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Fujian Town Makes Third of Country's Umbrellas

source: China Daily 2024-01-22 15:53
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Umbrellas of various types and patterns are displayed in a showroom of a manufacturing enterprise in Jinjiang, Fujian province, in June 2022.  CHINA DAILY


Dongshi, a town in Jinjiang, East China's Fujian province, produces one out of three umbrellas nationwide, and one out of four globally. Two thirds of Chinese-made umbrella parts are also made there.


Dongshi, understandably nicknamed "Umbrella Town", is seeing orders rain down like cats and dogs, as it has developed an umbrella industrial chain worth more than 10 billion yuan ($1.4 billion).


Dongshi's economic development and reform office said that in 2022, the town's total output value reached nearly 13 billion yuan. There were a total of over 470 umbrella manufacturing enterprises, producing around 560 million units annually.


Ding Jingtang, general manager of Haixia (Jinjiang) Umbrella Scientific Innovation Center, is a representative for umbrella entrepreneurs in Dongshi. In 2005, Ding came from his hometown in Hubei province to Jinjiang for work. He soon after joined an umbrella manufacturing firm as an administrative staffer, but actually knew next to nil about umbrella manufacturing at the time.


As it turned out, lady luck was on Ding's side, as a company's technical department was short of staff. Ding therefore gradually picked up on the job as if it were the art of umbrella making, and not long after realized that he was keenly interested in the craft. Sometimes, in order to fully wrap his head around a small detail in the umbrella-making process, he didn't clock out until 3 am or so. However, Ding enjoyed the work immensely.


In 2007, a foldable umbrella handle project completed by Ding and his team obtained a utility model patent. The project won the Jinjiang golden patent award in 2008.


"This was a great honor and encouragement for us. Afterward, everyone devoted more passion and yearned to conquer higher technological barriers in umbrella manufacturing," Ding recalled.


In 2015, the "self-opening and closing umbrella with safety protection functions" developed by Ding and his team won a China Patent Award — the first of its kind in Jinjiang. The umbrella, which garnered six invention patents, now helps the company earn tens of millions of yuan every year, and has become a flagship product. Three years later, another project developed by Ding and his team won another China Patent Award.


Eventually, a few leading umbrella manufacturers in Dongshi jointly funded the Haixia (Jinjiang) Umbrella Scientific Innovation Center, with Ding being among the shareholders.


The center mainly focuses on technological innovation, achievement transformation, testing, quality certification and product design. In the past years, the center has actively promoted research and development, helping umbrella manufacturing enterprises realize technology transfers and transactions, as well as intellectual property transfers and licensing. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the center facilitated over 10 million yuan worth of technology transformation within the industry.


"In the past, we had to travel to Guangdong province, Shanghai and Beijing to complete a lot of tests. Now, the tests can be done at home, greatly lowering business costs. More importantly, the center is open to the whole umbrella manufacturing industry, which improves the efficiency of the sector, and lowers R&D costs," Ding said.


Workers are busy at an umbrella production line in Jinjiang in June 2022. CHINA DAILY


Xiong Jun, chairman of Jinjiang Dayu Umbrella Co Ltd, has experienced some changes in business trends after the pandemic.


"In the past, we only needed to deal with a few big foreign clients and produce umbrellas according to the orders. An order-placing meeting once a year was enough. Now, this is far from capable of meeting market demand, which has resulted from the country's new dual-circulation development pattern that keeps the domestic market as its mainstay while letting domestic and foreign markets reinforce each other. Domestic demand has been greatly unleased," Xiong said.


Now, there is one additional task to perform during Xiong's business trips. Every time he visits a city, apart from visiting customers and distributors, Xiong takes a stroll around town, seeking out supermarkets and universities where students gather in order to get a feel for the market. "College students are one of our main customer groups, and mastering their consumption preferences is the key to mastering the 'compass' of new product development."


In the past, exports of umbrellas were mainly based on large orders, and whether one could secure some of these orders might make or break a company in Dongshi. Dependent on export channels, the town's finished umbrellas were exported to more than 160 countries and regions around the world.


However, hit by the pandemic and the global macroeconomic situation, the town's export orders shrank significantly. To tackle the challenge, the town has been embracing a "dual-circulation "development paradigm, actively exploring the domestic market while also keeping one eye on overseas opportunities. Meanwhile, it has stepped up efforts in new product R&D, technological innovation, the introduction of cultural and creative elements, online and offline distribution channel exploration, and new brand establishment to satisfy domestic demand.


"In the past few years, the domestic market share of umbrellas made in Dongshi has been constantly improving. Now, it has a 33 percent share in China. Within years of transformation, the town's umbrella manufacturing industry has begun gaining a firm foothold both at home and abroad," said Wang Xiangpeng, head of the Jinjiang Umbrella Industry Association.


In the new era, the umbrella manufacturing industry in Dongshi is embracing high-quality development. Specifically, the local government and entrepreneurs have been aiming to transform from low value-added manufacturing to targeting the mid to high-end market.


"We should aim at current and future market demand, enable technology and culture to empower the umbrella manufacturing industry, promote the local industry to march toward a high-tech, intelligent and fashion development path, and seize the high value-added market space both domestically and internationally," said Jiang Jiaxing, township government chief of Dongshi.


Enterprises are actively developing umbrellas with proprietary intellectual property, integrating local characteristics and cultural elements, such as oriental variegated patterns, porcelain and culturally specific fabrication skills. The finished products have thus become increasingly popular among consumers.


Meanwhile, new technologies and new equipment are constantly being upgraded.


"Previously, there were over 20 parts needed to make a single umbrella. Now, through independent R&D, we have not only reduced the number of parts to fewer than 10, but also achieved more comprehensive functionality and stable performance of our products," said Xiao Yingzhen, chairman of Jinjiang Tengxing Umbrella and Plastics Co Ltd.


Statistics showed that between 2017 and 2023, the umbrella manufacturing industrial cluster of Dongshi completed 22 technological transformation projects. There were 16 intelligent transformation enterprises, and technological transformation investment totaled nearly 1.2 billion yuan. So far, the town owns over 1,300 patented products, such as ultraviolet-resistant coated umbrellas and self-opening and closing umbrellas with safety functions.



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