A local entrepreneur’s umbrella company is covering people across the globe — and protecting them from rain, too.
Charlottesville resident and artist Anuja Jaitly launched Umby, an umbrella company, in the summer of 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Umby doesn’t just sell umbrellas. Each purchase of an umbrella provides a family in a developing nation with a year of crop insurance, agricultural insurance, health insurance, life insurance or disaster insurance.
Jaitly became interested in the importance of insurance access after working in various sectors, including nonprofits, low-income housing, education and international development.
“I quickly realized how interconnected all of these various social sectors are, and in that process got really interested in insurance and the proactive nature of combating risks. How can we be much more proactive instead of reactive in the face of risk and uncertainty, especially for vulnerable communities?” Jaitly said.
Jaitly thought a good way to raise both funds and awareness for communities in need of insurance would be a product model.
“There are many products that have a sort of social mission and social purpose behind them, and I’ve always been really interested in that model and the ability for everyone to sort of make small contributions and have those all collectively create meaningful change,” Jaitly said.
Jaitly chose to manufacture umbrellas specifically because she thought it was an item that could spark conversation about the cause, especially when used in public.
“The umbrella is symbolically and literally connected to the idea of protection and insurance. And so it seems to really speak to people in that way that it makes sense, and I feel like they feel the idea of protection when they hold an umbrella and can understand how that would be really helpful for a family that’s at risk,” Jaitly said.
Most of the families Umby has provided insurance for are in developing countries in Africa and Asia. Umby has worked with insurance partners in Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania and Mali, to name a few. Jaitly said it’s important for vulnerable families to have a risk management system in place, and the insurance can provide that.
“Our group of families that we work with generally exist right above the poverty line, which means that in a great year scenario they might be able to afford insurance, But if anything goes wrong, they drop below the poverty line. So if someone gets sick, if there happens to be too much rain that year, if something happens to their [retail] stall because someone stole something … any one thing would throw that family into a tailspin that would put them into poverty and would take them years to come out of. And that’s assuming that nothing else goes wrong,” Jaitly said.
Umby sells standard size umbrellas for $35 and child size umbrellas for $25. The umbrellas are yellow to represent the company’s motto, “be sunshine.”
Jaitly wanted the umbrellas to stand out against other umbrellas on the market in terms of both sustainability and functionality. The umbrellas are made entirely of sustainable, environmentally friendly materials. The canopy is made from recycled plastic bottles, the frame is recycled aluminum and the handle is made from sustainably harvested bamboo.
A unique aspect of Umby umbrellas is the storage case.
“The most innovative aspect of our umbrellas is that they come in this waterproof case that’s lined with towel material so that you can close your umbrella, place it in this case, and it starts to dry your umbrella. So it’ll dry it between uses if you’re using it throughout the day, but it also allows you to put your umbrella away and put it back in your bag when you’re roaming around,” Jaitly said. “It’s really meant to make the experience of using the umbrella much more user friendly and way less drippy.”
The children’s version comes with a detachable carrying sling.
While launching a company in a pandemic was challenging in terms of outreach, Jaitly said the pandemic actually amplified the mission of the company to customers.
“Our entire mission is based on the idea of uncertainty and risk. So strangely, the pandemic was sort of our moment because we were sort of speaking to the uncertainty and risk that families face overseas, particularly vulnerable communities,” Jaitly said.
“But I think everyone felt the uncertainty and risk in their own lives in ways that maybe they weren’t nearly as aware of prior to the pandemic, and how quickly everything can just change and you sort of have to switch gears unexpectedly. And so I think our whole story has resonated much more with communities and people that come across our work as a result.”
While Umby started out with just the two umbrella sizes in one color, yellow, the company is expanding. Umby is launching an artisan umbrella collection, with patterns designed by artists around the world.
Umby currently works with Charlottesville-based printers to create all the packaging for the product, but Jaitly is hoping to expand the company’s work within the local community. She plans to launch campaigns to raise funds for local nonprofits in addition to Umby’s international work.
“It’s been really fun to work with Charlottesville businesses. I’ve gotten to know a lot of them in the last set of months,” Jaitly said.
The children’s version of the Umby umbrella is available at Alakazam Toys on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall and Shenanigans Toys on West Main Street in downtown Charlottesville. All umbrella sizes and styles are available for purchase online at www.umby.co.