NO SPIKE: Let's Be Blunt, Smoothing Out Umbrella Design with Greig Brebner
The umbrella would have to be one of the most useful travel accessories going around. The Chinese knew it way back in 21A.D, when leader Wang Dang commissioned one for his carriage. The current design of metal spokes and waterproof fabric, now generally made quite cheaply with a short life, has been around since the 1920’s. This was a product ripe for disruption and Blunt Umbrellas have stepped up, to design a new kind of umbrella focused on longevity and strength.
Greig Brebner was living in London when he realised there was something wrong with the sea of umbrellas that dangerously competed for footpath space then quickly ended up in landfill. He set about creating a safer, more durable and, as a result, more sustainable umbrella. The result is a wide-rimmed and low profile umbrella people around the world are loving. Stephanie Williams of Design Travel spoke to Greig recently to get the lowdown on smoothing out the umbrella industry.
SW: Tell me more about what led to you redesigning the umbrella?
GB: Living in London and spending a lot of time walking wet streets amidst a sea of umbrella spikes was the first catalyst. I really did fear for my sight. When I started thinking about the safety aspect of umbrellas, it led to thinking about the entire design and how it just didn’t work. A product that was supposed to protect you from the weather, failed at the slightest hint of it and when it did fail ended up in landfill after only a few uses.
SW: Is your background in design or did you see the opportunity and learn along the way
GB: I’m actually an engineer, so I really did approach redesigning the umbrella from this perspective. It wasn’t just about making a product that looked different, or had one element of difference to what had gone before, but really solving the problem of umbrellas failing whenever they encountered a breath of wind. Interestingly, solving the safety element and removing the spike, also ended up being the solution to tensioning the canopy which creates a stronger umbrella. It sounds so simple, but it really did take a long time to get there.
SW: What makes a Blunt umbrella different to a regular one?
GB: The patented Blunt Tip, which I mentioned above, is an integral component of the Blunt Radial Tensioning System. It’s this that makes a Blunt umbrella different to any other. We’ve extensively tested this technology in the most extreme conditions, and every Blunt undergoes a 38 point testing process before it’s allowed to make its way to the customer. Then you add to this quality materials for both the frame and the canopy, and from first use, you know you’re using a quality product.
SW: You've collaborated with a range of brands like Crumpler and Karen Walker. What effect does a collaboration have on your own creativity?
GB: It depends on the nature of the collaboration. In some instances we’re really housing someone else’s design, but in others it forces us to think outside the square - we might need to put a twist on our own offering to make it unique, or we might need to re-engineer the packaging for instance because this the first thing a customer will see. In one of our yet to be released collaborations, we’ve had to work extensively with cardboard engineers to do what we need to do. In terms of choosing a collaborator, it really is important that the brands we work with have a similar design ethos and values whether that’s quality (Karen Walker), innovative technology (Tile) or just a fun take on life and design (Michael C. Hsuing).
SW: We respect your interest in creating a quality product that doesn’t contribute to landfill like other cheap umbrellas. How have you incorporated sustainable practices into Blunt umbrellas and the business as a whole?
GB: There’s probably not one big thing that we do, but many little things. Obviously we continue working on making all our parts as replaceable as possible, and continuously look at materials and processing that can improve this also. As a team we encourage flexible working so that people don’t need to commute all the time, or do so outside of peak hours and embrace technology to make people’s lives easier. We discourage things like takeaway coffee cups and have a stash of keep cups for people to use for coffee. It’s an area we’ll continue to work on.
SW: What's coming up for Blunt in the next little while?
GB: We’re really continuing to make repair-ability a focus in the short term, which as well as supporting our non-waste stance, also opens up the door to customisation and letting people really create their own bespoke Blunt. We also have a new model coming in the fairly near future. It’s been a tricky one, but we think we’re almost there. We’ll keep you updated. In terms of what’s coming up in years though? We have a lot of ideas for entirely new products but we still think there’s a lot to be done with umbrellas.
Check out the whole Blunt range at www.bluntumbrellas.com.