MADE IN THE SHADE: The Story of TUUCI Founder Dougan Clarke, Innovative Shade Category Leader
Dougan Clarke, CEO and Chief Product Architect of TUUCI, spent his summers growing up in a boat shop where he rigged boats and worked with marine-grade materials such as fiberglass, teak, acrylic fibers, polymer, aluminum alloys, wood epoxy, and polyester resins. In 1998, he took his knowledge in marine design and founded The Ultimate Umbrella Company, Inc. in Miami, where he sold marine-grade umbrellas to the contract shade market. His vision was to create the most stylish, durable and functionally superior shade systems in the world. Within a year, he changed the name of the company to its acronym, TUUCI, to differentiate it from other mass-market umbrella companies.
Seeking to create a more innovative product, he looked for different ways to design an umbrella. “We found that pure construction wasn’t enough to put us on the map as a unique shade manufacturer, so we started to look at different ways to construct a parasol,” explains Clarke.
His vision for TUUCI is dedicated to complementing the natural environment through “shade architecture,” in aesthetically pleasing as well as functional designs. “Inspirations from my life in and around the sea are reflected in every product we engineer,” he said. From the Shade Blade—designed to be installed on the fishing cockpit area of a boat—to the Manta, a sweeping award-winning design resembling a Manta ray, his goal has been “to create an intimate relationship between TUCCI’s shade architecture pieces and the environments in which they exist.” The company’s savvy also extends to semi-permanent shade systems, the Ocean Master MAX F-1 and Plantation MAX F-1, which can withstand up to a 45-mph wind force, perfect for hurricane-prone Miami and other windy locales. The Manta parasol design garnered him the Lillian B. Winchester “Best of Show” Award at the 2001 Casual Market’s Design Excellence Awards, the first win of such a prestigious award for an umbrella design.
TUUCI’s designs are unlike anything the market has ever seen, and have created a stir in the industry. It was clear that Clarke’s intention was to completely redefine the shade industry, taking something that was previously considered an “add-on” to a patio furniture sale and repositioning it as a stand-alone category. TUUCI currently holds more than a dozen US and foreign patents for shade design and is the recipient of multiple design awards in the shade category from the Summer & Casual Furnishings Manufacturers Association and the International Interior Design Industry.
“I believe patio furniture design, if not in its infancy, is at least still in its juvenile stage right now,” says Clarke. “The category seemed wide open, and to us, it still seems that way. There is so much more to do in terms of functionality, raw materials, and fabric.”
In the past seventeen years, he has designed all of the products that the company currently offers, primarily drawing his inspiration from his lifelong passion for the ocean. Because of this oceanic influence, he has been referred to as “a nautical artist.” TUUCI is now positioned as a shade specialist, one of the leading brands for stylish, high-end shade structures, offering a range of products from umbrellas to pavilions to privacy lounges, in designs from the classic to the avant-garde.
“Our simple journey is to complement the shade and ambiance that nature has provided,” says Clarke. “At TUUCI, it’s our intention to share natural comfort in its most basic form – a comfortable place in the shade.”
TUUCI’s technology thrusts have defined a new era of shade innovation. Recognized around the world for extreme function and refined design, TUUCI stands in a category defined only by the brand’s own advancement in parasol, pavilion and lounge engineering. “Our goal is to bring thoughtful design to shade architecture while pushing the envelope of durability and function in the most extreme environments on Earth,” Clarke states. Each of the brand’s unique designs is subjected to vigorous testing to ensure every TUUCI product can endure the harshest wind-swept, sun-drenched and moisture-rich environments on the planet. Every single parasol, lounge or pavilion produced under the TUUCI name is meticulously engineered to perform without question, in any environment.
TUUCI products are handcrafted in Miami, home of its corporate headquarters and manufacturing center, but the privately owned company’s business has spun out across the globe in recent years. In the past 10 years, the company has doubled in size, creating more than 100 new jobs, growing from 102 employees to more than 250 today. TUUCI is one of the nation’s top job creators, and was the 2013 and 2014 recipient of Inc. Magazine’s “Hire Power” Award, celebrating privately held companies on the forefront of American job creation. But the company has grown far beyond Miami; it is now established in Europe, with a distribution facility in Holland and sales on 7 continents. TUUCI shade installations are in hotels and restaurants around the world: in North and South America, the Caribbean, Dubai, Singapore, the UK, Russia, Australia, Europe and South Africa. The company’s shade installations are seen in upscale resorts such as the Ritz-Carlton Hotels and Resorts and Four Seasons Hotels; in quick-service restaurants such as Chipotle and Five Guys; as well as many other chic restaurants and destination resorts.
Though he is still the company’s chief designer, Clarke’s role in the company has changed since the early days when he did everything from cutting and sewing fabrics to manufacturing frames and components under the tutelage of his mentor, South Florida craftsman and engineer Fred Herman. Clarke acknowledges and shares his passion for the company with his business partners Tom Parker, President; Charles Munroe, CFO; and Ward Usmar, Senior Vice President of Sales. Under Clarke, the team has built TUUCI into an iconic brand. The phenomenally successful CEO still takes a hands-on approach to running the company, but is now in the position of rallying employees around the world to adhere to the company’s singular goal: design and production of innovative, stylish and functionally-superior shade systems.
Because he spends his days thinking about outdoor living, Clarke has taken the company “green” in earth-friendly ways. “Since our business is all about enjoying the outdoors, it’s no secret that we love and respect the environment,” says Clarke. TUUCI’s mission for shade design connects with its passion for a sustainable lifestyle, and it participates in an Environmental Sustainability program. (An Environmental Sustainability program supports research that would affect more than one manufacturing process or that takes a systems or holistic approach to green engineering.) The program includes efforts to reduce solid waste and recycle plastics, aluminum, steel, paper and cardboard into products, packaging and supplies. Wood frames are ecologically farmed and made from renewable, sustainable, 100% plantation-grown hardwoods. Product components are 100 percent recyclable, producing less landfill materials, and excess packaging is recycled. In addition to conservation and recycling efforts, TUUCI and its employees support many environmental causes, including The Coastal Conservation Association, The Sierra Club, The Friends of Biscayne Bay Association, The Miami Museum of Science, The Kampong Botanical Garden and David Fairchild Botanical Gardens.
“We are reducing our carbon footprint, one parasol at a time,” Clarke said. As for slowing down, Clarke has no intention of it. He says he plans to continue designing structures “to provide enjoyment, luxury and a leisurely lifestyle for years to come.”