Absolutely met Lucy Ferguson of the East London Parasol Company to learn about what makes a stylish parasol
Q How did the East London Parasol Company come about?
A I had the idea to create flamboyant garden parasols after spending a lot of time in Kerala and becoming entranced by the temple umbrellas they use in celebrations. After a breakup I decided I wanted to do something joyful and colourful and the parasols were the perfect idea. I went back to India, travelled around Kerala and Rajasthan finding umbrella makers and launched my first parasols in 2016. The parasols naturally create an intimate space underneath which bring people together. And popping up a parasol immediately creates a theatrical scene. Seeing customers’ photos of how they style their parasols makes my day.
Q You have been inspired by India. How?
A I first visited India about 25 years ago as my dad worked there and I was blown away by the colour, noise, sounds, fabric and magic of it. Once you’ve been exposed to that it’s hard not to want more. I’ve been lucky to spend a large part of the last 13 years in India and its crafts, colour and capacity for joy is unlike anywhere else.
QCan you tell us about the manufacturing process?
A In 2017 I started working with artisans in Bali to create our bamboo parasols and wooden bases. Then, in addition to working with Indian printers, I found a family of stone carvers in Rajasthan to make parasol bases, and the business grew. During lockdown I decided I wanted to champion British craftsmanship and found a skilful carpenter in Hampshire who had been making scenery for theatres, but needed to pivot due to covid. We have been working together over the last few years to hone our frame design and they are beautiful. Each of our octagonal parasols is assembled to order.
We sell our designs of parasols, decorative bases and cushions. Our production is slow and careful, with minimal waste and no mass production. We use sustainable woods and plant a tree in India or Indonesia for every parasol we sell – partnering with a responsible reforestation initiative.
Our Round Bamboo parasols and wooden bases are made in Bali where we work with many villages of artisans – each bamboo parasol is made in over 20 stages. Following that, our octagonal parasol frames are made in Hampshire using FSC certified sustainable ash wood. The octagonal parasol canopies are screen printed in India and our cushions are block printed by hand in Jaipur, while the stone bases are hand-carved by 7th generation stone carvers in Rajasthan.
During my 20s I was fortunate to spend many summers at festivals with the people who created the event spaces. The whimsical and gorgeous worlds they created definitely gave me confidence in dreaming up opulent garden parasols when there weren’t really any others like them on the market.
Q What is your background?
A I went to university at St Andrews in Scotland and studied English Literature and theology- I tried many careers after university, starting in financial communications, then professional kitchens, then working in the House of Commons before writing a book for children and working at Neals Yard Dairy selling cheese. What I learned from all those experiences was that I love people- and that’s not something you are taught at school. Throughout my career adventures, the people I worked with were the high points for me, and I’m so lucky that I’ve found brilliant people to work with to create the parasols over so many years.
Q How do your parasols fare in the British climate?
A The parasols are named after divas, known personally or internationally, because they aren’t run-of-the-mill, they’re extra special. With care they’ll last years. We try to be as helpful as possible about how to prolong the life of your parasol on our website. A vital thing is to make sure it’s dried out before you pack it away. The most important element of having a happy parasol is a very good parasol base.
Q Which is your best seller?
A Everyone loves the Whitney Round Bamboo, the pink, gold, orange and yellow colour combination is pure summer. Our Green Aretha Octagonal Parasol is a close second, the outside of the canopy has green zigzags and it’s lined with rose pink. Not only is the parasol stunning and playful, the frame is made in Hampshire by incredibly talented carpenters and our customers are always delighted by the high quality.
Q What’s next? Will you stick to parasols or branch out into other things?
A I like doing one thing and perfecting it! Furniture would be a natural step, maybe one day. At the moment I still have a head filled with designs for parasols I’m yet to bring into the East London Parasol Company.