Graphic & Digital Design Instructor Chris Stephens Talks Twirling Umbrellas

Twirling Umbrellas Team
Twirling Umbrellas Team

Twirling Umbrellas. The name could belong to an uber-cool band, but instead, it is the uber-cool marketing company belonging to uber-cool entrepreneur (and Centre for Arts & Technology Graphic & Digital Design instructor) Chris Stephens.

We sat down with Chris to talk about the early beginning of Twirling Umbrellas.

Q: How long has Twirling Umbrellas existed, and how did it come about?

A: Twirling Umbrellas was incorporated in October of 2014 after years of developing websites for family, friends, and myself. At the time (and still today) I saw a lack of companies willing to provide high-quality custom websites to small to medium-sized businesses throughout the Valley.

In fact, there are only a few companies in town that actually develop custom websites at all. Most simply customize existing themes for their clients and in many cases, the same theme for each and every client they service. I wanted our company to be different by focusing on a small number of clients at a time and developing custom digital and print solutions around their business.

Q: How did you come up with the name?

A: The name is a funny story. When I first started freelancing, I went by the name Acid Design which was in tribute to an old art group of which I was a big fan. 

(A little history, because very few remember the days before Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Back then the first digital art was known as ANSI art. There was no World Wide Web and ANSI artists were widely a part of a strange underground subculture that would connect and share their content through Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). In those days, artists joined organized art groups—of which I always believed ACID Productions to be the best of them all.)

While I loved the name, it certainly didn’t inspire the confidence I wanted to be known for these days.

My brother actually came up with the name Twirling Umbrellas. Most leading digital marketing companies have very unusual names (StrawberryFrog, 72andsunny, Droga5, etc.) and the name Twirling Umbrellas certainly fit. He convinced me that the heritage of performers, up on stage twirling umbrellas to draw attention, was a great and purposeful tie into the marketing industry.

It wasn’t long after rebranding that I started to get a lot of customers telling me how much they loved Seinfeld—which I found very unusual and had no idea why they would share this obscure information in a business meeting. When I had heard it enough, I asked my brother about it who informed me that the name was actually inspired by a scene where Jerry Seinfeld argues with an umbrella salesman who he claims, stole his twirl.

I love the name either way.

Q: What does Twirling Umbrellas do – give us a short pitch about your company!

A: Twirling Umbrellas is a full-service marketing agency focused on developing and executing innovative strategic marketing solutions for brands with ambition.

Q: Describe the Okanagan landscape with regards to branding, communications and digital agencies. Is it a growing market?

A: There is quite a diverse landscape of small to medium-sized companies. I think it’s a great place to start a design and marketing career as the majority of clients are small to medium-sized businesses and young professionals have an opportunity to be gain experience with a wide variety of projects and industries.

Q: You have just moved into the Innovation Centre, how are you finding the location?

A: We’re not completely settled in (still waiting for office signage, etc.) but absolutely love the location. Downtown Kelowna is a wonderful place to work with no shortage of great things to eat, see, and do, of which the Innovation Centre is the absolute hub for technology and creativity. We’re lucky to be a part of it.

Q: Who are some of your clients and what do you do for them?

A: We have a diverse group of clients ranging from small mom and pop shops to large publicly traded enterprises. We’ve done everything from branding and strategic planning, to web development, mobile app development, and even product and packaging development.

Last month, for example, we attended North America’s largest toy show (New York Toy Fair) to help launch one client’s new line of children’s toys which we had helped develop and source. In other cases, we’re developing mobile applications, games, and ecommerce solutions.

Q: What do you like best about what you do?

A: I love the opportunity to learn and be a part of so many unique businesses. It keeps the job interesting, challenging, and enjoyable.

Q: What do you find most challenging about what you do?

A: As a busy single father, teacher, and business owner— the greatest challenge by far is not falling behind on the work.

Q: What do you like best about your teaching role at the Centre for Arts & Technology?

A: More than anything else, I hope to inspire students to focus on the areas they are most passionate— development, design, art, etc.—and never settle for less than their best.

When you’re entrusted with someone else’s brand—their future and quite possibly their livelihood—it creates a very real responsibility to deliver your best work. I take a lot of pride in that and I hope my students do.

Q: Two of your current staff members are ex-CAT students – what stood out about them to make them attractive hires to your company?

A: Actually, five (5) of my staff members are ex-CAT students (and two teachers) and I’m lucky to have all of them in my company. These are students who followed their passion and put in the hard work to really learn and understand their craft. I may be biased, but I truly believe that Twirling Umbrellas has the deepest talent of any agency in the Kelowna.

Q: What advice would you have for students wanting to go into this industry?

A: Invest yourself in your field. It is fun and rewarding, but there’s no such thing as “acceptable” when it comes to the quality of your work.