Audrey Elkus returns to Detroit to help TAIT Design Co. soar.
Chris Harrison Special to the Jewish News
Above: The collectible, easy-to-build TAIT Turbo Flyer is made of balsa — thicker wood and better aerodynamics than the ones we had as kids.
As I browsed TAIT Design Co.’s online store, I found myself amazed at their level of artistic integrity. The nostalgia of the Turbo Flyer planes and the beauty of their retro-inspired perpetual calendars drew me in, but I was also impressed with the story behind the company itself, particularly that of co-founder Audrey Elkus.
A native of Bloomfield Hills, Elkus is no stranger to the world of design. She possessed a love of art from an early age, thanks to family visits to art museums, and her family has run two men’s clothing stores in the area for generations: Baron’s Wholesale Clothiers in Farmington Hills and Todd’s Menswear in Royal Oak.
Elkus, daughter of Elizabeth and David Elkus, grew up attending Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield, where she became a bat mitzvah and worked as a madricha (teacher’s assistant) for the synogogue’s religious school. After attending Cranbrook High School, Elkus graduated from Wellesley College in 2017 where she studied art, computer science and economics and was actively involved in Hillel. Beyond her curriculum at Wellesley, she also took business courses at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.
After studying at Wellesley, Elkus sought out career opportunities and found herself drawn to a company back home in Detroit. “I found this website, TAITDesignCo.com,” Elkus says. “It looked like they were making these really cool products; I loved their mission of making things locally to showcase Detroit design globally.”
Expecting to meet a large group of designers and crafters, she was surprised to find the company solely in the hands of Matthew Tait, the founder of the company in 2013, and the two soon began working on the first of many projects together. “Doing this together was really fun, and we realized that we make a really great team,” Elkus says. “We had different strengths that really complement each other for this kind of business.”
With Elkus now on board as co-founder, TAIT Design Co. sells to 250 businesses around the world, from local businesses like NORA and the Detroit Mercantile Co. to larger entities like CB2, Restoration Hardware, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Beyond crediting their products’ success to their strong design aesthetic that stands out from many other companies, Elkus also places importance on where and how they are made.
“[Almost] all of the other goods that are sold in really cool places like these are made in big factories overseas,” she explained. “The thing that makes us unique is that our products are 100-percent USA made, and I’d say 75 percent of our vendors are here in Detroit. We hire directly from the College of Creative Studies and Wayne State to give local design students the opportunity to work with a real design firm and advance their own craft.”
TAIT has two lines of products: Play (toys) and Live (homeware). They have an impressive array of the Turbo Flyer model airplane kits, as well as Sling-Slang yo-yos and kite kits. In addition to the perpetual calendars featured in their homeware section, Elkus mentioned that she’s most excited about their new desk clocks.
“It’s very rare to have a clock that’s completely made in the U.S., especially in Detroit,” she said. “The quartz mechanism component that makes the clock work comes from California; the wood comes from Ohio; all the metalwork actually comes from Ferndale here in Michigan, and the hands of the clock are custom-made for us wholesale in Bay City. All the components come together … assembled by hand by our team in the Jefferson Chalmers area in the east side of the city.”
Elkus’ love for Detroit drives her as a designer and an entrepreneur. Though her Wellesley friends relocated to places like Los Angeles and London after graduating, Elkus chose to return to Detroit and couldn’t be happier. As a west side resident, she loves visiting Belle Isle and staying involved with the Jewish community, especially through Moishe House and Chabad, and by attending High Holiday services at Shaarey Zedek.
“I know in a lot of bigger cities, it can be kind of hard to find those communities,” she says, “and I’ve been really impressed with how easy it is here, and they do a really good job. I think it’s very well-run here.”
In addition to the city’s vibrant Jewish presence, Elkus also loves Detroit’s support for entrepreneurs. “A lot of our vendors have been in the area for generations and getting to support their businesses as our business grows is a really cool opportunity,” she said. “I think that getting to plug into that existing ecosystem is a really cool way to get to come back to the city, and I love the team that we have. I wouldn’t want to be working with anyone else right now.”