Where did it all start ?
The word 'umbrella' has evolved from Latin ; the derivation is either 'umbella' which is a similarly shaped flower or 'umbra' meaning shaded. Either way, most ancient cultures claim to have invented the umbrella (or 'parasol' derived from the latin 'para' meaning shade and 'sol' meaning sun) and references are plentiful in many cultures around the world. The first references from Ancient Greece date back to the 5th Century BC, Ancient Rome believed the umbrella was invested by the Etruscans and there is evidence of a collapsible umbrella in China around 2400 BC. Umbrellas were widely used throught India and Persian history also, however there is little evidence of European usage until the 17th Century AD and later still in the New World.
|Widespread use of the industrially produced umbrella followed the English Industrial Revolution and Victorians such as Samuel Fox and William Hoyland established umbrella frame factories in and around the steel manufacturing hub of Sheffield for distribution to umbrella makers throughout the UK and the Commonwealth. Many innovative designs followed some of which are still used in today's mass produced designs. Production moved from the UK to Japan, then Taiwan and China which is now the principal source of production globally with over 1000 established umbrella factories and annual output of over 500 million umbrellas.
Umbrellas have been decorated for centuries for the purpose of fashion and also religious ceremonies. But the advent of the promotional umbrella as we know them today probably began in France around the 1960s when a beer brand had the idea of printing their logo on sun umbrellas to encourage tourists on holidays to sample their products. The idea spread quickly as marketers recognised the effectiveness of this new promotional product. Londoners recognised that rain is more common than sun in the metropolis so golf umbrellas began to appear in the City branded with discreet logos. The trend developed and, by the 1980s financial boom, the promotional golf umbrella was firmly established as a top seller in the fast growing promotional merchandise market. Despite the emergence of many new and innovative products to the market, the umbrella in its many forms trend remains a much valued business gift and highly effective promotional product.
In 2013, our factories in the UK remain one of the few remaining fully integrated umbrella manufacturing plants outside China in the world. One of our factories is a model of sustainable manufacturing being powered 100% by renewable energy. This particular site operates a mix of wind turbines, solar PV panels and hydro generation. Heating is provided by a geothermal water source and all plant is evaluated according to the level of energy efficiency. The site does not have any light switches and all lighting is low energy with passive infra red control to avoid energy waste. This particular factory has won many awards for their 'carbon negative' offices and were the first participant in the UK government Renewable Heating Incentive scheme which is the first such scheme to be introduced in the world. It is hoped that this factory will be an exemplar for other umbrella factories in China and already the company is consulting with their Taiwanese partner to adopt the same efficiencies and technologies in their joint-venture factory in China.
How are umbrellas made ?
The umbrella manufacturing process has not changed a great deal since the original designs were created. Of course the materials have changed greatly, and more of this below, but the skilled craftsmanship required to create a durable and long lasting umbrella follows a tradition many thousand of years old.
The frames are assembled from between 50 and 100 separate components depending on the type. Single piece manual opening umbrellas such as golf umbrellas have the least and automatic opening and closing umbrellas have the most.
All umbrellas have 'ribs' which are joined to cross struts called 'stretchers'. These are connected by 'tieing-in' wire to the circular 'notch' at one end and the 'runner' at the other. 'Cover caps' are secured over the wires to ensure that no wire ends are exposed. This is a specific quality feature of our 'Birkdale Storm Proof Umbrella' and is not evident on most umbrellas available. This semi-completed part is called the 'skeleton'.
When it comes to higher quality umbrellas, such as our storm proof umbrellas, they are constructed with high quality fibreglass ribs providing for a wind resistant attribute, where the frames will not bend or buckle in difficult conditions. Typically, fibreglass frames are 4 times stronger and up to 30% lighter than traditional wood or metal options and can with stand wind speeds up to 50mph.
|The 'pole' is fitted with 'locators' for the open and close positions. The 'finger button' is inserted into the pole. The pole is then assembled to the skeleton by inserting it through the runner and then it is pinned to the notch. The 'point' extends beyond the 'notch' as this is used to walk with then the umbrella is furled and not being used for rain protection.
The handle (which can be from a wide selection of materials) is pinned or glued to the pole subject to the design and quality level of the umbrella. The tip cup is either assembled to the handle if the design facilitates this, or fitted between the handle and the runner. The frame is now ready to be fitted with a canopy.
The fabric is rolled out on the cutting table and the individual panels are cut using a template. Each umbrella design will have an individual template and most umbrellas have 8 panels but 6 and 4 are used for certain designs subject to the function and appearance required. The bottom edge of each panels is individually hemmed and then two panels are sewn together. The panel pair are then sewn to create a 4 panel pieces which are finally sewn to create a raw canopy. High quality umbrellas will feature an overlocked seam which ensures that any excess fabric uis trimmed away and the remaining fabric is rolled into the seam to create a secure and water-tight canopy. Individual 'tips' are sewn to each seam join ; these are often in plastic and sometimes in metal or wood. The other end of the canopy where the panels meet is secured with a 'topping ring' which is a male / female steel component set. Finally the tie band that secures the closed umbrella is either sewn or applied to the canopy with a press stud subject to finish and design.
