Twice a year, Bill Gates takes a Think Week – seven days in a cabin in the forest, devoted to reading and reflecting without interruption. No computer, phone, wifi or TV. This is because we – even the great Bill Gates – use routine to keep the wheels on the tracks of our careers, relationships and health, but it’s also what gets us stuck. Familiarity becomes preferenced over thinking bigger than the everyday. A Think Week short-circuits one’s standard operating procedure and “unyokes” us from the commonplace.
Traditionally, a “yoke” is what connects an animal to a cart – to unyoke an animal is to set it free. “Too many people are yoked to their desk, to the city, to their spreadsheets or their phones and not interacting with the natural world the way they should be,” says Unyoked founder Chris Grant. “It’s time to break that yoke and go back to being free.”
Launched in 2017 by twin brothers Chris and Cam Grant, Unyoked calls itself a “nature company” and is becoming associated with its low-impact, sustainable cabins in secluded locations across Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. The custom-designed cabins, all within a few hours of major capital cities, are designed to help cityfolk find their “inner reset button” through the power of nature.
Bigger than a simple tourism or accommodation brand, Unyoked has spurred many partnerships and side projects aligned to its mission of giving people access to high-quality nature experiences more often. Field Recordings is a project “we started in direct response to what we were seeing from artists on the ground,” says Jonno Seidler, Unyoked’s Creative Lead. “They were burnt out, uninspired and being hustled into creating content instead of music. We knew the power of nature to allow us to slow down and widen our focus creatively, and we thought the best way to showcase this was through music.”
The project benefits Support Act, a non-profit Seidler had worked with during the pandemic on their mission to support the mental wellbeing of artists. “We thought given the scope of the project, it was only fitting to have such an important charity as the beneficiary of the sales of our first EP, which was sold digitally via Bandcamp and in a limited run of cassettes.”
Cassettes, of course.
T Australia recently had the opportunity to speak with Grant about operating in a new category of travel and wellbeing, designing low-impact cabins in the middle of nowhere, and what Australia can expect next.
Chris, how did the idea for Unyoked come about?
The idea in a nutshell is pretty simple: modern life’s left us feeling stressed, anxious and hitting our heads against the wall. We’re switched on more than ever and even though we’re technically more connected, we feel increasingly isolated. Nature has the ability to fix all that. It’s where we came from. It can help our stress, creativity and put things in perspective in a way no technology can replicate. We’ve known it for thousands of years, we feel it when we’re out there, and there’s a ton of research that backs it up, but all the noise makes us forget it and opt instead for Uber eats, fluorescent lights and Netflix. Basically, we’re all encouraged to fix these issues we’re having in ways that don’t really work and actually just end up exacerbating our problems. We created Unyoked to help remind us that there’s a better way, that is, being in regular contact with nature. It’s been there all along, and we help people access that easily and when they need it most.
Unyoked is a “nature company” – what does this mean to you?
We see ourselves as operating in a new category outside of the traditional hospo/accommodation/travel verticals, one which puts nature experiences at the heart. Though people stay overnight in our cabins, we view these structures as a facilitator of wider interactions with the natural landscape, rather than simply the endpoint. It’s also why we spend so long crafting and sourcing our locations; it’s really all about what’s outside the cabin, which is why they’re all designed identically inside.
How did you go about designing minimal impact, sustainable cabins?
Sustainability is something that’s built into our DNA as a company. When you look broadly at our offering, we’re effectively placing boutique hotel rooms in wilderness locations you’d normally never be able to access. To do this we’ve designed fully off-grid cabins that can be installed anywhere without any concrete foundations, mains power, mains water or mains sewage. We can set-up on a property and then leave years later and the environment will go straight back to how it’s supposed to be.
We view our experience as an educational tool for living a sustainable life. We’re helping people normally shacked up in the city to have a stay completely powered by renewable resources, to be cognisant of where their power and water are coming from and be reminded of what a natural landscape should look like. We’re currently making some steps towards B Corp Certification and we’re working with awesome partners like The Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife to ensure we’re doing more for the environment and ensuring it’s here for future generations.
What is the process for finding and securing a location for an Unyoked?
Part of our mission is to unlock natural land within reach of urban centres that’s been held away from the public and to make it accessible again. To do this we partner with private landowners and organisations to uncover the best raw wilderness – we have a dedicated team of scouts who assess these properties against strict criteria and determine if it’s suited to Unyoked. A point of difference of ours is the quality of the locations we get access to, so this is very important.
What are some of the “consciously designed experiences” someone can expect of Unyoked?
Our experience is curated to allow our guests the most immersive, relaxed time in nature possible. From the walk into the cabin from the car park, to the way our cabins are set up, including our giant windows looking out into nature, everything is deliberately thought out to maximise a session in the wilderness. Expect to spend hours staring out at the landscapes, listening to local birds, cooking meals over the fire or in our fully-kitted out kitchen. We’ve got coffee beans and grinders, vintage cassette players with some of our own commissioned music on tape and loads more – but we don’t want to spoil the surprise.
What can Australia expect from Unyoked in the next 12 months?
We’re building a global lifestyle brand that champions and facilitates the use of nature periodically throughout the year to live a better life. That includes a network of new cabins that unlock some of the most unique and awe-inspiring landscapes in the world and making them accessible to our community within reach of their day-to-day. We have exciting new forms of cabins in development, larger sites that push the boundaries of our experience and some awesome collaborations we’re excited to share soon.