We’re at the bustling NSC Bose Road on a busy weekday afternoon. The sky is overcast and I’ve broken my umbrella. I am in search of Stag Umbrellas, which I am told sells some of the sturdiest I will find. But we’re having trouble spotting this iconic building. My auto driver too seems clueless and shoots me a puzzled look when I tell him the address. “Ebrahim Currim & Sons?” yields an equally blank look.
We decide to just walk around in the hope of spotting the place. A passerby whom we ask for directions looks at us thoughtfully, before exclaiming, “Oh! Maan Mark ah,” as he points towards a row of shops just after the Flower Bazaar police station.
Standing tall with all the old world charm it can summon, the 100-year-old building houses umbrellas of all shapes, sizes and colours. A plaque on the outside proudly reads ‘Ebrahim Currim & Sons, Estd 1860, Mumbai, Chennai, Calicut.’
Once you enter, there are umbrellas everywhere; in glass cabinets, hanging off wooden rods, stacked on tables, unfurled and strategically placed around the billing counter. All of them proudly bear the Stag logo.
“It all began in 1860 when Ebrahim Currim decided to set up an umbrella workshop back in Bombay. Business was brisk and by 1880 he decided to expand the business and begin manufacturing umbrellas himself,” says Suresh M Shah, manager at the Chennai store.
“This was essentially sourcing material from various places before creating what is known as the Stag umbrella. Back then it was the classic black umbrella that he made.” His wares quickly garnered a reputation for being sturdy and dependable. Soon Stag Umbrellas became a brand to reckon with.
A Chennai branch opened soon after and the establishment is now run by the fifth generation of the family, currently headed by Zameel A Currim.
A short walk up two narrow flights of stairs leads you into a cavernous workshop where photographs of the Currim men starting with Ebrahim look down as employees busily put together umbrellas.
They are headed by SM Sultan, whose son Ibrahim also works alongside him. Sultan has been here for about 45 years now and can put together a brand new umbrella in a matter of hours.
There’s bits and pieces of umbrella fabric strewn around, metal spokes that form the frame stacked in a corner and even the plastic handles. Windows on all sides let in plenty of natural light and a whirring fan adds to the rhythmic clickety clack of the sewing machines that Sultan operates to stitch the umbrella; a garden umbrella this time.
Towards another corner are broken umbrellas. These form another important aspect of the business. Through the year there’s a steady stream of clients walking in clutching worn and torn umbrellas. During peak season he gets as many as a couple of dozens of umbrellas for repairs, he says. “Otherwise, it is only about half a dozen. One of the main problems with umbrellas however, is how people care for them.”
- Dry your umbrella completely before you fold it.
- Oil the rod regularly with some coconut oil; keeps it from rusting.
- Store it in the plastic case that it originally comes in and use some naphthalene balls to keep bugs away.
“We do undertake umbrella repairs, but only Stag brand,” explains Shah.
Most of their clients typically walk in when the monsoons hit Chennai, like earlier last month. “When it rains, we see the maximum footfall for both sales and repairs. We also undertake orders for custom-made umbrellas. For instance, there are a lot of corporates who figure in our client list, as well as families that place bulk orders for occasions such as weddings, birthdays, shashtiapthapurtis etc. Clients can choose a design, we’ve tied up with artistes who will have the prints made on the fabric and then our staff stitches them in the workshop upstairs,” he says.
As with most things, trends change with umbrellas as well. “These days there are no fabric umbrellas. People just don’t prefer them. But we have newer variants such as the Reversible and Magic umbrellas that have caught on,” says Shah.
The Reversible one for instance, is touted to be an easy dry variant and folds in the reverse direction with a patterned inner layer. It also boasts an ergonomic handle that lets one sling the umbrella on the arm when their hands are too full to hold it.
The Magic umbrella that is specifically targeted at children comes with faint outlines of their favourite cartoon characters. The moment water falls on the umbrella, the characters appear in full colour; almost like magic.
The most sturdy ones though are the thatha kodai s, says Shah. “They’re your traditional black single fold umbrellas. And are usually popular with the older lot.”