Feldon have been making premium rooftop tents for the New Zealand market since early 2016. They dominate the Kiwi rooftop tent sector. To the point where most people just say ‘oh, just put a Feldon up there bro’. They are the Hoover, the Gladwrap, the Twink of rooftops, and with good reason.
The driving force behind Feldon is the couple Beth Eastell and Joel Hedges. You could call them a power couple, with formidable backgrounds. Beth is a lawyer and Joel [and his brother Adam] are former drift car champions.
A sidebar; Joel is a full on boffin. If, and it’s a big if, he’s not busy co-running Feldon, you can easily distract him talking about fixing a problem… chances are he’ll go ‘Oh I made up this to fix that’. He’ll dig around the back of the Feldon workshop and pull out a prototype. But here’s the deal, the prototype is beautifully finished, clever and it works.
During the interview it becomes apparent that Joel obsesses on the detail, he’s a perfectionist. The joke is levelled at Joel that he’s anal-retentive, Beth’s eyes light up with a knowing glance at Joel, ‘Yes! He is!’ But who would you want making you something trustworthy? You want the boffin problem solver that obsesses over getting every detail perfect. This is part of why Feldon is at the top.
But how did it start?
Joel; ‘It was about 7-8 years ago and we were competing at a Drift event in Sydney. There was only one hotel near the racetrack and I asked the other crews if they were staying there too. They all said ‘no, we’re staying on our truck roofs at the track.’ I was like what… ‘You’re putting a swag on your roof tray?’ They explained they had tents and so I had to see these setups. At that time in New Zealand there just weren’t roof tents around. Beth and I have done a fair bit of travelling and we hadn’t discovered them before. Those guys at the racetrack literally introduced us to rooftop tents.
We got back to NZ and started looking around to get one, we were like ‘we have to have one of these.’ I love surf roadies, all my life, any spare weekend that’s what I do, go surfing …but I HATE tents and camping. There wasn’t anything here suitable and we started to look overseas. There was some pretty rad stuff available, but the cost of getting it over here was more than the purchase price of the product and we still weren’t certain they could handle NZ conditions.
I was working on Earnest Workwear where I built up good knowledge of textiles, design and pattern making. That combined with a lifetime of metal working with race cars, I just said to Beth, we can make one.”
Beth; ‘We basically camped out for two years, finding out what New Zealand could throw at it. We played with all sorts of materials and designs figuring out and fine-tuning everything.’
Joel; ‘We got a pretty run of the mill tent at the start and instantly we could see it wasn’t going to work. The problem was none of the roof tents were made for New Zealand conditions. There are a lot of really good roof tents coming out of Australia and South Africa. We found they were made to be super breathable and lightweight, they don’t have to worry so much about rain. In New Zealand it rains all the time, we have such harsh UV that we found these tents didn’t cut it, they’d leak and the lightweight fabric couldn’t handle our UV. We really concentrated on water tightness.’
Beth; ‘And we are on the coast a lot, the combination of that UV and salt air just eats cheap metals. ‘
Over the two years of testing and development of the tents the Earnest brand was still going really well.
Beth; ‘I had come on board with Earnest and it was growing really really well. And then Feldon was moving into something we didn’t quite expect. It quickly became apparent that we were getting too stretched, that we couldn’t give both the 100% that they deserved. We were at a crossroad.’
It’s clear which one won out for the couple.
Feldon’s aren’t called The Hedge Tent or the Eastell Dwell, or even Earnest Nest. [And this is why the Recreational Society’s editor is not a copyrighter!]
Beth tells the story: ‘We had settled on Cinder Shelter, we were very close to the first batch of tents getting screen printed with the Cinder Shelter logo. Actually there are a few tents out there with the Cinder logo on them. But this was literally the day of our first big batch getting screened. Joel rang me ‘You’ve gotta change the name, you gotta stop the screen printer.’ I’m asking him ‘what are you talking about, it’s a great name, we’ve got a great logo.’ ‘No, no Beth, I’ve just heard an advert on the radio.’ ‘What, what is this ad that we would need to change the name.’ ‘A new sex store has just opened in NZ and its called Cinder!’
6 months prior we had done our dues on the name Cinder, we had seen that someone had owned the URL, but it had been parked for a few years. What we didn’t find was a month before we were screenprinting the Cinder sex store had gone live. Also at the same time the app Tinder was becoming a thing. So the combination of those two killed that name, it was just too close. So we had 24 hours to figure out a new a name for the screen-printer. We were at my parent’s place sitting around the dinner table that night talking about this and asking for suggestions. And they pointed out that when they migrated and started their growing flowers [on the farm we are on now] it was called Feldon Growers. We both liked it, it sounded old, strong and it had a really nice ring to it. Then we found out Feldon means wide open green spaces. ‘
Joel; ‘They didn’t let us use it, we just told them we’re taking it! But more seriously, I really like the whole family heritage part of the story. And I just felt like as soon as they said Feldon it felt right.’
The launch of Feldon Shelter couldn’t have been better timed. Joel and Beth are loathed to claim they introduced roof tents into the NZ market. In 2016 Feldon was the only company actively marketing and solely working on roof tents. And their product was the only one designed and made for New Zealand conditions. They soon realised that their friends were excited about rooftop tents. There was a very real trend emerging towards overlanding and touring in NZ. Joel and Beth fostered the idea that users of Feldon Shelters were Feldon Family after they saw customers doing it.
