WHY HE'S A TOP 40: He's an award-winning furniture designer and entrepreneur who won't compromise his sustainable-business philosophies for a bottom-line world. He also chairs M.A.D.E. in Edmonton, the city's premiere design organization and collaborates with local architects, manufacturers and web developers to improve the city's esthetic.
KEY TO HIS SUCCESS: "I've been the beneficiary of so much in this life. I believe that if you have been given lots, then you should do the same."
Industrial design was not even on Tyler Vreeling's radar when he came to Edmonton from Hawk Hills, a farming community in the Peace Country region, to attend the University of Alberta. He discovered his calling only after flunking out of mechanical engineering. "I took a drawing class before they could kick me out and I discovered something: I think three-dimensionally. That's how my brain works," he says.
After spending two years in Las Vegas as a missionary for his church, Vreeling returned to Edmonton determined to put his newly discovered talents to work. He got his GPA back on track and applied three times before being accepted into the U of A's competitive industrial design program. Not only did he incorporate his own design company, Fat Crow Design, just days after graduating in 2007, he also became his own first client, completing within 55 days an entire line of furniture — including prototypes and a catalogue - for Las Vegas Market, one of the world's biggest design trade shows.
That brought him several offers to have his designs manufactured offshore, but Vreeling turned them all down, upholding his commitment to local and sustainable design. He believes the cycle of creation, from design to manufacturing to distribution, can all happen in proximity to one another. Even after expanding in many new directions (including graphic design, research consulting and commercial exhibit designs for trade shows), Fat Crow makes and sells its projects in the Edmonton area.
Growing up on 3,000 acres, Vreeling lived like most boys in the country, working hard for his parents on the farm. It's not coincidental that Fat Crow integrates earthly elements into its modern furniture, like the autumn-inspired artificial turf doormats from its White Moose line. "The design term is ‘bio-mimicry,' but it's just a part of life. I grew up on a farm where all I did was look at nature and how nature takes care of itself," says Vreeling.
Accumulating a growing list of awards and recognition in national publications, Vreeling has also stepped up as the chair of M.A.D.E. in Edmonton (Media, Art, Design Exposed), a non-profit organization promoting design excellence in the city. "There's good design in Edmonton, but a lot of what we do here is short-sighted," he says. "I'd like to see the city push the boundaries and make things that will be valid for the long term."