The completed canopy is now ready for assembly to the frame.
Each seam is sewn to rib ; this is generally undertaken by automated 'bar tacking' machines but is sometimes still undertaken by hand in some parts of the world. Each tip is then applied to the end of the rib. The umbrella at this stage should undergo a heat setting process during which the canopy is shaped to the open frame. This is undertaken by our factory as an additional quality feature. Finally the finished umbrella is trimmed by hand for any loose threads and inspected before being furled so the panels lay on top of each other without creases. The tie band is secured and the umbrella is ready to use.
These have evolved as new materials were invented and became cost effective through the long history of the umbrella. Originally, natural products were used such a whale bone for the ribs and animal skin for the canopy were used, sewn up with animal gut used as thread. Some cultures used wooden frames and palm leaves as the canopies. Handles were traditionally wood and often from expensive and rare sources. Modern handles are often moulded in high performance plastics or rubber. Wood is still used and should be from sustainable source only however this is not always the case from low cost producers.
Silk became the material of choice for any discerning buyer and this is still used in small volumes available in specialist London stores to this day. The industrial revolution brought the widespread availability of metals and the ability to shape and form in many ways, especially in Sheffield, so the first mass production frame factories developed durable and cost-effective products that could be shipped around the world for local manufacture. Brass components were used at first and this moved to lower cost metals and finally to plastic. Silk was replaced by nylon and then polyester which is widely used today. Modern frames are produced in fibreglass which is lightweight and durable. Plastic components can now be coated to feel soft and warm to the touch. New innovations in recycled materials and fabric made from used PET bottles herald a new era in sustainable design.
Why do umbrellas break ?
This is a question that is often asked is why are umbrella not designed and manufactured to withstand our British weather. The answer lies, as so often these days, in cost. To some extent, the strength of the umbrella should be balanced with the required conditions of use ; for example a lightweight folding umbrella for shopping / city use to protect from a shower does not need the storm proof qualities of a golf umbrella intended for use on a Scottish links course to be used for 18 holes of play. But all umbrellas should be designed in order to be fit for the purpose for which they are intended. Traditionally, ribs were made from U-section steel which was relatively lightweight but not wind proof. Then around 1975 the William Hoyland frame factory in Millhouse Green in the Pennines near Sheffield, innovated the hardened and tempered solid steel rib. The steel used had a high carbon content that facilitated a relatively light diameter of wire to produce a spring wire of great flexibility and strength. This product became knows as the 'solid rib' and is still available to this day with the high quality umbrellas which claim unrivalled strength in strong winds.
The competition of the day responded by using two U-section ribs which they called the 'double rib' and this design was promoted by Fox frames and adopted by many of the producers in Asia who followed designs rather than innovate at the time. The market supported the Hoyland design and Fox fell into financial difficulties only to be amalgamated into the Hoyland-Fox company in the 1980s. The company has since ceased to trade due to a lack of response to technological and market changes. To this day, the predominant rib construction of low cost umbrellas is the double U-section. Although it is inexpensive to produce, the resultant strength is compromised as the rib buckles and fail when flexed. The solid steel rib and FG (fibreglass) ribs are designed to flex in winds and correctly designed frames should revert in winds if blown inside out. Additional vents in the canopy allow gusts of wind to blow through the canopy and hence reduce the incidence of the canopy blowing inside out.
In terms of retail umbrellas, there is one particular umbrella which is head and shoulders above the rest in terms of its unique design and construction - the senz Umbrella which has taken the market by storm! The senz° is designed to protect you against all weather conditions. By understanding the laws of aerodynamics the designers outsmarted the establishment. After 3000 years, time has come to free the world of all well known umbrella struggles and develop the umbrella of the future. The senz° umbrella has been awarded all major design awards in the world. The senz° storm umbrella will withstand 100 km/h winds, or 70 mph if you like. There designers maxed out wind tunnels. Jumped out of airplanes. They did just about anything to make sure this storm umbrella could withstand winds up to 100 km/h.
How are umbrellas branded ?
Silk Screen printing
This is the most basic and widely used method for printing umbrellas. The silk screen process is geared to relatively low runs of each design and the print cost and origination cost of the printing screen is low. The process is, however, now being outdated by new technology as more sustainable techniques become available.
In former times, the design would be created by a skilled artist by hand. This has now been replaced by skilled graphic designers who use desktop publishing software and design computers to create the graphics. The colours within the design are separated into individual layers and each is printed in black onto photographic film. The film is then placed onto the screen (originally this was made of silk threads hence the name of the process but now they are made using synthetic materials that can be re-claimed and used again) which has been coated with a light sensitive emulsion. The screen is then placed in a vacuum-sealed light box and then exposed to UV light. The result is that the emulsion exposed to the light hardens and the emulsion covered by the black film can be washed off to leave the image exposed. The screen is then placed in a dryer to allow the emulsion to harden further to withstand the printing process.
