Fox Umbrellas

JF Kennedy liked his with a Malacca cane and a gold collar.  Prince Charles bought one for his father.  The Sultan of Brunei commissioned his to be studded with diamonds and rubies, and the Japanese Royal Family are all fans.

Fox Umbrellas have been making brollies fit for presidents, princes and gentlemen since 1868, and are still the only umbrella London’s elite would dream of carrying today.

The reason is simple: these are the best made and best looking umbrellas in the world.

“The process of making Fox Umbrellas has changed very little,” says Managing Director Ray Garrett. 

“To obtain the high quality that we require and our customers have come to expect it is still necessary to rely on the skill of hand workers rather than machines.”

That’s not to say that the Fox Umbrellas factory in Croydon is completely machine-less. At least one room in the factory hums with custom made Singer sewing machines that have been designed to work backwards, so the seams of the eight panels umbrella’s canopy can be rolled over while they’re stitched.

But above and beyond the  beloved Singers, the success of the company owes its almost 150 year long success to the skill and loyalty of its craftsmen.  

 

So many elements of Fox Umbrellas are handmade or require some element of manual labour – whether it’s shaping or engraving the handle, ironing and stitching the canopies, sewing on rosettes and buttons, or shaping every single handmade spring - that the company would be nothing without its people. 

And its people tend to stay with Fox for a very long time – in one case 55 years.  They work across a variety of jobs, not just because it makes for a smoother running machine, but also because it keeps them from getting bored. 

Mr Thomas Fox opened his shopfront in London Wall in 1868 at time when umbrellas were fairly heavy, only partially waterproof contraptions made from whalebone and silk.   After changing hands (rumour has it to pay off some gambling debts) the new owner of Fox Umbrellas, Mr Samuel Dixon, formed an alliance with a completely unrelated Fox: Mr Samuel Fox of Stocksbridge.

A wire drawer by trade, Samuel had begun experimenting with lightweight steel umbrella frames.  Together the two companies standardised umbrella sizing for the first time and, after manufacturing parachutes during the second world war, began to make their canopies out of nylon instead of silk.

Innovative production methods have prevailed over the years – often borne out of necessity.  (Fox Umbrellas used to source Ash and Beech wood for their handles from farmers who trimmed their hedges every three or four years, but when they were mown down during the farming revolution in the 1970’s, they had to look abroad.)

While much of their business now also comes from abroad (they have a dedicated showroom in Tokyo) Fox is still very much an English company. 

“It makes sense that Britain took the lead [in umbrella making], considering the ridiculous amount of rain we have every summer,” says Ray.

And it also makes sense that they continue to lead the charge.

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 Fox Umbrellas are available here.