Gill Farge started her business in the back of her car 40 years ago and it has evolved to be the island’s largest supplier of lifestyle products.

For forty years, Island Trading, now run by Laura Farge-Lowe, daughter of retired president Gill Farge, has been the place in Bermuda to buy top-of-the-line luxurious lounge furniture and home décor items. It has also been the key source for swimming pool products, rainwear and safety products, such as hard hats and gloves. This spacious store, with Spurling the mannequin sitting outside, is such a familiar landmark on Reid Street Extension, it’s difficult to imagine its lowly beginnings in the back of Gill Farge’s car when she and her husband Roger were parents of two young daughters. Gill began her business by buying the stock from Bermuda Industrial Gases Ltd, which was closing down (and located just across the road from Island Trading’s present location!) and became responsible for ordering swimming pool chemicals, rainwear and safety products, contacting forwarders, clearing customs and delivering orders. With three-year-old Laura and one-year-old Emma strapped in the back of the car, she would make deliveries to hotels and organisations all over the island. Gill was reared in retail; as a child she’d lived above her parents’ Manchester clothes shop specialising, believe it or not, in hats and gloves, albeit dressy ones. From the age of ten she had helped by checking stock and serving customers. Starting a new business, then, was not alien to her although it did involve juggling her professional and parental roles. She took over Bermuda Industrial Gases’ former staff member, seventeen-year-old Sam DeSilva, who subsequently assumed his present role of running the swimming pool department and has been for 40 years a crucial member of the team.

A chance conversation with an Elbow Beach tourist led Gill to expanding the business in a way she had not envisaged. “Michael Easy was a rep from Gloster Furniture,” she explains. “He pointed out the need for outdoor furniture on the island. Selling it would complement our swimming pool products.” Always gutsy and ready to take a risk, Gill followed his advice, importing top-quality outdoor furniture, such as teak tables and chairs. Soon, she was importing from other high-end international companies, such as Kingsley Bate, Brown Jordan and Barlow Tyrie. Within a short time, the shop flourished. As Laura grew older, she followed in her mother’s footsteps by helping in the store on Saturdays and during school holidays. After developing her own banking career at Goldman Sachs, Laura decided to join her mother at Island Trading as managing director. “I wanted to take all my overseas experience,” she explains, “and use it to evolve our family business.” She is now introducing indoor furniture to their inventory.

Retail business in Bermuda has had challenges over the last decades. So, what has made Island Trading so successful? Both women agree maintaining the quality of their stock is vital. “Bermuda has the harshest climate in the world, second only to Australia,” Laura points out, “so the furniture we sell has to be tried and tested.” Working with architects and designers is also key so that customers can choose from a wide inventory without a waiting period. Being environmentally mindful is important, too. They never, for example, buy teak from uncontrolled markets. Gill, as does Laura now, always enjoyed the whole process—the initial purchasing challenges, working with staff to effectively display an item, and lastly, enabling customer satisfaction. Also key to their success, they stress, has been the diversity and quality of their staff, who are given extensive product training and with whom they work as a team. Looking ahead, Laura says her main challenge is to expand the family’s lifestyle business. “We have to be here for another 40 years,” she laughs. “Already Freya, my seven-year-old daughter, wants to take it over!”