The screen is then located on the printing machine which can be single or multi-colour. In the case of multi-colour printing, each screen required to print the logo is located and register marks are used to ensure that the logo is printed 'in register'.
Soft Feel printing
In response to increasingly complex logos and the desire to create designs that are closely matched to a unique corporate identity, the 'Soft Feel Printing' method was innovated by our factory. The inks are completely water based and hence avoid the use of solvents and the process allows the fabric to be pantone matched and the resultant print is soft to the feel and completely indelible over time. The process involves printing directly to paper which is then applied to white fabric under heat and pressure. The specialised inks undergo a gaseous exchange and the resultant fabric is then cut and processed in the same way as described above.
The silk screen printing system is limited in terms of graphic possibilities and also contrary to the concept of sustainability due to the use of solvents, chemicals and cleaning materials required in the process. Furthermore, the result when printed onto dark fabric colours, of complex logos or large blocks of colour within the design are increasingly unacceptable in a market that demand continuous improvement. To this end, our innovators of the 'Soft Feel' printing have developed UV print. This is a low energy technology that dramatically reduces the use of solvents in the printing process and delivers a host of quality benefits when compared with conventional solvent-based screen printing. The process allows excellent print colour matches into dark fabric colours including large blocks of print, remarkable level of detail for small text and intricate designs (including registered / trade mark symbols), superb registration between print colours without print overlap, no limit to print colours possible and striking reproduction of 4 colour process designs. Furthermore, and in terms of our guiding philosophy of sustainable business, this new print process is environmentally friendly in that the process uses substantially less energy than silk screen printing, produces no emissions in the curing process (due to LED technology), is almost solvent free and reduces waste in the printing and origination process. The process is a protected technology and exclusive to our factory so technical details of the system cannot be discussed here.
What additional branding options are there?
Each umbrella features a piece of material called a 'tie wrap' which holds the umbrella securely when close. We can manufacture these in a colour you can imagine and even brand it with logo to provide for a unique eye-catching finish.
Umbrella decals to the handles
Most of our straight range of umbrella handles offers the opportunity to incorporate a printed logo or image under a transparent dome or decal. We can now print these in full colour to create a stunning and totally unique finish.
Umbrella printed sleeves
Why not consider ordering a bespoke sleeve to match the canopy of your umbrella. Your brand will be visible even when the umbrella is not in use. These can be Pantone matched and printed to any colour.
What type of umbrellas are there ?
There are two broad categories of umbrellas ; those used for rain and 'parasols' to protect from the sun.
|Parasols were used many centuries before rain umbrellas and became fashion items in some cultures using lace and silk with wooden frames. This type of umbrella is still very common in Asian countries such as Japan and modern 'UV cut' fabrics assist in reducing the harmful effects of the sun. The trend for outdoor living developed on Europe in the 1950s and the large sun umbrella used to cover tables became widespread. This trend continues to this day and has been universally adopted by drinks brands to support their brands outside pubs, bars, coffee shops and hotels.|
Rain umbrellas are a more recent invention and the early designs of industrially produced umbrellas were Walking Length styles pioneered by Samuel Fox. This style is typified by the iconic photograph of Neville Chamberlain (also known as the 'Umbrella man' as his faithful brolly appeared in many of the press photos of the era) on his fateful return from Munich to appease Herr Hitler. The frame was made by Fox Frames in Valley Road, Sheffield and featured a slim 10mm steel 'bundy' tube with elegant wooden curved handle and point. The fabric was silk, the components were pressed in brass. This style is still produced by a few low volume artisan producers in the London area today. The walking length style has been modernised to reflect new materials and are now available with fibreglass frames, soft touch curved handles and automatic opening mechanisms. The style remains popular with both men and women.
The Golf umbrella emerged as the sport became more popular and, due to the size and practicality of this style, it became a staple product. As the promotional product market emerged in the 1980s, the golf umbrella became the universal umbrella for this market
Folding umbrellas were reputedly developed in Austria or Germany around 1930. The design was perfected by Knirps of Germany and, as production moved from Europe to Japan via Taiwan to China, the cost of this type of frame reduced dramatically and the performance improved. This is now the largest type of umbrella produced and is suitable for both ladies and gents use.
Other specialist styles include children's umbrellas which feature safety components such as tips designed to avoid eye damage, pinch-free opening systems to protect small fingers, reflective edges to show up at home time and name badges in the handle to avoid the lost property cupboard.
What are the most popular umbrellas for promotional purposes?
When it comes to umbrellas for promotional purposes, clearly it is very subjective to what the marketing objective is. If you are looking for a low cost option then you can't go far wrong with our budget Birkdale Golf Umbrella. These umbrellas offer fantastic value for money, come in a range of colour options and constitute a practical low cost way in which to promote your band. If you are however looking for something of a high quality, then you may want to consider our Slazenger Double Layered Umbrellas - manufactured by one of the most recognised names in sports goods and featuring a double layered construction ensures that they will promote your brand for many years to come.
As you can see from the above, there are a whole raft of options when it comes to promotional umbrellas, and due to their practical nature and longevity there is little wonder why they remain one of the most favoured promotional giveaways.