NZ brolly-makers hope to win sales by raising the bar on quality.
If you're trying to change the world one umbrella at a time, Japan isn't a bad place to do it.
One estimate puts Japan's umbrella consumption at more than 100 million a year.
New Zealand umbrella-maker Madeblunt has just broken into that market with a distribution agreement that takes its product into big-name malls such as Sogo, Tokyu Hands and Seibu.
As well as winning a slice of the Japanese market, Madeblunt's other ambition is to change the throwaway attitude to umbrellas, says managing director Scott Kington.
"Imagine what a few million umbrellas not thrown into the rubbish would look like," he says. "Millions go straight to the landfill because they don't last.
"The industry relies on the throwaway market. Distributors don't expect the umbrellas they sell to last. The market is really price-driven."
The umbrella's basic form hasn't changed much since it began as a parasol some 4000 years ago, he says, and the technology hasn't really evolved since the 1920s.
The inventor of the Blunt umbrella, Greig Brebner, began thinking about how the umbrella needed a revamp after he poked himself in the eye with his brollie in London.
In the 11 years since, Brebner tried dozens of prototypes. Eventually, he came up with a design that reduced the tension that often causes umbrellas to fail.
The resulting product, with its distinct rounded-off shape and sophisticated rib design, can withstand winds of over 110km/h.
Brebner put his own savings into the project. Initially the company lived from hand to mouth, facing the risk that patent attorneys' bills would sink the venture, Brebner says. But things looked up when Madeblunt won financial backing from angel investors. To attract such financing, a company needs to be able to show how it is going to increase production, he says. "It takes time and it takes effort to scale up. We are trying to get to a position where a whole lot of orders won't overwhelm us."
Blunt umbrellas are manufactured just outside Xiamen, an umbrella-making hub in China, by a manufacturer that makes a German high-end brand and other branded umbrellas.
The real challenge for the Blunt umbrella is finding the right distributors who will walk and breathe Brebner's and Kington's passion for the product.
"[Distributors] have got to want your product," Kington says.
Although Madeblunt had considered licensing its revolutionary technology to a bigger umbrella manufacturer, it has since backed away from that idea, knowing that the strong brand and the focus on durability would ultimately be bulldozed by the new manufacturer seeking better price points.
Kington says: "There is this price mentality - umbrellas should be a cheap product. We decided against licensing, knowing over the long term setting our own distribution and market is the more lucrative route."
Blunt umbrellas are already sold in New Zealand, Australia and Britain, with internet orders going to other countries as well. The company is working on getting distribution in Korea, the Netherlands, Singapore and Hong Kong and has inquiries from Canada and Switzerland.
New Zealand exporters seeking distributors should not be strung along by foreign parties keen on discussions but shy on making commitments, Kington advises.
"You have got to get the discussions to a point where they've got to commit. Ask them to show their intentions early," he says.
Having a niche product helps when Kiwi innovators are trying to get their offerings to a wider market, Brebner says.
"In our experience [getting extensive distribution] is the biggest challenge in realising the commercial potential of most products. It is very easy to get products manufactured these days but without strong routes to market, you are wasting your time."
Market support for new products on a small scale is not hard to find but a product's potential can only be realised when a company has a clear map to markets, Brebner says.
For him, the ultimate success would come when Blunt umbrellas come to represent the standard for quality umbrellas.
"The umbrella Apple would make if they were umbrella designers."