the result of this; a start-up venture renting new and restored vintage ultra-light trailers with an emphasis on camper-friendly design, utility, flexibility and above all, fun!
It’s been a few years since we began working on the HC1, our first production trailer. This unique trailer is inspired by classic design but packed with modern functionality. Through our rental business we spent years reconditioning vintage trailers and taking note of the features that made them great. By adopting the best parts and adding a few new ideas of our own, we’ve designed and built what we think is a distinct and remarkably useful travel trailer. We’ve come a long way and are thrilled to share the results with you.
Describe the path that led you to the work you do now. Did you take any big risks to get where you are?
I have a background in music, art and technology. I have always been an avid entrepreneur. I started my first business when I was eighteen. It was a little cafe in my home town of Windsor, Canada. Ever since then I have been exploring and discovering new passions in which I create into a business. I integrated myself into the Berlin, Tokyo, Sydney, and Detroit communities. I have been a DJ (droidbehavior.com) and ran a record label, Detund.com, vesting time into many tours. My graphic design and programming activities took primary over the last 20 years with the last five years a focus on product design. I designed the successful tablet accessory called balls, www.iballz.info and interestingly enough renting, restoring and now manufacturing light travel trailers soon came after.
What are you goals for the future? Next week, or next year, or 20 years from now?
My personal goals are pretty simple: work hard and help make our lives a little better. As for Happier Camper, I am designing new products, expanding our brand, and turning people into happier campers. In 20 years, I hope to have a hover board.
What are your most important tools?
Good question; important physical tools are a tape measure, iPhone camera, and CNC machine. Knowledge of understanding processing in MFG.
Do you have a daily working routine? What is it like?
I do to an extent, but not really a solid routine. In the mornings I like to make a breakfast, drink a cup of coffee and do some emails while listening to some news. Then, I head to the office or one of our production factories to try and make this business move forward until I’m too tired, then I sleep and do it again. I was different once…..
How does practicing your art or craft impact your life or way of thinking?
I guess in all ways possible.
Are you inspired by the environment around you? How does the home/city/nature you live in affect your work?
You are 100% a product of your environment, and the seed you plant grows from the pot you plant it in, so yes, totally inspired. LA is an awesome place, full of limitless possibilities, and the wildest of the west. The other places I lived and the people I met along the way are also big part of who I am today; they are the water that helped this seed grow.
What do you hope to share with those who purchase your camper and bring it intimately into their lives?
I want people to enjoy my products and designs to help make their lives a little happier. All the great things the little trailers do naturally; connect people a little closer to nature, family, and friends.