Within each of us resides a maverick spirit. This series delves deeper into those people who's maverickness paves a way forward in business, creativity and sustainability – awakening our own inner maverick.
Canopy & Stars is an employee-owned company, committed to working towards what is important to them as a team, a team that moves at their own pace, motivated by creating unique experiences in their industry. We spoke to Managing Director, Tom Dixon about their definition of maverickness, how they work it into their company culture, and how they are inspiring and supporting their own community of maverick individuals and businesses.
Words by Tom Dixon | Photography by Canopy & Stars
What moment inspired the idea behind Canopy & Stars?
I don’t think there was a signal defining moment, more a slow movement. Sawday’s (our sister company) has been promoting slow and sustainable travel for 25 years and Canopy & Stars was born out of that. Our values, ethos and focus on connecting people and places in a natural way, were already established by Alastair and the spirit he launched Sawday’s with all those years ago. This was totally maverick in approach and was about dancing to the beat of our own drum, doing things we felt were important as opposed to looking too closely at what others were doing. We took the baton (or in our case stick) and ran outdoors and into woods and meadows and found places that fitted our vision for what made a special holiday.
How does Canopy & Stars differ from other travel companies?
We differ to other travel companies in terms of what we offer and how we work. First and foremost it’s a carefully curated collection of experiences. But these are experiences that extend beyond the space itself. It’s the setting, the owners, the welcome, the connection to nature and more… It’s all very subjective, but at the heart is the question of whether ‘it’s special’. Special means different things to different people. But all of our spaces have something about them, the little touches and details that set them apart. We visit every single space we include within Canopy & Stars and are very careful about what we include. But Canopy & Stars is much more than that, we’re trying to create a community of owners and guests connected through nature, nurture and adventure. We’re also a different kind of business in that we have a Charitable Trust and are employee owned.
You started with just 7 spaces in 2010 and now have over 600. What draws people to work with you, and why do you think your unique style of travel has become so popular?
I think people really love being part of a business and community that has a greater purpose than just taking bookings/making money. We’re really proud of the impact our holidays can make on people staying and our role in helping our owners to do this. Staying somewhere beautiful in the outdoors has always been popular, but I think in some respects our take on this and the experiences we provide have become more important. Slowing down and doing nothing, connecting with nature and those around you is something we should all being doing more of.
How do you promote and support sustainable tourism and has this always been part of Canopy & Stars values?
Our holidays by their very nature are low impact. Supporting local independent business, championing the ethical, sustainable and environmentally friendly is something Sawday’s have been doing for over 25 years.
Why is working with smaller, independent businesses still so important to your company?
Because small is where things feel personal, authentic and warm. We want people to have a deeper connection to a place and people and we believe this is best when the people who run it, are really involved in the overall experience.
What are the benefits of a family run business? Do you think this has contributed to your growth?
Pretty much all of the businesses we represent are family owned, so we definitely connect there. We’re actually now employee-owned but that was about keeping the family feel and values we were founded on and that sense of shared ownership and responsibility. Really caring about our craft and all being really engaged with what we’re trying to achieve.
What does Maverickness mean to you?
Maverickness is taking a chance, not thinking too much, trusting instincts and following your heart, when your head is saying ‘are you sure?’. And trying to have as much fun along the way as you can. As a company we like to think we have shown our maverick side with projects like Canopy & Stars at Crane 29 when we built a treehouse round an industrial crane on Bristol’s harbourside in 2017, people thought it was a bonkers idea, but it worked. We have also used our maverick side to do good, launching a ‘Holidays for Good’ campaign to support Help Refugees. We like to think we are part of a community of mavericks; some of our owners are really pioneers leading leftfield lives and we help them to do that, and for our guests, our holidays offer an opportunity to be maverick, live more wildly, even if just for a weekend.