High-end umbrella company Para Para's tagline is ‘bringing joy to bad weather’ – a cause close to founder George Wu's heart. Raised in the rainy UK city of Manchester, she thinks there's nothing more important than a good umbrella: ‘I like the rain, but I love my umbrella. I've always been a strong advocate for a well-made umbrella. It's quite nice to walk around in the rain. You feel protected, grateful and a bit smug,’ she says.
George, who works in the design department for an advertising agency, has always been interested in elevating everyday objects. During the pandemic, she started to design and make her own umbrellas ‘as a playful thing’ by collaging and stitching. She'd always wanted to launch her own product, so she found a supplier and did an intensive business course. Para Para is the start of her entrepreneurial career, but all her experience, from design to running pop-up shops and directing music videos, has been leading up to this point. ‘I've always been interested in making stuff from everyday objects that make people smile. The rest of my work is always about that.’
Para Para has teamed up with James Ince, the oldest umbrella maker in the UK, to fulfill George's vision of small-batch, well-made, high-end umbrellas. The quality ensures a perfect barrier against bad weather, and it comes in two sizes, filling a gap in the market for a full-length umbrella for shorter people. ‘I was thinking about these Victorian drawings of women with their umbrellas and they look super elegant. Why can't I bring that vibe back, where people are using it as an accessory?’ she asked herself.
Para Para comes from the French word parapluie, meaning umbrella, and ‘parasol’. George is looking at bringing back parasols by helping people to understand how they can accessorize with them. She's also created an app that partners with her first umbrella – when you spin the umbrella in front of a phone camera, it creates a real-time animation in the app, which can be shared on social media.
By turning the humble umbrella into both a style choice and a game, George is transforming behaviors by making people see umbrellas as a piece worth investing in, rather than buying cheaper collapsible umbrellas. That means they have to be high quality, but George has gone one step further to guarantee that a Para Para umbrella really is for life: all umbrellas can be serviced and come with a unique code, which means they can be identified and returned to their owners if lost. ‘It's about taking the customer on that journey,’ says George.
This article was first published in 100 Ways to Make a Living 2022. To purchase a copy or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.