Jeremy Vandermeij and Gui Figueiredo launched a camper-van renovation business called The Van Dads.
They renovated their first van this year, and it’s on sale for $105,000.
As their business grows, they hope to keep prices low so they can work with more diverse customers.
Partners Jeremy Vandermeij and Gui Figueiredo were scrolling through Instagram one day when they came across #VanLife and fell in love with the movement.
While quarantining in their home city of Toronto, Canada, in 2020, the couple researched the movement some more. Vandermeij and Figueiredo soon realized they have a unique skill set — Vandermeij is a designer and builder, while Figueiredo is a lawyer — that meant they were perfectly positioned to build a camper-van-renovation business.
“I knew I could build a van with my skills in woodworking and interior design, and my partner is super detail-oriented and good with the project-management aspect,” Vandermeij told Insider.
Within a month of discovering the van-life movement, the couple decided to start their side hustle by building a prototype van.
They bought a van for $40,000 and got to work renovating it over six weeks this winter.
They bought a 2020 Ford Transit van and immediately started turning it into a livable home.
“There was a lot of sitting around in our apartments during the pandemic and not a lot of exercising, so getting up and building a van together was really fun to do,” Vandermeij said.
It cost them an extra $35,000 to completely renovate the van.
Vandermeij said the hardest part of the renovation process was working with the curvature of the van because he’s used to working in homes that have hard right angles.
“It was challenging to get really clean lines, so it took us a bit longer [than expected],” he said. “It’s basically one giant piece of furniture inside a curved van.”
The result is a van the couple calls the Swift Chalet. It’s currently on sale for $105,000.
With the completion of their prototype van, the Swift Chalet, Vandermeij and Figueiredo officially launched their business, The Van Dads, which aims to one day renovate camper vans at low prices for diverse groups of people.
The Swift Chalet is just the beginning for them.
For starters, the interior of their completed van is completely covered in handcrafted wood.
Vandermeij said the interior of the van only has two materials: Baltic birch wood and vinyl, both of which are great for wear and tear.
“We’ve trying to make this minimalist, modernist, and contemporary van design affordable for people to have,” he said.
The kitchen has a stovetop, a sink, and a mini-fridge.
The mini-fridge also has a freezer, and the stovetop is induction so that it doesn’t run on propane, which Vandermeij calls “super safe.”
A magnetic wall in the kitchen means you can neatly store your knives.
Vandermeij said this added design element makes the home feel less cluttered.
Toward the back of the van, there are two additional seats.
A table can be pulled out to create an eating or working area.
The bed can fold out into a comfortable queen, which sleeps two people.
Under the bed, there is a composting toilet, which can be pulled out when needed.
After putting so much into the van, Vandermeij said it will be hard to let it go to a buyer.
“We have a lot of attachment to the van, but we’re also excited to give it to someone who’s going to have a lot more time to use it than us,” he said. “We’re excited to see someone else enjoy it, explore the world, maybe work out of it.”
Once they sell the Swift Chalet, they hope to get started working with diverse clients to renovate vans at different price points.
Camper-van conversion can cost anywhere from $30,000 to $150,000 on average.
Vandermeij said the Swift Chalet would be considered a high-end van and their most expensive, but they plan to have multiple tiers.
At the cheapest, people can bring them a van and they will renovate it with their base design for $36,000. Customers can then add features to that base design for an added price. The Van Dads also plan on offering completely custom builds, starting at $48,000.
They said they already have more than 80 people waiting to work with them.
Vandermeij said he hopes the different price points will help ease one major issue in the van life movement: the lack of diversity.
Most of the camper vans seen on social media are high-end, cost over $100,000, and are owned predominately by white people.
“Van life sits squarely at the intersection of travel, particularly road tripping, and the great outdoors,” Jessica Poitevien at The Daily Beast wrote in 2020. “Historically, these arenas have been dominated by white people and fraught with extra burdens and obstacles for BIPOC.”
The Van Dads said they’re proud to be able to add some diversity to the movement themselves. For starters, they are a homosexual couple and Figueiredo is Brazilian.
“We’re a couple and my partner’s not a white person, so we’re very excited to be one of the few designer-builder teams that’s not all white,” Vandermeij said.
As they transition The Van Dads from a side hustle to a full-time business, they hope to bring changes to the larger movement.
“We’re hoping to service a diverse mix of people as are present in our beautiful city of Toronto,” he said. “We’re very excited to work with people who are interested in making van life more diverse and being present in it as their authentic selves.”
Read the original article on Insider