Behind the scenes with Susie Reid Thomas, founder and creative director of Twilight Trees.
My role is incredibly varied which I absolutely love. I am a creative by nature and that’s what makes my heart sing but I am also an inherent entrepreneur (or en‘tree’preneur as we like to call it). Ideas spill out of my brain 24 hours a day (I don’t get to sleep much) but I also live off the thrill of seeing an idea turn into reality.
I started Twilight Trees eight years ago and have literally lived and breathed it all the way through – or held my breath as may have been the case over the past couple of years. I am lucky enough that I have been able to build an incredible team of people with such an intricate set of skills and we very much work on an even playing field. We work hard, play hard and are all in this business together.
When I first started the business I did so instinctively and nothing much has changed there. I still lead with my heart and I really do think that people bought trees from me at the beginning because they could see my genuine passion for the product. These days we are a bigger team and there is strategy in place but I am fortunate enough to have creative freedom and I genuinely believe in every product that leaves this warehouse. If we don’t love it, we don’t sell it, it’s as simple as that.
Twilight Trees started off as LED cherry trees sales but demand quickly grew for rentals. One thing led to the next and before I knew it I had trees stretching the 180 metre length of Mayfair’s Burlington Arcade! That was my ‘pinch me’ moment. We had to create a tree specifically for that project and that’s where our collections began. We now have a huge variety of trees from LEDs to florals, trees with green leaves to trees in metallics.
We are huge innovators and have taken great pride in being able to bring a large amount of our production in-house, which is a rarity these days. It also helps us to achieve our sustainability aims which is something we are constantly striving towards. We are a carbon neutral business and are involved with tree planting schemes across the UK and in the Amazon but we are constantly working to better ourselves when it comes to our environmental impact.
After seven years working from my spare room, it was with great pride that we were finally able to make the move to our new premises in October 2021. Twilight Trees now occupies a 6,000 square foot unit just outside Winchester. The building is a former cattle shed which, when we took over the lease, had no running water and rough concrete flooring. Being the ‘masters of transformation’ we now have a huge warehouse which includes a workshop area, picking racks and ‘Bentley’ our treasured fork-lift!
We have a large communal kitchen which doubles up as a reception area and hot-desking zone. ‘The Boardroom’ is rather beautiful; I wanted it to have a home from home feeling so that we are always reminded of our kitchen table roots. My inspiration was to make it feel like a fun dinner party so the walls are decked out in olive green and the room adorned with palm trees, mirrors and a large table handcrafted from scorched scaffolding boards. The office itself is kitted out with bespoke living walls and inspiration boards and is the perfect space for creativity to thrive alongside the more administrative parts of business. And last but not least, the showroom…
We dreamt of a showroom for so long. We have walls for all seasons, an array of LED trees and a Grande TIG tree with an upholstered bench seat that wraps around its base. There is a sample wall that shows our clients the array of different florals and foliage that we can create from as well as rows of racking that contain everything from Christmas baubles to reclaimed tree trunks salvaged from local storms. The pièce de résistance is the eight metre bespoke living wall which is branded with the Twilight Trees logo so that there is no mistake as to which wonderland you have fallen down the rabbit hole into!
The kettle’s always on…
I hope I’ve painted the picture for you but there’s really nothing better than coming to visit us yourself. The Twilight Trees doors are always open and we are encouraging friends, colleagues and clients to give us a ring and make an appointment; the kettle is always on and the wine is always cold…
No day at Twilight Trees is the same but if I’m in the office I do try to stick to some sort of routine. School drop off is the first thing on the list but after that I always try to start the day with some exercise to focus the mind and get the blood going. We are lucky enough to be on the edge of the South Downs National Park and the office and home are four miles from each other so on go the trainers! Of course, even during a run I can’t escape my mind so I’ve mastered the art of leaving myself voice notes which I go through the second I get to the office.
If it’s a Monday we all sit down at our boardroom table (including Vinnie our office cockapoo) and catch up on the weekend’s events. The weekend is when Twilight Trees is at its busiest and so it’s great to be able to sit down with the whole team and debrief. We’ll also catch up on how the business as a whole is moving forward, get updated on what is being created in the workshop, what the marketing department have planned and the volume of enquiries that the events team are working with. It’s busy, buzzy and coffee fueled but the room is often bursting with ideas and creativity. We have such special people working at Twilight Trees and that’s probably the thing I’m most proud of, my team. Twilight Trees is in reality a very nuanced business and the balance is something I work hard to achieve; I really think this meeting along with many other elements, is instrumental in creating it.
After the meeting I catch up with the marketing team, we review our Instagram engagement, any promotional events we have planned, press we are communicating with and any brand partnerships. This week I have a big radio interview coming up so we’ve been working on a plan of action for that.
The rest of the day really is varied. I’m often at my computer working on proposals for bespoke projects. This was an area of the business that was given the space to grow during the pandemic and I am now confident that our professionalism and skills are on a par with the best in the business. Last week we completed a bespoke installation for the premises of a huge advertising company in the midlands. It was a huge project that spanned 28,000 square feet and had been six months in the making. It was incredibly gratifying to see it all come together and the client was overwhelmed by the result.
If I’m not in the office I’m out in the workshop, overalls on and creating! I spent five years at Central Saint Martins College of Art and being hands on really is where I feel most at home. I have a background in sculpture and previously made my living selling sculptures made from cow horns. I’ve always seen the trees as art forms, they have infinite sculptural qualities and bring both aesthetics and an ethereal atmosphere to a space; I am so lucky to be able to work with them.
We have also been fortunate enough to be able to start including elements of travel into our design inspiration process and we have just returned from a research trip to Paris. I cannot overstate the wealth of inspiration we gained from this trip. From the shop displays, to the brand typography and the landscape itself, being immersed in a different culture was invaluable. I think the lockdowns made us forget the true value of embracing culture in person. It’s so wonderful to have it back and to witness the impact it has on our work.
Back at Twilight Trees HQ, we often work well past home time but we’ll crack open the wine, pump up the music and let the creativity flow. That is another reason why I love the Twilight Trees culture, whether it’s bringing your family to the office to paint the new office walls at the weekend or working through the night to get the job done, it’s the spirit of the team that really really gives Twilight Trees its sparkle, and I’m delighted to say it only gets brighter!
Founder and creative director, Susie Reid Thomas, started Twilight Trees in 2014 while raising two small children. Twilight Trees started off as an LED tree company and is now one of the leading innovators in biophilic bespoke installations and artificial tree rentals. Susie, together with her husband Andrew, has grown Twilight Trees from a kitchen table start-up into a cutting edge business with a dedicated and specialised team.