In India the parasol was considered a symbol of royalty, shading a Maharaja from the fierce tropical sun as he sat in his bejewelled howdah high on an elephant’s back. This ancient tradition of the splendidly ornamental parasol is now flourishing again thanks to the East London Parasol Company.
Launched in 2016, the company produces fabulous parasols with beautiful bases and matching cushions, bringing colour and elegance to any garden.
Lucy Ferguson, the founder, was inspired to start the business after spending time in southern India. Having witnessed the ceremonial umbrellas used in Keralan temple celebrations, Lucy wondered why garden parasols were limited to uninspiring green or white designs. She embarked on a mission to make the most flamboyant parasols she could imagine. Some of the designs retain a Keralan influence: the silver fringes are made there by the temple umbrella makers and flown to Bali, before being sewn onto traditional Balinese parasols.
The parasols are statement pieces in gorgeous fabrics of all colours of the rainbow, zigzags, plain white, and leopard print, many of them embellished with sumptuous handmade tassels and beautiful fringing. The parasols have contrasting coloured or thread-work linings, making the insides (which you look at when sitting underneath) as striking as the outsides.
Every piece in the range is a labour of love, a contemporary design made by traditional methods in Britain, India and Bali. East London Parasol Company is proud of its role in keeping artisans in work and their skills alive. The fact that the parasols are handmade is an essential element of their appeal: many of these processes cannot be mechanised without compromising the beauty and personality of the fabrics.
The East London Parasol Company has weathered the turbulence of last year better than many other retailers. This is due in part to the fact that its business is exclusively online. As a reaction to the disruption of Covid-19, the company is now making parasol frames in Hampshire using British FSC-certified wood, simultaneously providing jobs for British craftsmen and reducing freight travel. In difficult times, it is a positive step to provide employment in the home market. The company was also fortunate in that lockdown coincided with exceptionally good weather, a real boon for a company selling garden products.
The enforced restrictions of 2020 had the wholly beneficial effect of bringing the East London Parasol Company closer than ever to its customers. The company’s Instagram feed during lockdown was dominated by photos sent in by customers showing off their gardens and parasols to their friends online.
There is much to look forward to in 2021, including the launch of the beautiful, British-made frames furnished with the company’s own brass fittings and pulleys. The range continues to expand as new and ever more vibrant designs, including the evil eye pattern and the red lip print, become available. It’s a royal tradition revived and reimagined for the post-Covid world, bringing colour and elegance to gardens, terraces, and balconies across the land.