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How an industrial designer disrupted the gift industry with Native birds...



Designer of Metalbird, Phil Walters has disrupted the gift industry with native birds. 

Turns out things don’t always take a straight line when it comes to success. Phil didn’t set out to a form a multi country giftware business, in fact it all sort of happened by chance. From the beginning, he always liked the subtle wit of the graffiti artist Banksy. For Phil it’s the riddle and the eureka moment he gives you when you discover what he’s on about.

Phil’s background has always been in product design, and for around the last 20 years, he’s been used to expressing his ideas in 3-D, typically in a corporate mass manufacture environment. At a personal level, he was lucky to have spent some time married to a photographer who was a prolific exhibitor, and the will to emulate this artistic nature and appreciation for street art formed the genesis of what has become Metalbird some 9 years later. Initially Phil was in his shed making some fairly crude bird examples, painstakingly slowly and installing them covertly in the public domain. It’s safe to say they didn’t last long in-situ.

“It was fun, and I felt like I was adding value and combating indifference”

He upscaled to more realistic methods, made 40 birds and put them up around his community in Auckland, and further afield on trips around the North Island (New Zealand) over the following months. He would rock up to a great location, pull out his step ladder, put on his high-vis vest and hammer them into the tree. Phil says, “It was fun, and I felt like I was adding value and combating indifference”. A couple of things happened. People found him and told him how much they loved seeing the birds and asked where they could get their own. It was fairly obvious people loved them and wanted them. In a week, Phil had set up a business called ‘Metalbird’, built a website and started selling the birds. It’s gone from there.

It’s hard to actually identify the appeal of Metalbird, it’s not one thing to all people. It’s more a mix of mischief, street art, design, pride in our beautiful birdlife and maybe even the joy of gift giving. Phil is delighted that people get to experience the simplicity of installation of this art and he is inspired by the collaborative approach people often take to these installs.

“I’ve known personal loss, this resonates with me. Serendipity”. 

Phil gives some birds away for the soul of it. He talks a lot with the people who receive them. Sometimes the birds are simply an addition to a garden in their own right, but every now and again, the birds are placed there to symbolise someone who has passed. Phil says “I’ve known personal loss, this resonates with me. Serendipity”. Producing locally has always been important to Phil. He likes the idea of longevity of goods, small carbon footprint, supporting your local community and simply producing things from where you are. Phil is over manufacturing in some far-flung country with poor labour conditions and dubious environmental practices. The extensive use of over packaged goods coming from these places is reason enough not to do it, you just have to check out your own recycling bin. 

Moving into other markets around the world such as Australia hasn’t been without its challenges, but owner of Metalbird Australia, Murray Hey, and Phil are clear on a few things. Firstly, they are true to their Street Art origins, they give product away and they install sympathetically in each of their environments. They always make locally in market and find great industry partners, in both manufacture and distribution. They actively celebrate local birdlife and link their activities as often as they can to education and conservation. Metalbird Australia works in collaboration with foundations such as RCD Foundation (Robert Connor Dawes), helping to fund research for paediatric brain cancer,  and creating awareness for protected wildlife such as Plovers. 

Lastly and most importantly, they have a lot of fun. They don’t take it all too seriously and have their families at the core of their activities consistently in various centers around the world! They're all friends, they all bring a lot of different skills to the mix, and they love what they do.



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