Tracking the colourful 154-year-old journey of Ebrahim Currim and Sons, known for their Stag brand of umbrellas

“A green umbrella…I want a green one with stripes,” says one of the clients while her four-year-old rifles through a stack of umbrellas for kids. “Ma, I want a pink umbrella with ears,” she whines. The other counters too have customers leaning over and pointing to the wall-to-wall showcases packed with umbrellas. Meanwhile, a few people walk in with broken brollies and are promptly sent upstairs to the repairs section. This is just another day at Ebrahim Currim and Sons.

This nondescript, weather-beaten, three-storeyed building on crowded N.S.C. Bose Road is around 80 years old. From the outside it looks like a calm survivor of time with the decades gone by stripping it off its splendour of yore. The story of the brand dates back to the 1860s when Ebrahim Currim started a store in Bombay. “We were initially into repairing umbrellas. They used to come in from England,” says Zameel Currim, a fifth-generation member of the family which runs the business. Eventually, they started, making umbrellas and the brand Stag was born. And why the name stag? “Because it’s an elegant, graceful and strong animal,” he says. Much like their umbrellas.

Talking about how umbrellas have evolved over the years, Zameel says that unlike now when almost everybody possesses an umbrella, earlier it was an object of pride, possessed by those belonging to a certain stature. “Carrying an umbrella meant you had arrived,” he laughs.

Over the years as business started flourishing, Ebrahim Currim and Sons branched out to Madras and then to Calicut. The decision to set up stores in coastal regions was because these areas get more rainfall. With growing demands, the brand kept reinventing — new materials (from bamboo to steel, aluminium and fibre and from woven fabric to cotton and nylon) shapes, colours and sizes. Some of their umbrellas are celebrities and are known by their individual names. Often people ask for a ‘Shahenshah’ — the large, black umbrella that looks as regal as a monarch. “611, Number 70 and 71 are just as popular,” says Zameel.

The store in Chennai stocks about 100 varieties of umbrellas and newer ones keep coming in every couple of months. “The favourite here is definitely the ones with newspaper print… been in demand for four years now. There are also trendy ones which come with an in-built MP3 player and those that have a torch,” says Suresh Shah, manager, who has been with the store for 36 years now. His father too worked here. “He was part of the company for 45 years,” says Shah. As the first showers of the season make their appearance, clouding the skies and the afternoon light, the showroom lights up, with the prospect of more sales.