Joel; ‘It totally became a thing, that if you saw another Feldon on the road you had to wave. We’d hear stories of Feldon owners meeting on the Inter-Islander and spending four hours sharing camping stories. It’s also how we wanted our customers to feel and be treated. It started happening by itself… like we were going man, everyone’s waving at each other, this is a thing, you HAVE to wave.
Beth; ‘Yeah, yeah I think that’s where that hashtag Feldonfamily came from, there was a real sense of community that we saw growing.’
Joel; ‘And people were sending us photos of other Feldons. It become clear that people were really resonating with each other. At the start we just wanted a product that we really liked and that we were happy using. Then it was a really good feeling that other people werestoked enough to talk to other random people about it. ‘
The brand Feldon blew up, and Beth was hugely instrumental in the marketing explosion. Feldon’s social media went crazy.
Beth; ‘The content that I was shooting for our social media was lifestyle based because that’s what I like shooting, because I’m there on the trip. I’m not there shooting the product, I didn’t get drawn to taking a close up of the toggles.’
Joel; ‘We were lucky that because it was a natural thing in sense of our hobbies, we were surfing anyway and going on roadies. The brand and Feldon just fitted into our lifestyle real well. I don’t think there was a time in the first five years we had to go on a trip just to get photos.’
The photos in this post are all Beth’s and as you can see they have a certain style, there’s no hard sell. They are like the Corona ads ‘From where you want to be’ [more about that soon]. This clear direction led to Feldon Shelter’s following and presence, becoming quite the phenomenon.
Beth; ‘Ok I am going to toot my own horn a bit here, I got good at taking photos. I had always taken photos, and shot on film. But I’d never played around in Lightroom [the software most professional photographers use] until Earnest and Feldon. I really really enjoy it and it’s a creative outlet for me.’
Joel; ‘I think Beth is really good at learning stuff, when we started Feldon we didn’t have a flash camera, just a basic one with a kit lens. But we were on trips with the crew and we’d take a photo of what’s naturally happening. And we’d be like ‘that’s cool, but it doesn’t really look like the photos of the guys we look up to. Why doesn’t it look like that, and we’d figure out ohh maybe it needs some foreground.’
Beth; ‘I would sometimes have some photos I loved with me, so then I could really focus in on how they created their style. Then I’d started to slowly discover what split toning was, or how if certain areas were dark that led you into the subject.’
Joel; ‘It just has to be said it’s like everything Beth has done in the company it was done out of necessity and an incredible ability to learn something. And get REALLY good at it’
Beth; ‘But go to the start of our Instagram, emmmm, not that good. Hahaha but you can see the progression and I really like that that’s there.’
Joel; ‘And we had a really solid clear idea of how we wanted our pictures to look. ‘
In 2016-17 Corona Australasia were doing great things with their by-line ‘From where you’d rather be’. And Feldon Shelter, with Beth’s content most certainly created that exact vibe. Corona reached out and asked the couple if they’d be into developing a couple of their roadies into Corona Journeys which were run as posts on the Corona website.
Joel; ‘It might not seem like a big deal now, but back then the Corona Journeys were a really special thing only done by legendary photographers like Morgan Massen or Chris Searl. They were the real hyped photographers we’d looked up to our entire lives. Corona were looking to open it up to Instagram creatives, they were changing their strategy… so we were like, holy hell, no way.’
Beth; ‘I couldn’t believe it, I was like, what…not me, to shoot to that calibre, I just didn’t think I was at the level of a Corona Journey. I spent sooooo long processing each photo…’cos there was pressure you know.’
Joel; ‘It was such a new learning curve, to figure out how to make a story of a trip and write it and select the photos.’
They did it, and they did it well, you can check out one of their Corona Journeys HERE
This tapped Feldon into a massive network. Beth and Joel feel like Corona really launched Feldon. This interviewer suspects they would have got there anyway but it highlights the tone and style set by Joel and Beth. Unlike any other roof tent manufacturer, they set out to illuminate a lifestyle and the escape we all crave. It was done in a very Kiwi way. A self R’n’D’d product to withstand NZ’s unique harsh conditions. Then self marketing, not of the product, but where the product takes you.
Fast forward to now Joel and Beth refuse to be drawn on just how many Feldon’s have been made.
Joel;’ I’m so not going to tell you that, what I will say is we’ve sold by far enough to know we are the most trusted rooftop tent in New Zealand.
So 8 years in the making, five years into production, post Pandemic where are they and who does what?
This question is answered by laughter from the couple…
Joel; ‘Ohhh man that’s a multi layered question! I would say my role now is product design and production control…that’s my main thing.’
Beth; ‘But it’s only been the last 12 months that we have been able to actually say what we do. Whereas before that we wore every single hat, every single day. And it was 24/7.’
Joel; ‘Yeah, now the team has grown with Sophia, Sam and Lauchy we’ve been able to separate our roles a bit better.’
Beth; ‘I’ve handed Sophia the customer experience, which is both a time intensive and very important role. This has allowed me more time to focus more on running the company, all the logistics…yeah kind of all the boring but necessary stuff.’
Joel; ‘I would not say that, I’d say, if you had to put a name on it Beth’s the Operations Manager and The Boss. And the Social Media Manager, takes all the photos, the Marketing. It’s hard to put a name on it- there’s so many things she does. ‘
What next for the couple. There is more R’n’D on a new product, ever cagey, they don’t want to call it yet. But we know Joel and Beth have been looking for the worst possible weather patterns in the last 12 months to sleep in their new project.
They have started West Supply which has become the NZ distributor of Front Runner Outfitters. They are ever so close to opening West Supply as a retail space…but that deserves it’s own story.
The Feldon Shelter website is a massive resource of information and quality content, check it out HERE