How To Spend $8,000 On An Umbrella

One of the joys of my Wall Street Journal subscription is their monthly slick magazine with their high-fashion ads. It is more entertaining than the Sunday comics in our local newspaper and provides a lot of fodder for this blog.   The recent issue had the following entry. (I don’t know if it is an advertisement, or an article, or something in-between. Maybe they are pulling my leg, but they seem to imply $8,000 for this umbrella is a bargain.)

UmbrellaStarting at the lower left and going counter-clockwise, it explains the fabric is skein-dyed cotton woven by craftsmen in Okayama. Okayama is a large manufacturing city that may well have craftsmen, but if you are imagining a quaint Japanese village in the shadow of Fujiyama, you would be very wrong. Skein-dying is simply dying at the yarn stage before being woven. The yarn is bundled into hanks and thrown into the dye bath. It does produce better dye penetration and is slightly more expensive, but is not necessarily done by hand and we are still far from $8,000. I would prefer to know the dye is highly fade-resistant. Most cheap umbrellas use light-weight, durable nylon. Mine that I have used for 50 years has not faded a bit.

Next, the handle and shaft are made from beechwood. Beechwood is a common wood often used for carving, but is nothing special. The flags they once gave away at Fourth of July parades were stapled to beechwood sticks.  I would prefer the shaft to be of stronger birch or hickory. The shaft on my old umbrella is metal and still looks new. All that beechwood accounts for, at most, $5 of the $8,000.

The fabric is water-proofed, they say, with a special technique. Water-proof fabric on an umbrella? How novel! Allow another $5 for the fabric, skein-dyed and all.

The ribs are of rattan cane tipped with brass tips made in France. Rattan cane used to be used for chair seats, but is too fragile. Brass tips must be made much better in France, and labor in France is expensive, so I will generously add another $5 in costs for the cane and tips.

Finally, they say, the notch material (whatever that is) is made from goat skin tanned with fish oil. That should explain the unusual smell. Goat meat is the world’s most common meat, so there must be plenty of goat skin available, and fish oil is cheap enough to sell as a vitamin supplement. I’ll allow them another $5 for the materials, even though the notch material must be tiny.

Ta-da! We have generously accounted for, at most, $20 in material costs.

They imply—but do not directly say—the umbrella is assembled in Paris requiring six months of meticulous craftsmanship. For one umbrella? That would be a stretch even for a French worker.  I suspect it is assembled somewhere in Asia like everything else.  I will add another $10 for labor, leaving $7,970 in profit. Not bad (for Hiroki).

You probably would not take an $8,000 umbrella out in the rain, but if you did, be aware one gust of wind could leave you with a soggy mess of broken cane, beechwood, and coated cotton fabric. They do not mention a warranty.


About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
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