Local Hero: Jamie Milestone of London Undercover

According to Jamie Milestone, 'Umbrellas are to Britain what hamburgers are to America’. While this may seem like a just funny little bit of (very British) observational humour — it is partly this insight that led to the creation of what is probably London’s coolest brolly brand, London Undercover. 

In conversation with Jamie Milestone, we talk about quintessentially British things, from playfully embracing caricatures, his East End crafts heritage, his favourite London spots, and the very specific joys of being well-prepared with an umbrella to hand — especially if that umbrella is well designed, ethically made, and built to last. What could be more British than that? 

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to start London Undercover 
My name is Jamie Milestone. 10 years ago I decided to quit my day job to launch London Undercover, a contemporary umbrella brand making traditional hand-crafted umbrellas with a modern aesthetic and environmental approach. 

Britishness is at the core of everything you do. In your opinion, what makes umbrellas quintessentially British? 
Umbrellas are a bit to Britain what Hamburgers are to America, in the sense they’re more of a stereotype and visual identity. We’re not actually in the top 70 countries in the world of average rainfall, so the umbrella is more about the cliché than the fact this is the wettest place on earth. It’s just part of our caricature and that’s something we’ve always had fun with within the brand (fish and chips, fry-ups, pigeons , etc.) However, the rain is still very much prominent and umbrellas are 100% necessary in the UK-  and that’s why we exist. 
In what ways do you try to be Less Ordinary with London Undercover?
Our umbrellas are sold within a fashion and lifestyle context. We design around what’s happening in the market. We also extend our offering to other considered, functional items that are within the mindset of being organised and well-prepared. The fact that you have an umbrella to hand is smart, the fact that its well-designed, well-made, and built to last is even smarter. We make all our products with an environmental angle. We’ve been making umbrellas with recycled PET fabric (household plastics broken down and transformed into thread and woven into fabric) and recycled aluminium for 10 years, and that is something I’m very proud of. Turns out that umbrella craftsmanship runs in your family. Could you tell us a little bit about this history? 
Both sides of my maternal family are from the East End and were all in the clothing/tailoring/dress trade. When my uncle was heavily into exploring our family tree, he found my great great grandfather was an umbrella maker in Whitechapel. It’s not something I was aware until after setting up the brand, so it’s interesting that it came back round especially as I ended up back in East London. 
You started your business in Spitalfields back in 2013. Why did you decide to open your first shop in Spitalfields? 
There were a lot of interesting things happening in the area. We were making umbrellas up the road and it was a fairly laid back place to to run a shop in. Hanbury St had a good menswear vibe already and so it made sense. We were well received as we complemented what was already there without competing with any neighbours as our offering was completely different.

Do you have any favourite spots in Spitalfields you can share with us? (Name a restaurant, bar, food stall, shop etc) 
Golden Heart (for a drink), St John (for Breakfast), Dumpling Shack (for the Dan Dan Noodles!), Trade (for Coffee and Smoked Pastrami) and Grenson (for some triple welt brogues to carry the extra weight caused by the others). 
Are there any London hidden gems that you’ve discovered recently that you’d like to share with us? (restaurant, bar, hotel, etc) 
 I love Evelyn’s Table at The Blue Posts. Monohon Ramen in Old St is superb and Phoenix Palace for Dim Sum at the weekend - not new but just as exciting every time. 
Are there any places in London that are in your hit-list that you haven’t had a chance to check out yet?
I still haven’t made it to Newport Street Gallery as it’s in a bit of an awkward spot and I’m rarely in that part of London.  I’m currently boycotting expensive sharing plate restaurants. I’m a little done with everyone around the table awkwardly eying up the last beansprout because they’re still absolutely famished, despite spending a small fortune. 
Whats your favourite city that you’ve travelled to and why? Could you name either a hotel/bar/restaurant that’s made an impact?
Tokyo is my favourite place in the world. Everything makes sense in Tokyo. It’s very considered and functional and I like that level of thought that goes into everyday life. Tokyo Hands is the world’s best home/life department store. Anything you can think of, they sell. I spent about 3 hours in one on my last visit. The area around T-Site in Daikanyama is also a great spot but there are far too many restaurants in that city to single out.
What’s Next? Any new collaborations or expansion plans we should know about?
We’ve certainly become a go-to brand for collaborations. We will only work with a brand if it’s the right fit and we can do something interesting. Or it’s totally the opposite and we can reach a completely new type of audience. Our collaboration with VANS (waterproof Vans made with umbrella fabric) was a wonderful thing to be part of and an honour to have been asked to do.
Interview by Hannah Tan-Gillies 

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