Cranbrook alumna Audrey Elkus was attending Wellesley College in 2015 when she started a summer internship with TAIT Design Company, a small design firm that launched two years earlier in Detroit that she went on to help organize and run.
"I graduated early and was looking for internships and jobs around home," Elkus said. "I had worked at the Empowerment Plan in downtown Detroit and was going there to work during the week. I like having a lot of different things going on and staying busy. I was looking for something else part time, in art or another area.
"I started Googling "Detroit design," from my dorm room, and 100 different things came up. I came across the website and thought it looked like fun. I liked the mission of making things and employing locally, and I wanted to be part of it."
Founder Matt Tait, who started the design company in 2013, had already launched two products before Elkus came onboard, including TAIT's first product, the Turbo Flyer, a classic balsa wood model airplane kit, an updated version of the balsa-wood flyers that have been available at hobby and toy shops for decades. The other product was the Precision Mobile, a brass and stainless steel mobile designed for high-lofted residential ceilings, hotels, restaurants and creative agencies.
"Matt had been working in advertising and was doing it only on weekends, but it looked like this huge team because the website was so big," Elkus said. "I started by helping to design the packaging with the mobile. We did a lot with it. It was almost like a showpiece."
The unique packaging included 55-inch custom tubes that contain the pre-balanced mobile and installation guide. The packaging earned Elkus and TAIT the Dieline Packaging Award from Neenah Packaging.
After finishing at Wellesley, where she studied art, computer science and economics, Elkus started working full time at TAIT in 2017, working on design, art direction, business strategies and generally helping keep the business organized and moving forward.
"We are now in 250 stores in 16 countries and four continents. I manage relationships with stores and sales, which is based in New York where we have 32 sales reps," Elkus said.
Additionally, Elkus oversees communications, corporate gifts and events, and she plans photo shoots and ad concepts.
"There's a million things to do every day," she said. "We have a very small team, so we are very nimble. Everyone wears different hats."
Elkus said her time at Cranbrook served as a foundation for her perspective on art. That foundation was taken to Wellesley, as well as to Spain when she studied abroad in Barcelona. Her art studies, combined with her computer know-how and understanding of business allows her to be involved in all aspects of the business.
Elkus's latest product, the TAIT Desk Clock, is crafted out of solid maple with a hand screen-printed steel dial and back. It comes in five colors and is now available at West Elm and Art Loft in Birmingham, and dozens of other locations across the country. Other items, like TAIT's Sling-Slang YOYO is available at Crate & Barrel. While the company has come up with redesigns of classic toys, it's not limited to child's playthings.
"It was almost named TAIT Toys," Elkus said. "Overall, toys are fun to start with and they will always be fun, but we don't want to be limited. There are so many different things we can make in the future."
Photo: Laurie Tennent