30 Under 30: Evan McDougall puts roots down with Conifer Homewares

The Winnipeg-born McDougall has put roots down in East Van with plant and homewares retailer Conifer.

Evan McDougall

Credit: Conifer Homewares

Evan McDougall, 29

Founder, Conifer Homewares

Life Story: Not getting accepted to architecture school turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Evan McDougall. Winnipeg-born McDougall, who grew up in Langley and Surrey, attended Carleton University, where he earned a bachelor of industrial design. He then worked at design agencies in Canada, the U.S. and Sweden, mostly for big consumer electronics makers. Although McDougall found those jobs fulfilling, he wanted to make Vancouver his home. So he took a chance by returning from Sweden to become a freelance consultant.

Finding enough work, McDougall bought a 3D printer for prototyping. During his first Christmas back home, he only gave 3D-printed gifts. So McDougall made some planters, and when a friend asked how much he planned to sell them for, he saw an opportunity. After his consulting work took a hit early in the pandemic, he spent a month validating the business model for Conifer Homewares, which soon grew into a full-time job.

McDougall now has 50 3D printers at Conifer’s headquarters in East Vancouver. He makes his products using plant-based materials derived from sugar cane, cornstarch, tree fibre and other fermented organic matter. At first, McDougall planned to go direct to consumer, but he now focuses more on retailers because they help promote Conifer and make bigger single orders.

3D printing is more flexible and less capital-intensive than traditional manufacturing, which requires a large investment in moulds that can’t be changed, McDougall explains. “Because I didn’t have to do that, I could scale incrementally,” he says. As a result, he never had to raise money, and Conifer has been profitable in each of its first two years. Also, McDougall’s only employee is a co-op student from UBC who serves as a production assistant. “I don’t see myself needing more than a handful of people to keep growing the business.”

Bottom Line: Through plant and homewares stores in Canada and the U.S. and as far away as Scotland, Conifer sold more than 4,900 biodegradable planters in 2021—almost 1,000 kilograms of product that would otherwise have been made from conventional plastics. Doubling sales every year is a sustainable goal, reckons McDougall, who plans to diversify later. “Because I’m in the unique position of essentially owning the factory,” he explains, “there’s really no reason not to use the same business model for other products.