Mom, CEO, and founder of Natural Pod, Bridgitte Alomes, is redefining how a classroom looks. Through thoughtful design, a sustainable mindset, and lots of conversations and collaborations with both students and educators, she is transforming educational spaces into places people actually want to be. Because, in her eyes, every student should have the opportunity to learn and play in a healthy, beautiful, and inspiring learning environment. To learn more about the work Bridgitte is doing, continue reading.
Tell us all about Natural Pod. What was the inspiration and motivation to create better learning environments?
When my son was young, he had an allergic reaction to the toxic chemicals found in one of his toys. This sent me on a path I did not expect. Wondering how many other children and their families were experiencing the same thing, I did a lot of research and found that there wasn’t much available in the way of sustainable, consciously-sourced options for children’s furniture and classroom furniture. This lack of a healthy choice was the motivation that shifted my career trajectory. I wanted other families and children to have a better option.
Natural Pod was founded ten years ago for parents and their children that were looking for a learning environment that would be safe. It’s a learning solutions company that has a 20 person team made up of parents, architects, teachers who are all advocates for better learning environments. Our company is based in the traditional and unceded territories of the indigenous peoples of the area known by its settler name British Columbia, Canada. We do everything here, including manufacturing.
To date, we’ve supported nearly 600,000 students and 10,000 educators within 17,000 learning environments ranging from Boys & Girls Club and Union Gospel Mission, to Oak Park Middle School, and Harvard University. These learning environments are all across North America, Asia, the Middle East and Australia.
Through our work, we hope to inspire both educators and students in the classroom. We do this through conversations with all stakeholders of a learning space. We listen to students, the administration, and leadership team. But ultimately the students' voices are the most important as they know what they need.
Where did your company name, “Natural Pod”, come from?
It was inspired by nature— like peas in a pod or a pod of whales. I am a mother of two children and was thinking about my family’s connection to nature and being immersed in collaborative learning. The name “Natural Pod” spoke to me and brought all these pieces together.
What are you doing at Natural Pod to make learning spaces more accessible and sustainable?
Our aim is for every student to learn and play in beautifully designed, healthy, durable, and inspiring learning environments created from sustainable materials.
The school furniture that we see en masse around the world is the reflection of the industrial education model: The classroom teacher is the holder of all knowledge, and students are seen as the information remembering machines with regurgitated answers. This gives classrooms a rigid structure and limited variety of spaces to learn to ensure order and discipline. Classrooms equipped with standard furniture and lacking natural materials are not able to accommodate the different learning styles of students. The majority of education furniture is designed to put bums on seats and children are expected to sit there until the teacher says otherwise. And all of this is done for as cheap as possible.
At Natural Pod, we are passionate advocates for learning transformation. We are on a mission to shift the way we collectively plan for educational environments. Putting conversation and collaboration at the centre. We advocate for students being the core of all efforts and our human-centric design approach reflects this. Through conversation with students, educators, school leadership and strategic partners the Natural Pod team ensures learning spaces are set up to have a meaningful impact on wellness, learning outcomes and environmental education.
Design influences emotions and imagination, and ultimately impacts every person using the learning space. A key outcome of this mission is to strengthen the power of the community. Because the true impact manifests when people are connecting, exchanging ideas, and taking actions.
We’ve heard about fast fashion and fast food before. Why don’t we know as much about fast furniture?
It’s very much the same problem. Using the word ‘fast’ when referring to physical products generally means they’re not sustainability made or used. Fast furniture is trendy and cheap. Pieces are often produced with cheap materials by mass-market retailers. Their aim is to lure purchasers into buying the latest trends and discarding previous ones. We live in a world that’s enamored with ‘fast’—fast fashion, fast food, one-day shipping to name a few. This prioritizes convenience and quick satisfaction but at what cost?
Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of furniture end up in landfills every year. Often the materials used to make these items are not from environmentally responsible sources. This exists all along the supply chain, and the people impacted along the way suffer too. I think we don’t hear much about fast furniture and the issues associated with it because the problem is so vast and the systems are so embedded that much like climate change as a whole, there is not enough collaborative energy to really tackle the issue.
To be better stewards of our planet's resources, I’m excited to see many companies focusing on ‘slow’. And by that I mean: focusing on responsibly sourced, reclaimed or local materials. Adding craftsmanship and their love for form and design. Many of the ‘slow’ companies are very transparent and open about their business models too. All this is helping individuals and companies to make empowered decisions and choose sustainable options.
What is learning and where does it happen?
There’s a common notion that learning happens in schools and daycares. This, of course, is partly true, but learning is not limited to these locations. I, and many others, believe learning transcends the four walls of a classroom. It happens everywhere—at school, on the bus, the walk home, at the park, in your living room. When we’re defining space, let us not be confined to the built environment. Space is not just the four walls around us. It’s the continuity of inside and outside spaces.
Everything in a space can have a story to tell. It’s our connection to items in a space that help us flourish, thrive, feel safe, feel welcomed and valued—to bring meaning to the space around us and help us realize and reach our full potential.
As adults we know our space impacts us. It also impacts children and the educators who are holding space for our children. Why is this not honoured and reflected in most of the spatial design of schools and learning furniture?
To create a meaningful space, give it a purpose, let it tell a story to ignite a connection to it. And most of all: let the children see themselves as part of that story.
Think about a space that you love to be in. What types of things surround you in that space? Is it full of items that have a story and a meaning to you?
In your opinion, why are intentionally designed spaces so important for mental health and wellbeing?
It all comes down to creating a space where the inhabitants can establish a sense of belonging. Unfortunately, for some children, their school might be the only place where they feel safe, heard, and supported. Thus the impact of an intentionally designed learning space is so much more than a “space to learn.”
What shifts have you seen over the past few years around sustainability?
There has been a shift in defining the term sustainability. The term sustainability has been thoroughly diluted and blanketed across so many things.
Sustainability is more than a certification, more than something a metric alone can measure, more than recycled content. It’s about ethics, responsibility, and care for the world and the humans around us. When we make a decision with our dollars, we encourage more of a material, a process, an intent for good to create a system that in itself is the most sustainable option.
We live in a world that’s riddled with imperfections and a plethora of options. Humans are the only species that create waste that doesn’t go back to the system. Anything to lessen this negative impact on the planet and each other is a step in the right direction, but we need to move diligently toward this with lessening (or eliminating) waste and doing the absolute best we can with what is available by creating better systems and materials that are yet to exist.
Why is it important for educators and designers at large to consider the origin and sustainability of their products and purchases?
This is important and hard work that is needed to shift the conversation away from price lists and contracts and specs and toward meaning, sustainable materials, and values we want to support and encourage through our collective purchasing power.
Every purchase, every specification communicates something. As you’re making decisions with dollars, you can think, “Do you want to see more of that in the world or less?”
As a designer, educator, parent, aunt, fitness enthusiast, consumer – you can be an advocate for the change we wish to see. Change toward students and educators having meaningful and healthy learning spaces. Change toward businesses being socially and environmentally responsible. And ultimately, creating spaces that have meaning, that convey the values of the organization and the people they support. Spaces that matter, both indoors and out. And most importantly, spaces that show that the people within them matter. Because they do.
Think about a space that is meaningful to you. It’s probably filled with items that you feel a connection to, tells a story, and offers you comfort. And it’s that feeling that Bridgitte and Natural Pod strive to bring to learning spaces for people of all ages. Here at b, halfmoon, we are honoured to partner with the Natural Pod team on the Better Together Partnership Collection. Follow the transformative work they’re doing to enhance the well-being and education of students @naturalpod.