If you need convincing that hats are back look no further than this September’s issue of Oprahmagazine, featuring Oprah wearing a stylish golden fedora from The Salting, which just launched its unisex fashion line heavy into hats online and in two pop-up shops in Tribeca’s 180 and Sag Harbor’s Sylvester & Co.
Or Brian Dawkins at the Pro Football Hall of Fame 2018 enshrinement ceremony, where he captured both the sports and fashion world with his inspiring speech and equally inspiring fashion statement wearing his honey-colored fedora styled to match his jacket. Full disclosure: I am not a football fan and had never heard of Brian Dawkins. But when I saw him on cable news, I took notice. He looked so cool in that hat.
Digging deeper, I discovered both Oprah and Dawkins have one company to thank for their standout looks, Bollman Hat Company, right next door to me in Adamstown, Pennsylvania. So I called up Don Rogione, president and CEO of Bollman Hat Company, to learn more about the company and why hats are making a comeback. For me, anything that puts people into real hats and gets them out of baseball caps is welcome.
America’s longest history in hats
Bollman Hat Company is celebrating its 150th anniversary, being founded in 1868 right after the Civil War. It is now the oldest continually operating hat company in America.
Long a supplier of private label hats, both finished hats and unshaped felted wool hat bodies, Bollman Hats have covered many famous Hollywood actors including such hat-style icons as Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper and Fred Astaire and today, Samuel L. Jackson and Nicole Kidman.
Employees are family
For three generations of the Bollman family, Bollman Hat Company was family owned, but when the fourth generation had no interest staying active in the business, the company was sold to a group of its managers. They brought in Rongione in 1982 as their retirement was approaching and asked him to develop a succession plan for the business.
Becoming an employee-owned business was Rongione’s answer. “I researched and proposed an employee-stock ownership plan that was adopted in 1985 to continue our company’s legacy of caring about our employees,” he shared.
Today, 70% of the company is owned by the ESOP where all U.S.-based employees participate in a qualified retirement and stock ownership plan and 30% is held by a group of six company managers, including Rongione.
The inspiration for the ESOP was the company’s long history trying to provide for its employees. For example, the third-generation Bollman family shared a a wage dividend with its former employees serving in World War II. It was a way to stay in touch with those serving overseas and show gratitude for their sacrifice.
That culture continues strong to this day. “Caring is part of our culture that existed long before the ESOP and has permeated throughout our history,” Rongione says. “It is part of who we are.”