An Umbrella Obsession — with Dave Kahng of Davek

“One simple motion, eight arms extend themselves synchronously, it’s a surprisingly complex mechanism.”

David Kahng talks about umbrellas the way a scientist might talk about the advanced robotics of the Hubble space telescope. But this attention to detail and focus on engineering is exactly why Kahng co-founded Davek, a brand rethinking umbrellas from the ground up, which he discussed on the 28th episode of the Loose Threads Podcast.

“When you’re in luxury, people don’t want contraptions,” Kahng said. “What they want, more than anything else, is quality. If I can make the analogy with cars, we didn’t have to make a car that flew. We just needed to make a BMW.”

Like a BMW, Davek umbrellas are stylish and high performance. But if you look under the hood, Kahng’s focus on engineering is clear. A big part of what makes Davek different is the way these umbrellas balance strength and flexibility.

“It takes 200 parts to make a single folding umbrella,” Kahng said. “[On] a handbag, if a rivet fails, the thing still works. With umbrellas, everything is so tightly synchronized that when you close the thing, if you take a close look, the ribs actually nest into each other, so if there’s any type of flaw, the whole thing doesn’t work.”

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Kahng also said he realizes that while many people are hesitant to spend a lot of money on umbrellas because they might break, losing them is an even bigger concern. That’s why Davek umbrellas have introduced the same kind of proximity awareness technology found in most iPhones.

“We created the Davek Alert, which is the first umbrella that you can pair to your phone. So if you ever leave it behind, it can send you a notification to prevent you from losing it.”

As the purveyor of an unconventional product, Kahng found that launching Davek through traditional routes was another challenge.

“Trade shows are not, in my opinion, the best way to get out there. There is no singular channel that you have to go through,” Kahng said. “You start out with one channel, it could be wholesale and that’s OK, but eventually you have to migrate to the other channels that are out there.”

In the corporate world, Kahng found a surprisingly large market for Davek. Specifically, as the kind of gift that companies can give away at trade shows or conferences to their employees.

Kahng pointed to this experience as proof that a successful product can come from many different channels, even those that might not be obvious immediately.

Offering Davek umbrellas at an expensive price point was another foray into uncharted waters. While many street vendors offer umbrellas for a few bucks, Davek sells their models for around $100. But Kahng said that offering a lifetime warranty made this the kind of product you only need to buy once.

It hasn’t been an easy process, but Kahng’s mission for Davek hasn’t changed.

“You need to have a product that’s genuinely better. You can’t market your way through luxury utility,” he said. “Our goal is not just to make a better umbrella, it’s to make a perfect one.”