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The Blunt Edge

by fatweb

BLUNT1By Davina Richards

The Malaysian royals have one, celebrities have been sighted carrying them and it’s been raved about in the Wall Street Journal. It had a stint on National Geographic TV and there’s even talk about them featuring in upcoming Hollywood blockbusters.
Greig Brebner, the inventor and founder of Blunt umbrellas, doesn’t leave his home without one, and it looks like no else does either.
Basically, an umbrella’s an umbrella, even if it is a flash one, but what Greig’s achieved is the use of complexity to maintain functional simplicity.
The basic umbrella design has been buried in the history books, covered in dust and unchanged since 1928. But this all changed on a rainy London day in 1999.
Greig, working as a design engineer, was caught in a downpour on a busy street. As the crowd of silent assassins unfurled their umbrellas, spikes were attacking him at every angle. And then it happened – his epiphany – one which could change the lives of everyday people who fear the inevitable poking of the eye in some of the most demanding weather conditions.
He may not have reinvented the wheel, but he took a narrow, wooden spoked wobbly wonker and turned it into a wide-rimmed low profile performer more suited to today’s life, style and consumer expectations.

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Shaping up

Some people insist that some things in life are more complicated than they should be. While a run of the mill umbrella collapses in what seems like the lightest of winds, Greig, a towering 1.9 metre tall Kiwi from Auckland, has turned the simplest of products on its head.
The Blunt umbrella holds its own in winds of more than 100km/h due to its taut and strong canopy. But you need to look beyond Blunt’s outward appearance of filed down edges and its sleek and classy exterior to see that its success is anchored by its internal technology.
Blunt technology incorporates a radial tensioning system (RTS) into its canopy which distributes the opening force of tension upwards into its double struts and redirects into its floating ribs and down to the canopy edge or Blunt tip, creating a tighter and flatter canopy. What you get is a strong, aerodynamic, fully performing and controllable umbrella without the sharp edges and weak points.
The company sells Blunt umbrellas in more than 1,200 stores in 27 countries. With a record of 100,000 sold here and abroad this year, the world is taking notice, much to Greig’s delight. “Turning the corner financially to the point where we were self-sustainable was a good moment. With respect to the market in New Zealand it does feel like things have taken off however, with a focus on supplying the world market we have huge ambitions and a lot of work ahead of us to be recognised globally to the level where we will be satisfied,” Greig says.
“We have a product that is very refreshing in a stale market where there has been little to no genuine advancement in recent times. At Blunt we have a purpose that really strikes a chord with people who appreciate good design that ultimately leads to products that perform beyond expectations and have a reduced impact on the world around us.”
He explains that designing umbrellas is an extremely restrictive process and any changes he makes can affect something else, generally in a negative way, and is one of the reasons why innovation in the industry has been stunted.
“Overcoming the challenge purely came down to persistence and some design ability. I refused to believe there wasn’t a better way to make an umbrella. It took a good few years and many failed prototypes to come up with a design that even half resembled what we have today so it took a lot of self-belief and focus.”
Showdown
Blunt is no one-man brand. The business is composed of two other Kiwis responsible for its ongoing success: co-founder and managing director Scott Kington and global brand manager Josh Page.
Ten years ago, Greig was back in New Zealand working with Scott on another product while employed at his father’s business Proline Plastics in Otahuhu. During this time the umbrella prototype Greig was working on was still trying to figure out what it wanted to be when it grew up, but when he revealed it to Scott he immediately took an interest in his design featuring rounded edges and a high tension frame.
Armed with an innovative concept and support from Scott to start a company and sell the product to the world, their mission to supply a sturdy and fashionable umbrella – which is far from being a throw-away commodity – was beginning to take form. Initially, the pair named the company Pointless Umbrellas, before changing to a more apt name, Blunt. They founded the company Madeblunt in January, 2006.
“With Scott’s background in business development, he was exactly what I needed, as at the time I was quite lost on how to take the project forward and commercialise. Since then it has been a long, but very fun journey together, working out all the intricacies of building a business, a brand, global distribution network and refining a product to a level that is being celebrated globally. Scott is very much the driving force in making sure our products are getting out there into shops (and hands) around the world,” Greig says.
Global brand manager Josh Page, a former design consultant for celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, joined the company in 2010, at a time when brand identity was a bit of a struggle. “Josh’s background in brand and marketing at a global level was exactly who we needed and he has been instrumental in defining who we are as a brand and how we communicate this through our presentation.”
