An interview with the founder of London Undercover by Tom Bodaly Oliver Spencer Shop Manager
How did you come about London Undercover?
I had the idea initially when I was at school and it had been in the back of my mind for years. The Umbrella is this quintessential British accessory and a beautifully made item. If you ask anyone to draw what represents England or London, they'll draw rain and an umbrella. We're renowned for brollies and bad weather, yet what was available, particularly at the higherend had always been quite dull, boring & overly expensive. The fabric & wood makers started going out of business and umbrella manufacturers had resigned to that fact, and thus offered less and less. It had become a case of using simple parts, attaching plain black fabric and perhaps the odd tartan that was left over from old stock!There was a bit of a defeatist attitude with no interest in finding a solution or making anything new and interesting. I wanted to push things a little and make the umbrella a bit more relevant to the modern gentleman - I felt they had been overlooked as a fashion accessory for years and they deserved to be a proper addition to a wardrobe, not just an afterthought. I wanted to keep the umbrellas as close to the original as I could; very traditional but with a modern context. I liked the fact that you're literally walking around with a canvas and the opportunities were endless.
I was working as a designer, and thinking more and more about the brand and the potential. It was distracting me from what i was meant to be doing. One day I just randomly quit my job and that's when it began…
You produce the majority of your umbrellas in the UK, what does this mean to you on a personal level, and a business level?
After naming ourselves London Undercover, I obviously wanted the product to be as British as possible - so making them here is a given! It also means that everything is very simple and easy, nothing is lost in translation and business is very straight forward. I enjoy working with people that have been in the family trade for years and years. There's a passion there, it's not just a job, and they appreciate what i am trying to do. If I could do absolutely everything here in the UK I would, but there are restrictions and certain things that can't be done. It's important that the product is as high a quality as possible and we can achieve exactly what we want to, so if that means producing parts elsewhere then that's ok.
What should people be looking for in an umbrella?
The framework is very important and you can tell instantly with our umbrellas that they are pretty damn solid. We don't need to have extreme windproof features and fibreglass frames to convince people. If an umbrella is well-made, they will last a lifetime. A nice solid wood will also help with longevity and the overall quality feel. Well-made fabric is also key and we spend a lot of time getting that right. Once you've had owned or had a proper look at a good umbrella you'll never use a bad quality one again.
How does one maintain, and look after their brolly?
The most important thing is to not fold & tie up a wet umbrella. Let it breathe and dry when it's wet by leaving it open. It doesn't need to be opened up fully, just relaxed slightly. Don't leave it in direct sunlight or near a radiator, so avoid keeping by the window in the back of your car. Avoid using it as a walking stick and make sure you wrap it up nice and neatly. Start from the bottom and twist upwards until you reach the strap. It will also make you look smarter when carrying it.
Will you be introducing any other projects to your current line to help combat adverse weather?
Absolutely, the aim was always to have related products to keep you warm and dry. We're currently working on some new accessories and some outerwear, but we're only going to put it out there when everything is absolutely spot on. The Umbrellas will always remain the main focus.
Will you be going on holiday this year? If so, will you be taking an umbrella – just in case?
Yes, I'm going somewhere very hot and will certainly not be taking an umbrella. Ironically, I quite often get caught in the rain without one, but that's more to do with me leaving the house, realising once I'm outside and being too lazy to go back up 2 flights of stairs. I can never bring myself to buy an emergency one - practice what you preach!