The Umbrella Man

In the vibrant streets of the Soho district, there is one shop, at the top of a fairly steep alley, that you get to by winding your way down another side street.  That shop belongs to The Umbrella Man. 

The Umbrella Man is apparantly very well known in Hong Kong based on his expertise and fairly unique ability to fix broken umbellas.  He has been fixing umbellas for over 50 years, including those owned by Governors as well as those of the poorest of the poor.

What struck me about this shop was not that it was drastically different in character from any of the others set up in the nearby streets, but that someone has built an entire career – and a widespread reputation – on his ability to fix something that we Americans don’t think twice about tossing after they get turned inside out by a strong wind.

Now, I’m sure there are a few people in Hong Kong that throw away their umbrellas too but when I saw this stand, it reminded me of what a throw-away society we’ve become.  There is something very real and obviously sustainable about taking the time to fix a broken umbrella rather than simply buying a new one.  But it’s more than just fixing umbrellas – it’s the fact that someone cares so deeply about something that seems rather trivial to many – that caught my attention.

I didn’t get a chance to meet the Umbrella Man – he takes Sundays off – but he left a lasting impression on me.  I’ve thrown away plenty of umbrellas in my lifetime, and I’m sure I’ll throw away a few more before I’m done, but I’ll never toss another one without thinking of The Umbrella Man in the streets of Hong Kong.


About Scott Wolf

Scott Wolf is a partner at the Miller Hull Partnership, an award-winning architectural design firm located in Seattle, specializing in public works buildings that actively engage their communities. Scott is a sustainable design leader and has been responsible for many of the firm's most complex and highest profile projects, including the firm’s two AIA National Honor Award winners: Olympic College Shelton and the Point Roberts Border Station. His most recent project, on target for LEED Platinum certification, is LOTT Clean Water Alliance’s new Regional Services Center in Olympia, Washington. Scott is passionate about the role water plays in the built environment, and recently served as chair of the American Institute of Architects Seattle Water Forum, which brought together architects and engineers with regulatory agencies and other industry professionals to discuss the challenges of sustainable water, wastewater and stormwater systems. He has lectured about water-related issues to various design-related audiences across the country. Scott has served on the board of Water 1st International since 2010 and recently had the opportunity to visit Ethiopia and experience first-hand the amazing work of the organization. Scott is a graduate of North Carolina State University and earned his Masters of Architecture from the University of Oregon.
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