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Blunt Umbrellas: from the garage to the globe

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Greig Brebner was walking down a rainy London street dodging hundreds of commuters when it occurred to him: There must be a better way.

“There was a sea of umbrellas coming at me, just this volume of people in a big city that you don’t get in New Zealand. Being a bit taller there were spikes hitting my eyes and I just thought it was crazy that these products could exist in this day and age.”

Since he was a child tinkering in his father’s engineering workshop, Greig had pictured himself creating an innovative product with global potential. He had a formula in mind – the idea had to solve a difficult problem, there needed to be a clear vision for success, and it would need his full commitment.

“Before I even started I wanted to get myself mentally prepared and make sure it actually happened. I forced myself to create this vision of this perfect umbrella walking down Regent Street in London, with this really happy person under it, and it was just awesome.

“Then I set up my R&D facility on the floor of my London flat.”

With a new design in mind, Greig returned to New Zealand and continued to develop his umbrella frame, alongside work at his father’s plastics factory. Four years on, he was ready to go to a patent attorney to protect his invention – the blunt-tipped mechanism used in Blunt umbrellas today.

“I knew from the start that I wanted the umbrella to have this shape that didn’t have points, because that was the safe thing, I didn’t want my eyes picked out. So by being rounded it would be stronger and more durable, and just look better, so it was the whole aesthetic I was after as well.”

It was through his father’s factory that he met product development manager Scott Kington, who instantly liked the prototype and wanted to get involved in taking the project forward.

“We knew we had a bit of a gem here but the gem needed a hell of a lot of polishing.”

Greig and Scott abhor the idea that umbrellas are at the forefront of throwaway culture.

From the start, their mission has been to change people’s acceptance of shoddy workmanship by creating a revolutionary design that lasts, and doesn’t end up in landfill.

The venture has been a slow-burner, and it involved building new business networks across the globe.

Greig and Scott travelled to China, meeting manufacturers to ensure they were sourcing the top quality products needed for their high-end product. But when the first container load of umbrellas arrived, they found 50 percent of them were poor-quality rejects.

They flew to Europe to meet umbrella distributors, pitching their product against the world’s best-sellers. Distributors were enthused, but the orders failed to come.

Scott says: “After every umbrella’s made now it goes through this QC process. They do a 38-plus check on it, so every umbrella gets checked before it gets shipped. It was really kind of depressing at the time but it was a good learning experience.”

Branding has always been a strength for Blunt, built around a reputation for innovation and integrity. By November 2009 the brand was well established, online sales were coming in, two Newmarket stores stocked the umbrellas, and Kia Ora magazine were writing about them.

Greig and Scott knew they had to “make a lot of noise” to get people talking about their umbrellas. They entered and won global design awards, employed a PR company, and sent umbrellas to people and organisations throughout New Zealand and abroad.

“It’s an amazing product, and when you use it you just know it’s good,” Scott says. “So as long as we could get it in people’s hands, we knew they would create the noise and start talking about it.”

Last year Blunt teamed up with Kiwi artist Dick Frizzell to design an umbrella that raised $80,000 for Oxfam New Zealand; this year they have collaborated with fashion designer Karen Walker to create a limited edition print.

Through tenacity, courage and collaboration, Greig and Scott have built a thriving international business now exporting umbrellas to 27 countries.

“It’s all been done on the old oily rag, number eight wire mentality, we’ve been fighting the whole way,” Scott says. “But we’re going to start pushing social media and creating cool, quirky, interesting stuff. We’re moving in this space where we can have a lot more fun.”

Greig Brebner and Scott Kington spoke at the University of Auckland as part of the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Unleash Your Potential Speaker Series.

Greig graduated from the University of Auckland with a Bachelor of Engineering, and Scott graduated from the University of Auckland with a Master of Science with Second Class Honours First Division in Marine Science.

 

Greig Brebner
Greig Brebner

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Greig Brebner was walking down a rainy London street dodging hundreds of commuters when it occurred to him: There must be a better way.

“There was a sea of umbrellas coming at me, just this volume of people in a big city that you don’t get in New Zealand. Being a bit taller there were spikes hitting my eyes and I just thought it was crazy that these products could exist in this day and age.”

Since he was a child tinkering in his father’s engineering workshop, Greig had pictured himself creating an innovative product with global potential. He had a formula in mind – the idea had to solve a difficult problem, there needed to be a clear vision for success, and it would need his full commitment.

“Before I even started I wanted to get myself mentally prepared and make sure it actually happened. I forced myself to create this vision of this perfect umbrella walking down Regent Street in London, with this really happy person under it, and it was just awesome.

“Then I set up my R&D facility on the floor of my London flat.”

With a new design in mind, Greig returned to New Zealand and continued to develop his umbrella frame, alongside work at his father’s plastics factory. Four years on, he was ready to go to a patent attorney to protect his invention – the blunt-tipped mechanism used in Blunt umbrellas today.

“I knew from the start that I wanted the umbrella to have this shape that didn’t have points, because that was the safe thing, I didn’t want my eyes picked out. So by being rounded it would be stronger and more durable, and just look better, so it was the whole aesthetic I was after as well.”

It was through his father’s factory that he met product development manager Scott Kington, who instantly liked the prototype and wanted to get involved in taking the project forward.

“We knew we had a bit of a gem here but the gem needed a hell of a lot of polishing.”

Greig and Scott abhor the idea that umbrellas are at the forefront of throwaway culture.

From the start, their mission has been to change people’s acceptance of shoddy workmanship by creating a revolutionary design that lasts, and doesn’t end up in landfill.

The venture has been a slow-burner, and it involved building new business networks across the globe.

Greig and Scott travelled to China, meeting manufacturers to ensure they were sourcing the top quality products needed for their high-end product. But when the first container load of umbrellas arrived, they found 50 percent of them were poor-quality rejects.

They flew to Europe to meet umbrella distributors, pitching their product against the world’s best-sellers. Distributors were enthused, but the orders failed to come.

Scott says: “After every umbrella’s made now it goes through this QC process. They do a 38-plus check on it, so every umbrella gets checked before it gets shipped. It was really kind of depressing at the time but it was a good learning experience.”

Branding has always been a strength for Blunt, built around a reputation for innovation and integrity. By November 2009 the brand was well established, online sales were coming in, two Newmarket stores stocked the umbrellas, and Kia Ora magazine were writing about them.

Greig and Scott knew they had to “make a lot of noise” to get people talking about their umbrellas. They entered and won global design awards, employed a PR company, and sent umbrellas to people and organisations throughout New Zealand and abroad.

“It’s an amazing product, and when you use it you just know it’s good,” Scott says. “So as long as we could get it in people’s hands, we knew they would create the noise and start talking about it.”

Last year Blunt teamed up with Kiwi artist Dick Frizzell to design an umbrella that raised $80,000 for Oxfam New Zealand; this year they have collaborated with fashion designer Karen Walker to create a limited edition print.

Through tenacity, courage and collaboration, Greig and Scott have built a thriving international business now exporting umbrellas to 27 countries.

“It’s all been done on the old oily rag, number eight wire mentality, we’ve been fighting the whole way,” Scott says. “But we’re going to start pushing social media and creating cool, quirky, interesting stuff. We’re moving in this space where we can have a lot more fun.”

Greig Brebner and Scott Kington spoke at the University of Auckland as part of the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Unleash Your Potential Speaker Series.

Greig graduated from the University of Auckland with a Bachelor of Engineering, and Scott graduated from the University of Auckland with a Master of Science with Second Class Honours First Division in Marine Science.

 


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