Quite simply, Blunt wouldn’t be where it is now without each other’s experience, expertise and just as importantly, belief. “We have some very patient investors who have been in this for the long haul, been very supportive and 100 percent believe in what we are doing and the potential of it.
“In finding a suitable factory we met a Kiwi living in China who helped us through a very sensitive stage to find the correct manufacturing partner. Had we not met David Haythornthwaite and been guided like we were, things may have turned out very differently for us. It was crucial we got with a manufacturer that could and would complement our design with a quality built product.”
Keep on moving
It should have been a smooth and profitable ride into the British market, but ironically, gaining momentum in the UK has proved difficult for Blunt.
Greig tells me the issue lies in their inability to find a suitable distribution partner which can perform all the necessary tasks to reflect their story. However, changes are in place to try and turn their luck around by exploring a number of options including using export consulting company, Katabolt, “which have strong ties with this part of the world and very effective strategies for identifying and opening up new markets around the globe.
“Being situated on the opposite side of the world does not help. In other markets we have had a degree of luck in finding the right people – and it is about to happen in the UK also. Knowing that you can’t beat face to face contact with potentials we have a number of trips planned over the next few months that will also include attending relevant trade shows.”
This year the business will undergo some challenges in managing the growth of its distributors effectively, while Scott is thinking along the lines of custom designs for corporate companies.
“We know from our experience in the New Zealand market that a number of our key international markets are about to mature to a point where there will be some major growth that will come with a new set of challenges for our partners. It is important that we support their businesses through these challenges and have solutions at hand should they need them.”
And there are no intentions of applying the brakes. Blunt is already designing a new golf umbrella being developed to meet the requirements of the Asian market, including a focus on UV protection.
“Generally speaking this market requires a lighter product and has a very large discerning top end – especially where golfing is concerned. As a result we are developing a product that is using more exotic materials that will enable us to retain the solid performance of Blunt with the reduced weight.”
The eco-friendly, award winning Blunt umbrella, which won the prestigious iF Product Design Award 2014, is available here and abroad including Europe, UK, Japan, Canada and the USA. More recently, Blunt is trialling stores in Bloomingdales and REI (Recreational Equipment Inc) in America and has signed on new distributors in the Ukraine, Poland and Russia.
Scott couldn’t be happier to have the Blunt recognised with national and internationally coveted awards. “The brand has been going from strength to strength and we’re delighted with this latest achievement.
“From celebrities and royalty purchasing Blunts, to securing new retailers, to featuring on National Geographic, we’re extremely proud of the way the world is embracing Blunt umbrellas the way we do. To see our design acknowledged by the best in the industry is certainly a dream come true.”
Down to business
Kiwis are great at thinking outside the square and have a very positive attitude to boot, but the challenge for New Zealand, Greig says, is being able to perform at a level that is scalable and of an international standard, so it can sell itself to the world and not just to each other.
“The key to any success is having the focus to do one thing extremely well. As a whole, New Zealand would be a lot better off if we had a focussed theme for innovation that the country was renowned for and could be marketed as a whole, technology to Silicon Valley, movies to Hollywood.
“We are not big enough to be doing lots of random, small cool things and expecting big things to come of them – except umbrellas, of course.”
For young investors, he says they should target ideas towards sustainability. “We are at the start of a period where awareness of how badly we are treating this planet will be heightened more and more, and innovative sustainable products and other ideas will be well rewarded.
“An exciting time to be in business for the right reasons that are healthy, not only for your pocket, but also for the people and world around us. Social media is making it harder and harder for companies to hide or disguise marginal activities and they will need to change or be superseded.”
To finish the interview I ask him which Blunt umbrella he never leaves the house without, “My latest prototype! Always testing and every new model is the new favourite”.
Are you forced to battle with an inanimate object out on the street? Avoid showing yourself up in public. The revolutionary Blunt umbrella has you covered.
Best Design Awards:

  • Silver Product Design Award 2010
  • NZ Export Awards: Emerging Exporter of the Year 2012
  • On an international level Blunt won the prestigious iF Product Design Award 2014 in Germany and the Red Dot Design Awards 2014 in the Netherlands for its golf umbrella.

Rave reviews:

  • Wall Street Journal: “Structurally, the Blunt falls somewhere between suspension bridge and NASA space probe”.
  • Wired wrote: “Its architectural integrity is as unbroken as the dome of St. Peter’s.”

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