Skeehan’s skills snag him success

Skeehan’s skills snag him success

Kristyn Comino

19 December 2013: From being a QANTAS spirit award finalist to starting a sausage stand, University of Canberra industrial design alumnus and tutor Tom Skeehan is making a bang in the industry.

Aluminium chopsticks that resemble wood and an axe made as a 21st present were amongst the works that saw Mr Skeehan named runner-up from hundreds of applicants in the ‘craft and object’ category of the recent QANTAS Spirit of Youth Awards.

“It was amazing to be named a finalist and then runner-up in my first year of entering the competition, I didn’t expect it,” Mr Skeehan said.

Tom Skeehan

Industrial design alumnus Tom Skeehan pictured with his GRENADE chair, which is held together with only one pin and can be folded flat to hang on a wall. Photo: Cameron Murray

Known for his signature stools, the 25-year-old included these in his entry but said a lot of what he submitted was a departure from the brand of his company, SKEEHAN, which he set up when he was just 23.

“My commercial profile is homewares and furniture so I wanted to show a bit of diversity to my work that’s not necessarily associated with my company or aligned with my brand – as the creative expression of me.

“I included an axe that I made for my brother for his 21st, which I thought was a beautiful symbol of coming of age, and hand-made anodised aluminium chopsticks that were inspired by traditional Japanese wooden ones, as I like to combine traditional processes with commercial processes.”

These chopsticks had previously been on show as part of the Craft ACT  emerging design exhibition. Having been awarded NSW and ACT 2012 Graduate of the Year by the Design Institute of Australia earlier this year, his work has also been noticed in design media, as he was named an emerging designer by Inside magazine and selected for Indesign magazine’s recent ‘Galleria’ exhibition in Sydney.

The dynamic designer is also a partner in local cafe Lonsdale Street Roasters new espresso bar in Kingston that opened this week, and he also just set up a gourmet sausage stall for summer in Braddon, BING BANG, along with University graphic design graduate Luke Chiswell.

“For BING BANG we wanted to create more simple food options that were honest and using local produce. It’s a fun spin-off from conventional product design. I like to create products that resonate in a personal environment and create a certain mood and feeling.”

With the Canberra local’s designs being used in a number of eateries and bars around town, including at Eightysix, Honkeytonks and even on campus at Zierholz @ UC, Mr Skeehan is now working with an Australian supplier to distribute his work in Asia.

“It’s brilliant that my products will be going overseas. There’s so much influence from Asian culture for my brand so it’s cool to see they have potential for that market.”

Despite “a few big offers” to move, he said he doesn’t have any plans to leave Canberra, with part of that being because of his time at the University.

“UC is famous in the design community; they’ve done a lot for industrial design in Australia, so we need to commit to staying here to keep that culture going.

“I’m starting to crack into markets nationally and offshore and my brand is extending, but there’s no reason I can’t do this from Canberra. Canberra is a really nurturing place and it’s an open, blank canvas where there’s so many other avenues to explore, I’ve been fortunate to be able to build and extend my company here.”

Mr Skeehan completed his Bachelor of Industrial Design at the University in 2012, saying he learnt key skills to help him get his company off the ground.

“I established SKEEHAN before I finished my degree, but I realised there were key skills I needed to progress my business to the next level and I felt like by doing industrial design it would give me that opportunity, and the University of Canberra has a really good reputation for industrial design grads,” he said.

“Studying at UC taught me a broad range of design skills from how products are designed to understanding the considerations that designers face. One of the main things I learnt was how to sketch and draw my designs, which I think is one of the most important parts of the process.

“You can also form a relationship with your tutors and learn and understand from their styles. It’s a good balance between professional and industry.”

Mr Skeehan was asked to return to the University as a tutor this year, which he said he’d love to continue to do.

“I always loved the idea of teaching and being able to give back in some way, but I wasn’t sure through what avenue I would do this outside of mentoring in my company, so I’m grateful to have been offered the opportunity to do so by UC.”

You can see and even taste some of Mr Skeehan’s work for yourself from 4pm-12am Friday-Sunday at his BING BANG stall on 23 Lonsdale Street, Braddon.