IN A NUTSHELL, WHAT IS JAMES INCE UMBRELLAS?
We are a family business and the UK’s oldest umbrella manufacturer. We pride ourselves on making well-made umbrellas in East London. We use traditional techniques acquired over the past 215-plus years, and the finest components to create good-quality umbrellas that will last.
DID YOU ALWAYS WANT TO FOLLOW IN THE FAMILY BUSINESS?
Yes, though there was no pressure from the family to do so. I enjoy the creativity of some of the projects we get involved with. We don’t just make black umbrellas!
THE COMPANY HAS BEEN BASED IN EAST LONDON SINCE ITS INCEPTION. WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT THE AREA?
We started in Spitalfields and were based there for 180 years, before moving a mile down the road to Bethnal Green where we have been for the past 37 years. We like the area as it is close to our customers in the Square Mile and the West End, enabling a quick response to our clients and allowing them to visit us, which is particularly important as part of our bespoke service.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE NEW SUSTAINABLE UMBRELLA?
We are launching a new sustainable plastic-free umbrella, which is proving harder to achieve than you would think. We have sourced ethically made cotton fabric (BCI) made here in the UK and use FSC timber for the handle and frame. Locally made means the carbon footprint is relatively small. I think we’re going to have to call it 99% plastic-free as we’re struggling to find plastic-free thread that is strong enough.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST UNIQUE OR INTERESTING COMMISSION TO DATE?
Making inverted umbrellas with flowers printed all over the canopies was a huge task for the 2012 Olympics. Inverted means that they would catch rain when open, like an open flower, so all the frames needed to be specially made by us. From this project we went on to supply the Coldplay show at Super Bowl 50 in 2016 with another 180 of them. You can watch them on YouTube!
WHO WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO SHARE AN UMBRELLA WITH?
I think I would need to share the umbrella of a famous umbrella bearer, so maybe Jonas Hanway, the first documented user of an umbrella in Britain (in the rain). Or go back in time and meet my great-grandfather – Samuel George Ince.
WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR CRAFT INSPIRATIONS?
East London’s Ally Capellino is one. Internationally respected bag designer based in Shoreditch. Julius Walters of Stephen Walters, who is a 9th-generation silk weaver. They were based in Spitalfields but have now moved out to Sudbury. The Hebden Bridge Trouser Co (HebTroCo) who started making trousers from scratch in Hebden Bridge using British fabrics and trimmings wherever possible and they are doing very well. Blackhorse Lane Ateliers in Walthamstow is another business that is doing great things with denim clothing manufactured here in the UK. With umbrellas, Michel Heurtault of Parasolerie Heurtault, based in central Paris, renovates vintage and antique parasols and umbrellas to a very high standard and he is self-taught. If you get a chance, visit his shop as they are quite stunning. He has been rewarded with numerous craft awards by French institutions, something which we could do more of in this country. As a nation they respect craft far more than we do.
WHAT IS THE ONE THING PEOPLE CAN DO TO SUPPORT INDEPENDENT BRITISH CRAFT?
Go the extra mile to find UK-made products and consider it an investment. We need to support our British manufacturers, however small their business is. It matters and helps support a whole ecosystem of makers, retailers and workers in this country. Not everyone is cut out to work behind a desk.
- Favourite film: Blade Runner and Forrest Gump
- Designer or brand you would most love to collaborate with: We have worked with many famous names over the years, either directly or via other brands. It would be good to have more brands looking to reshore their umbrellas. Maybe working with someone such as Paul Smith or maybe creating something wacky with Grayson Perry!
- Podcast recommendations: Garmology for insights into unusual aspects of clothing and accessory production. Make it British Podcast for interviews and insights into UK-made products and makers.
- If you could own one piece of art (regardless of price), what would it be? I prefer photography so anything by Ansel Adams, the preeminent landscape photographer, or John Claridge, an East London-based photojournalist who captured many local people and industries up until the 1970s, documented in a unique technical style.
- Favourite item of clothing (or accessory) in your wardrobe: My hiking boots as that means I am going out in the hills!
- Music album that left a lasting impression: The first play of The Joshua Tree by U2
- Go-to snack: Tunnock’s Caramel bar
Learn how to hand-stitch a rosette with James Ince on Tuesday 10 with an exclusive workshop held during The Makers’ Market at The Royal Exchange. Click here to find out more and to book your place.