Alresford friends and business partners Fiona Heath and Melissa Jennings celebrate the continued success of their outdoor cushions company, Amelfi.

It was February 2020 when I last spoke to Fiona Heath, about her and friend Melissa Jennings' fledgling outdoor soft furnishings business.

The pair dreamed up the idea for Amelfi - a play on their names and their favourite Amalfi coast – on a dog walk around Itchen in 2019, while lamenting the lack of choice for garden furniture cushions.

They set about sourcing quick dry, liquid repellent, mould/mildew, UV and stain resistant fabric, to create bespoke, outdoor cushions from their base in Alresford.

Fiona Heath and Melissa Jennings, founders of Hampshire-based Amelfi.Fiona Heath and Melissa Jennings, founders of Hampshire-based Amelfi. (Image:

When Fiona finished our chat by joking 'perhaps we'll see you in future at the Chelsea Flower Show', little did she know that, four years on, that's exactly where she'd be.

Amelfi has teamed up with luxury outdoor furniture firm Oxenwood to create bespoke cushions for its seating, and were part of a display at the prestigious gardening event.

The news comes hot on the heels of another exciting collaboration with fabric design business Ian Sanderson, which has seen the creation of a limited edition floor cushion using the Ian Sanderson 'Summer Vibes: Cherry Sundae' fabric.

Amelfi x Ian Sanderson floor cushionsAmelfi x Ian Sanderson floor cushions (Image: Julia Conway)

'We are growing,' beams Fiona as we catch up over a Zoom call. 'It's five years in the making, this little idea that we came up with. It's still both myself and Melissa and we have our busy machinists ­— we're keeping them busy!'

The latest project came about when Fiona and Melissa – who have become known in the industry as 'the outdoor cushion ladies' – were chatting to Ian Sanderson CEO Julian Sanderson at an event.

'Ian Sanderson is renowned for his fabric and they're based not far from us, near Newbury,' she says. 'We realised they had a lovely outdoor range. They're a British company, run by a husband and wife. I said we had this floor cushion – we did two other colourways last year as they're just something that people are asking for. They said "why don't we make a limited edition floor cushion?"

Amelfi bespoke cushions.Amelfi bespoke cushions. (Image: Amelfi)

'Some of the fabrics we work with come from the US, so it's quite nice because it's a British-designed piece. We make our cushions in the UK as well, so it's really nice that, together we have the same message.'

With its own carry handle, Fiona says the £150 cushion is perfect for back gardens, picnics, sports days and 'they're great for Hampshire beaches as well'.

'When we talk to suppliers we have to make sure that they have all the fabric checks so they're all UV and mould resistant. They have to do the rosé check with Melissa and I and we get a group of older teens round a table and make sure they're bomb proof.

'Everything we make is bespoke ­— we make some seat pads for sunbeds, shepherds huts, treehouses – so to have something just off the shelf is just lovely.'

Amelfi bespoke cushions. Amelfi bespoke cushions. (Image: Amelfi)

However the heart and soul of Amelfi – and arguably much of the reason for its huge success – lies in the personal serviced offered by Fiona and Melissa to their valued clients.

'What we love doing is offering that design consultation service as well,' explains Fiona. 'Still, when an enquiry comes in through our website, I always like to pick up the phone and get that personal touch and find out exactly what they're looking for. We follow it up with sending out fabric samples.

'We're off to do a site visit for a fire pit area, we're doing shepherds huts – it's really nice to be able to work with so many different people. We were at Design Week, at Chelsea Harbour, so it was lovely to meet people.

'We give the fabric to give people the chance to look at the different colourways. It's almost an exterior design service. And we do work with lots of local garden designers to find out what colours they're doing etc.'

With a much bigger range of performance fabric now on the market, there is more scope for design from Amelfi, which also offers an increasingly popular recovery service, whereby they can create new, replacement covers for cushions that are past their best, to give them a new lease of life.

Amelfi bespoke cushions. Amelfi bespoke cushions. (Image: Amelfi)

'I love interiors, have done interiors PR and I've always loved to come up with ideas,' says Fiona. 'Some of our fabrics you can just use it as a border – I love coming up with different solutions. I'm constantly on social media, looking through magazines and I'm very much influenced by following designers.

'How our machinists put up with me, I don't know! I look after all the design elements in the business and liaise with the clients and do all the PR – Melissa manages all the orders and liaises with the machinists. They say "really? You want that on the border and that on the base?"

'But it works –Amelfi wouldn't work without the two of us. It's lovely to be able to go on site visits together. Melissa will do the measuring and I will bring out all the cushions.'

In fact, the company is a real family affair for Fiona, who has a 30-year PR and marketing career behind her and Melissa, whose background is primarily in HR. With five daughters between them, there's a strong support team behind Amelfi.

Admittedly, starting a business in lockdown was a huge gamble but, due to the nature of what they do, Fiona says the fact that people couldn't go anywhere had a positive effect on the growth of the company.

Amelfi bespoke cushions. Amelfi bespoke cushions. (Image: Amelfi)

'We were so lucky in that respect because people were at home and not going anywhere.' she explains. 'We thought "we're ,launching a company and it's covid!" But, because we buy our own foam and our base fabrics, our machinists had their own little bubbles – they're a family-run business, so that's really nice – and it just worked really well.'

From those humble beginnings, the pair are now overseeing projects as far afield as Greece and Mustique, for clients with holiday homes abroad, and are expanding the range to include bespoke waterproof furniture covers and throws.

They work alongside East London Parasol Company and Garden Art Plus Ltd, as well as Oxenwood, to bring cohesion to garden projects, and also collaborate with interior designers.

'We do everything,' smiles Fiona. 'We're working with hotels now so that's great. In five years, people now know the brand and every day is a new enquiry and a new project, which is just so nice.

'I'm being kept busy – I'm never not working. I will sit on a sun lounger when I'm on holiday thinking "these cushions aren't very comfortable", or working out where you could get that fabric.

'But I love it, I absolutely love it. We do have a real laugh together

'We've got it covered.'