Interview

Jumbo & Friends

Another mama-led Instagram find for you today folks! On that note, if you’re not already following me on Instagram, please do – I’m posting some amazing kids’ interiors finds that you really don’t want to miss 🙂

When Esther’s amazing cot bed appeared on my Insta feed, I was instantly impressed (not least because Daphne’s favourite animal is the elephant!). It was another ‘wish I’d known about this brand when I was looking for a cot’ moment. I had to find out more. So I pinned her down to find out how the untrained designer behind Jumbo & Friends comes up with her unique pieces, and juggles creating them with a successful freelance TV career, and motherhood…

Hi Esther! Tell us how Jumbo & Friends began…

Jumbo was conceived around the time when I found out I was pregnant, about four years ago. I was getting used to that exhilarating (and terrifying at the same time!) idea of bringing a child into this world and I started looking for what to put in the room where our special little thing would sleep for hours on end (little did I know…). And I just couldn’t find anything that really fitted with what I was feeling, it just didn’t feel exciting to me.

I am not a designer by trade but furniture design had been a hobby for many years and so I couldn’t help myself and started imagining – slowly the cot that would eventually become Jumbo started taking shape. The idea of the business didn’t really arise until much later on. The design was finalised and I started showing it to friends and family and their reaction encouraged me to start the business. In a very naïve way, I just saw it as an adventure and had no idea of what it would involve! But I felt I had to give it my best go, I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I hadn’t at least tried. And I have to say I haven’t regretted it at all.

We know your background is in television – a very different career from designing – do you find this helps or hinders you?

I am a freelance film and TV editor; I mainly edit documentary films for the BBC and other major broadcasters and also edit independent films. It may seem quite unrelated to furniture but I don’t think it is! I’ve always thought creativity comes in many shapes and forms and one has to find a way to channel them, for me it’s all about the process. I make films and furniture and I also love making music and other things – it completes me and makes me happy.

Being a freelance editor has without a doubt enormously helped with Jumbo & Friends as it not only funds it but it also allows me to take time off often enough to carry on with development of new pieces and promoting the brand.

Where do you start when designing a new piece?

It’s still as it was when it started; it’s all centred on Tomas’ needs. So you could say that Jumbo & Friends grows with him and it all develops from there very naturally. For instance, he is quickly outgrowing his cot bed and so I’m developing a toddler bed. And our next piece, which is due to be released during our pop-up shop in May is a bookshelf, because my old beautiful shelf isn’t very child friendly and our toy cots (we have two at home, one Jumbito and one Zorro) can’t hold all of his books! I’m really enjoying this process because it feels more relevant and honest to me as a user rather than as a business proposition.

So when a new need arises I usually think of an animal that roughly fits into the usual shape in question (for instance, a shelf would need something that can be drawn in a fairly elongated shape) and start sketching rough ideas in paper. Before I get too far into the process I like to research what’s already on offer to make sure whatever I’m doing feels fresh and original. Then I slowly start getting into more detailed work, measurements, proportions, assembly etc. in AutoCAD. Usually, just as the idea is starting to set, I start thinking of a narrative, names and where they fit within the Jumbo story. It may sound silly but it’s an important stage for me.

I’m still tied up stylistically to our signature pieces; I am really happy with the look and the feel, the contrast of natural and white plywood using animal/nature inspired shapes and so I’m going to carry it through to other pieces. Though I don’t imagine I will always do the same and I’m sure I will have to find another angle to keep me creatively satisfied.

How do you cope juggling so many balls?

I really wish I could say I’m the queen of multitasking and I can juggle it all but sadly I am not! So I struggle a lot trying to keep some sort of balance. My little one goes to nursery during the week and I try and make it a rule that as long as he’s in the room, work doesn’t exist. I mostly manage this, but it usually means that as soon as he falls asleep I’m back at the computer doing work, and so my relationship with my partner suffers… you can’t always win! But I try and keep it to normal working hours for the most part.

What’s your favourite piece in the collection?

For me it’s got to be Jumbo, not only because I think it’s a stunning piece (if I may say so myself!) but also because it comes with such a huge sense of achievement that I sometimes have to pinch myself. It really does make me feel proud that I managed to create something like it, going through the whole process on my own, such a steep learning experience, overcoming huge technical challenges, etc. I am convinced the only reason I stuck with it was because I knew it was for this little baby cooking inside me, call it hormones or whatever you like, but it’s an infallible encouragement to get something done!

How did the name come about?

When I decided to create the company, I only had the elephant cot design and I knew it was going to be central to the company’s identity but I couldn’t quite find a name that had enough ‘weight’.

I went for lunch with my good friend Barry Bliss, an incredibly charming, interesting, intelligent man (he’ll probably blush if he read this) with a huge knowledge of London’s history. And when I showed him the elephant cot he just said: ‘Jumbo, it’s got to be Jumbo’. I answered: ‘you mean Dumbo? I wouldn’t be able to do that, I imagine Disney!’ and he went on to tell me the story of Jumbo, the first African elephant to arrive at the London Zoo in the 1860s and the stories of joy, excitement and celebration he brought about town. I just loved it so much. It also got me thinking about Jumbo’s character and gave me the idea of creating a little narrative around him (and consequently that of his friends).

You’ve done so well already, but where do you want to go next?

On the creative side of things, I would like to create a few more pieces following Jumbo’s visual identity. But I’d also like to explore other materials and perhaps not be so tied up to the animal theme in the future. I’m also really into lighting and so would really like to have a foray into that new world.

On the business side of things, at the moment we sell exclusively on our own website and during our pop-up shops. I’d love it if a reputable design shop would be willing to stock our products, The Conran Shop, SCP or my local Aria to name a few would be a dream.

I would like to be able to bring other people into the company to help me run it so I can concentrate on the creative side, which is what I enjoy the most. And maybe that way I can also have a better family/work balance!

Peter’s Chair, available from The Conran Shop

 

What piece of kids’ design do you most admire/wish you’d worked on?

Hans J Wegner Peter’s Chair. The simplicity, beauty, quality and its exquisite execution: it’s just perfection. For such a simple proposition he managed to create something so special! It’s an inspiration to me and I like to have that ethos right at the centre of what I do.

When you’re not running the business, how do you like to spend your time?

I love spending time with friends and family. It seems impossible looking after all those important relationships when one is so busy all the time but it’s the most vital thing, so I try my best, even if it involves travelling to wherever they may be (other than mainland UK, it’s mostly Spain and Sweden).

I also like watching films and making music. I really enjoy reading but I’ve had the same books on my bedside table for over a year and I just can’t make it to bed early enough to not fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow! It upsets me but I still haven’t found a way to tackle that one yet.

QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS

What’s your favourite…

Holiday destination:
Cabo de Gata, Almeria in Spain’s South East coast. Think spectacular desert landscapes (Laurence of Arabia and most Spaghetti westerns were filmed here) and beautiful virgin beaches. It’s quiet. It’s vast. It’s perfect.

Way to relax:
G&T with friends in the garden/patio/bar/terrace/anywhere…

Thing about being a mum: 
It is the hardest and the best thing I’ve ever done! It drives me nuts and fills me with joy in (mostly) equal measure 😉

Find Jumbo & Friends at the Babyccino Kids London Spring Shop Up, Old Truman Brewery, 15 Hanbury Street, London E1 6QR on Saturday 6 May, 2- 7.30pm and Sunday 7 May, 10am- 6pm. More info on the Babyccino website.
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