A Spoonful of Sugar
MARY POPPINS HERSELF would happily confess the number of times her umbrella was a lifesaver—helping her blow town right before being asked troubling questions like, “Why is the banister so well-dusted?” or “Why are my children spending time with vagrant chimney sweeps?”
Luckily, Mary’s nannying skills bear no reflection on her taste in getaway devices. Likely the highlight of her wardrobe, her umbrella’s classic design syncs with the authority and propriety of her personality. Sixty years later, it’s still a very popular design, meaning it’s safe to say two things about Mary: She’s good at fixing families in a needlessly circuitous manner, and has a knack for picking a fine umbrella.
HOW SWEET IT IS
More than just a tool to keep one dry or an escape device for magical nannies, a nice umbrella can complement an outfit. It may come as a surprise to some there is an actual category of umbrellas dubbed “fashion umbrellas.” The grouping, which now encompasses all umbrellas designed to exhibit a higher-end look, began with Mary’s classically familiar style. As explained by Lynn Schatz, marketing manager for Parsippany, New Jersey-based Avaline, the traditional design with the wooden J-handle, exaggerated tips and point, and slightly more domed canopy, became popular around her era in London. A symbol of authority and class due to its expense at that time, the pattern has retained its status, and is still the primary template for fashion umbrellas. Today, the category has branched out and become framed by nebulous descriptors like “high-end” and “executive,” but basically, fashion umbrellas are categorized as those meant to look a little nicer, and value appearance over brute durability or low production cost.
A subset of the stick umbrella category (golf umbrellas being the other main grouping), fashion umbrellas may seem to have a broad classification. Their emphasis on style, however, does translate into tangible attributes common amongst their varying designs. Fashion umbrellas usually begin at around a 48" arc (“arc” being the measure of umbrella coverage area), a size that is more personal, meant for one or maybe two people. They often have a wood or metal frame, leaving fiberglass for larger golf umbrellas. Schatz mentioned, too, that fashion umbrellas typically forgo features like double-canopy windproofing, as that isn’t in line with their intended purpose (surviving on a golf course for six hours and looking professional in an executive’s hand are functionally different tasks). Fashion umbrellas, however, do have additional features that their more utilitarian counterparts do not.
Richard Meth, vice president of sales for Edison, New Jersey-based Rainkist Umbrella, explained how many of the “perk” features of fashion umbrellas are designed to create a higher perceived value with the product. He gave the example of a special fabric that Rainkist’s fashion umbrellas use. Called pongee fabric, it not only has a purportedly higher-end look, but also allows for a Teflon coating that helps repel water, causing the umbrella to dry much faster. Other impressive features would be purse-sized folding designs or automatic-opening abilities.
MAKES THE MEDICINE GO DOWN
Mary’s “A Spoonful of Sugar” song teaches children if you add a little something positive to a chore, it becomes much easier to do. Fashion umbrellas may not seem much like sweetened cough syrup, but the same logic stands. The flourishes and features of a fashion umbrella are the sugar that makes the end-user forget all about the rain, and pay attention to the fancy umbrella instead. The “sweetness” is the main strength of the fashion umbrella, and also what makes it particularly suited for certain markets. Schatz stated that car sales, real estate and other service industries are good areas of focus, saying on a rainy day, a fashion umbrella “definitely [has] a more professional look to it.” The hospitality industry, she mentioned, is especially interested in presenting such an image—in fact, they use a specially designed fashion umbrella called a “doorman umbrella.” As described by Meth, the umbrella has a larger 60" arc and a narrow, 16-panel design.
While the service industries are one option for fashion umbrellas, Gary Libman, president of Attleboro, Massachusetts-based Storm Duds Raingear, explained fashion umbrellas are also suitable for the corporate world. “A businessman would not be seen potentially walking with a golf umbrella, but he might be seen walking with four or five [types] of our Storm Duds umbrellas that would be compact for him, easy-open, easy-fold, he gets to his office, he throws it in the corner of his office … It’s a great thing.”
Meth seconded his opinion, saying fashion umbrellas are appropriate whenever a distributor is trying to provide a product that is going to look nicer and last longer. He added, “When you’re dealing with corporate America, people are very conscious of whatever they’re walking around with [that has] a logo on [it]. They don’t want to walk around with something that just looks like an regular umbrella.”
SPREAD THE SWEETNESS
Any nanny worth her bobby pins will say teaching children to share is a cornerstone of her child-education responsibilities. Overworked parents, however, will claim it’s way easier to buy enough toys so everyone will shut up on the three-hour car ride to Grandma’s. Since mom and dad are always right, isn’t it fair to assume highly sought-after fashion umbrellas can be treated the same as a contested Dora the Explorer doll?
Libman explained further. “Umbrellas are a utilitarian product … most people own several umbrellas, they put them in the trunk of their car, their kids use them at the bus stop. Most families have multiple umbrellas, and a lot of them are given away as promotions. That’s what’s great about the product.”
Schatz agreed, and added, “It’s a very practical item, it’s very cyclical. They might have an umbrella one day, and then it gets misplaced or stolen, so umbrellas are always needed. If you’re a distributor who hasn’t used an umbrella program in a while, you might want to reconsider that, even for the same client.”