Umbra: Les and Paul

Music brought the two together and remains a part of both their lives today.

Music brought the two together and remains a part of both their lives today.

It’s a nice little touch that when you put the names of Umbra’s two founders together, you get one of the legends of the music business: guitar player and designer Les Paul.

For it was music that first brought Les Mandelbaum and Paul Rowan together when they were 14. Even today, they love music—Mandelbaum’s separately owned TCH is a big supplier of cases and hardware for rock musicians—and when Umbra opened its design store in downtown Toronto two years ago the pair led a band that played during the grand opening celebration.

“We’re totally different,” said Rowan, “and that’s why the chemistry works. You have to be careful when you pick out your partner.”

“We were musicians and just wanted to be cool,” said Mandelbaum, “but we had the background to be in business.”

His father ran a large door supply company while Rowan grew up in the hardware store business. Mandelbaum had the business and manufacturing angles covered, Rowan the creative and product development.  Together they complemented each other, much as they still do today.

“I was a typical 30-year-old,” said Mandelbaum, remembering back to the early days. “We thought we would meet some girls, travel the world and pay the rent. We never thought more than a few years out.”

Thirty years later, they are still at it.