Bespoke umbrellas dwindle away
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.
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