India has great potential to export umbrellas

Indian umbrellas are exported to a good number of African countries. But the scope is huge.

Kolkata: Founded in narrow bylanes of North Kolkata in 1882, it certainly is a heritage brand by all stretch of imagination. It is still one of the strongest players in the Indian umbrella market, that is estimated to be nearly 15 crore pieces per annum, and is going stronger by the day with the young fifth generation scion of Mohendra Dutt family, being at the helm, taking it to the next level through expansion and diversification, albeit with a new logo and new brand name- Mohendra Dutt & Sons (MDS).

MDS, whose founding father Mohendra Dutt, a famed music composer, was the pioneer of modern umbrella manufacturing in India way back in 1882, has now forayed into School Bags, Backpacks, Ladies Bags, Rainwear, Air Pillow, Hot Water Bag, Windcheaters, leather goods and so on, spearheaded by Kalinath Dutt, great grandson of Mohendra Dutt, and his son Subhashis Dutt.

That’s not all. Kolkata’s homegrown heritage brand has also set up a large full scale manufacturing facility at Rishra in the northern fringes of the city and put in place 4 company-owned outlets, 6 exclusive outlets and a network of over 400 dealers-direct and wholesalers in different parts of the country, said Subhashis Dutt.

Mind you that one out of every 9-10 Indians buys an umbrella every year. Umbrellas make up a third of the rainwear market in the country. China is largest manufacturer catering to global market, followed by India. India started exporting umbrellas on a small scale, and has huge potential. Although the maximum demands are in the rainy season, people have started buying umbrellas round the year. The demand for umbrellas is expected to increase by 7 to 10 per cent during the next five years in the domestic market.

Indian umbrellas are exported to a good number of African countries. But the scope is huge. And the government should focus on increasing exports to EU and the US markets which are currently dominated by China, said Dutt.

“The influx of Chinese substitutes has affected the industry, like many other industries. However, the market of high quality umbrellas in India has not been impacted that much. Since liberalisation in 1991, the industry has witnessed changes both positive and negative and the major brands have stood the test of time and competition from cheaper imports. Chinese imports have been growing year on year due to the sheer production capacities and benefits of scale but deteriorating quality of workmanship and raw materials used as input, the indigeneously produced umbrellas have sustained. Currently due to the shift of focus to high end products in China, a good amount of production of the umbrella has shifted to Cambodia, Vietnam and  Philippines,” said Dutt.

For umbrella making, as many as 36 components are required and a large part of these are imported from China, despite the recent fall in readymade umbrellas. And the dependence of the makers on China can only be reduced through adoption of technology to develop the components in India, Dutt said, adding that MDS is doing just that.

Umbrella making was always a cottage industry since a long time.

Apart from development of factories making umbrellas and its parts, even today, women from both rural, semi-urban and even urban areas play a big role in production providing the household an additional source of income. The organised sector is growing gradually with additional technological inputs.

However, a high dependence on the rains for its sales and on human resource for production, the sector suffers from uneven spikes, said Dutt.