Be­spoke um­brel­las dwin­dle away

The Sun (Malaysia) - - STYLE -

FINE um­brel­las, made by ar­ti­sans and not by gi­ant fac­to­ries, are still be­ing con­structed in a hand­ful of shops around the globe.

Rolf Lippke, per­haps the last pro­fes­sional um­brella maker in the Ger­man cap­i­tal Ber­lin, now makes only a hand­ful.

"Be­tween 30 and 35 a year," he says. Cus­tomers in­clude theatres look­ing for props and brides who want lace um­brel­las for their big day.

Be­cause the trade of um­brella maker is dy­ing out, the spe­cial­ist tools and ma­chines needed to make an um­brella are no longer be­ing made ei­ther. Lippke works with ma­chines that date back to the 1930s that are still in ex­cel­lent work­ing con­di­tion.

But the same can­not be said for the ma­te­ri­als that go into mak­ing an um­brella. Um­brella silk is very dif­fi­cult to find now, and its pro­duc­tion has moved en­tirely to Asia.

"It's a pro­fes­sion that no longer of­fi­cially ex­ists in Ger­many," says Lippke, who is mid­dle-aged. There are no trainees. The vast ma­jor­ity of um­brel­las sold to­day are made in China and most bro­ken brol­lies are sim­ply thrown in the garbage, never to be re­paired.

There are still peo­ple who prize an el­e­gant um­brella as a thing of beauty and won­der, but most of those who bring in their um­brel­las for re­pair by Lippke are elderly. Lippke tells them re­pair is only worth­while with an um­brella worth over US$45 (RM189). That ex­plains why most of the bro­ken um­brel­las Lippke sees end up be­ing thrown away after all. "Um­brel­las have be­come a dis­pos­able prod­uct," says Willy Schu­ef­fler from the um­brella trade as­so­ci­a­tion, the Ver­band der Schirm und Stock­fach­haendler. The av­er­age price of an um­brella in the high street in Ger­many is about US$6 (RM25.20) or less.

Mil­lions of um­brel­las are sold in Ger­many ev­ery year, ac­cord­ing to Schu­ef­fler. The vast ma­jor­ity of them are dis­posed of when they bend a strut, and never re­paired or re­cy­cled.

Al­most all are of low qual­ity, which Schu­ef­fler says is good for busi­ness for the man­u­fac­tur­ers. Ev­ery time the wind wrecks one, an­other sale is in the off­ing.

The big­gest re­main­ing um­brella maker in Europe is the Dop­pler com­pany in Aus­tria, but its busi­ness is mi­nus­cule.

It makes about 20,000 a year and each costs be­tween US$17 and US$43 (RM71.40 and RM180.60). About 170 peo­ple are em­ployed by the com­pany, which owns the rights to the fold­able Knirps um­brella.

A Knirps um­brella is not ex­actly cheap at an av­er­age price of US$55 (RM231), but sales are go­ing up.

"We think the trend is def­i­nitely up­wards," says Dop­pler's Her­mann Wuer­flings­dobler. – dpa

Um­brella maker Rolf Lippke re­pairs a dam­aged brolly in his Ber­lin shop.

Ebury Maxi Feath­er­weight Space In­va­sion in Grey White Cir­cus.

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