Lisa Selwitz: Pioneering the Parasol
Meet Lisa Selwitz
After spending most of her career in television advertising, Lisa Selwitz decided do a 180 and create a fashionable parasol brand. She talks SPF, trusting your instincts and not quitting before the miracles happen.
In collaboration with...
Occupations, affiliations, and projects.
Advertising Art Director/Creative Director, Parasol designer/manufacturer
People Who Do focuses on those who excel at moving forward throughout their passions in life. Why is it important to you to “do”?
I don’t know when the term ‘maker’ became popular, but I’ve always considered myself someone who makes things. Tangible things. It’s in my DNA. If I ever retire, I’ll always have projects. I need to have creative projects to focus on and execute. I think that as a creative person, you need an outlet to express it, or, for me at least, I get bored and depressed. It’s a need.
Tell me more about why it was important for you to create Lily Lark?
Many years ago, when I was mid-career in advertising, I discovered how ageist my industry was (like many in New York). I never wanted people to know my age, because youth is equated with fresh thinking and creativity in advertising. The old farts eventually get pushed out of the industry and I didn’t want that to happen to me. To that end, I was aware of the sun being very damaging and aging to the skin and I always tried to wear sunscreen, a hat, and avoid the sunny side of the street. I would see Asian women carrying umbrellas in the sun and I was jealous that they could walk through the streets not caring what others thought of them. Then I started noticing more women of all races walking around with umbrellas in the warm weather. One day, my Aunt and I went to a sculpture garden and she pulled out the most gorgeous bamboo parasol I’d ever seen. It inspired me to create something better than a traditional umbrella, and that was the beginning of Lily-Lark.
To date, what accomplishments are you most proud of?
Lily-Lark is by far the biggest accomplishment of my life. It still amazes me that I spent a whole career making television commercials, then did a 180 and became a manufacturer. It took a number of years and a lot of time to bring the company to fruition. In fact, it took years just to find a manufacturer in Asia who could make a traditional bamboo parasol and attach a fabric canopy cleanly and meticulously. Once I finally found the manufacturer, it took them another year to get the product right. There were so many setbacks, but giving up was never an option.
#1 motivating mantra to get through tough moments.
To be quite honest, they all feel like tough moments right now. My company is a little ahead of its time, as many women haven’t fully embraced protecting themselves from the sun and/or carrying a parasol in the sun. That’s changing, but there’s still a bit of a way to go before it’s commonplace. I sell more product retail than wholesale now for that reason. I took a risk by leaving my industry to start the company, but I started freelancing again in advertising last year because it takes a lot of money to run the company, and with a niche product like mine, it’s taking a longer time to ramp up than I expected. Even though it’s tough, I still feel like I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. I know I really have something special on my hands. I just have to hang in there long enough for trends to catch up with me. And as a good friend of mine told me “Don’t quit before the miracle happens.”
What’s your favorite thing you’ve learned so far this year?
Pink lipstick looks good on me.
What's your go-to song to put you in a better mood?
That’s hard to say. I get lazy about music. When I hear something I like, I play it to death. So it changes all the time.
What’s your favorite lesson you’ve ever learned?
Trust your instincts. I polluted mine many years ago when I stayed in a relationship with a man who wasn’t right for me. I knew it at the time. I think I was trying to prove something to myself. So I ignored that voice in my head that told me he was wrong for me. When you start ignoring that voice, you’ll lose your capacity to hear it and trust it, and trusting in yourself is really the ultimate compass.
Favorite method for logging any kind of inspiration.
In advertising, we always had trade publications that awarded creativity. Those were our bibles, back in the day. I still use them for inspiration when I freelance. But ultimately, I need to be able to kick my feet up on a desk, with a pad of paper on my lap and a marker in my hand. That does it for me. My hand starts automatically doodling and going where it wants to go. My mind then follows.
Top 5 people you would invite to a dinner party and why?
Barrack Obama – because he’s historic, eloquent and elegant.
Rachel Maddow – because she’s real.
Jon Stewart – because he’s smart.
Amy Schumer – because she’s funny.
Jennifer Lawrence – because she’s fun.
What’s the best piece of advice that you can give someone right now?
Always wear sunscreen. And don’t eat sushi on a Sunday.
3 words that you want to be remembered by.
I would like my epithet to be “Queen of Parasols”.
What’s the next goal?
I just launched Lily-Lark Bridal. Outdoor weddings are currently the most common use for bamboo parasols in this country. I’d like to capitalize on that and have Lily-Lark be a player in the bridal industry.
By "do-ing", you create your own unique legacy. How do you want your legacy to look?
Advertising won’t be my legacy. (Although, if you ever saw the Cadbury Bunny commercial for Cadbury Creme Eggs that’s been running for the last 27 years, perhaps it is.) I hope Lily-Lark will be successful and become a familiar brand, synonymous with beauty and sun protection.