What’s in  a hat? It turns out to be a lot, if made in the USA

The Bollman Hat Company is providing manufacturing jobs and hope in Pennsylvania. Can this model be reproduced in Massachusetts, and elsewhere?

I was surprised, to say the least, when I walked through Macy’s in the Fall of 2018 and noticed a wall mounted display consisting of a selection of hats that it turns out were made in this country. The brand was The Country Gentleman, which I recognized. Many years before, I had owned one of their felt wool caps, made in China. They still had it here in their selection, but it was their other choices that caught my attention.

There were two of styles of unlined wool Fedoras, each in brown or black. These were the Wilton, a sort of western style fedora with a broad brim and the Floyd, seen above this article, which had a shorter brim and a more urban look to it. Along with Made in the USA silkscreened inside, the hat also sported a separate tag with “American Made Matters” on it in red white and blue. The Floyd was $58. It rang up as $40 on sale.

It wasn’t just a former president who said that most of the many manufacturing jobs lost over previous decades were never coming back to this country. It was pretty much gospel among economists, politicians in both of the parties that allowed the exodus, and business leaders who prospered from it. Unlike these individuals, I have long believed that without bringing back a balance of across the board industry into our increasingly service and consumer based economy, our nation will continue on with boom and bust cycles of real estate and stock speculation, amassing massive debt until we eventually cease to be the reserve currency and our economy falls apart. So, I was obviously Intrigued by my find at the store and decided to research its origin. How and why had this happened?

By phone and internet, I discovered that The Country Gentleman is a brand owned by The Bollman Hat Company of Adamstown Pennsylvania. I had first learned about Bollman in September of 2017 through an article in The Wall Street Journal where the challenges of moving the production of Kangol products from China to their Pennsylvania factory were discussed, along with the benefit of fast turnaround. The company has owned Kangol, worn by musicians and movie stars, since 1991 when it was purchased from its British owners. As of last year, about 20% of Kangol hats are now manufactured here.

Bollman has also owned Bailey Hats of Hollywood since 1986. Roy Rogers, Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, and the Mickey Mouse club kids all sported Bailey hats. Bailey still offers a distinctive Western line as well as more mainstream fedoras, pork pies, caps, etc. All told, Bollman owns 10 different brands. The company also does some private manufacturing for Goorin Brothers, another American legend.

Bollman is in fact the oldest existing hat manufacturer in the United States, celebrated its 150 year anniversary in 2018, and is currently 70% employee owned. The question is whether or not its example of bringing jobs back to this country is repeatable. Based on what I have seen, even in a high cost state like in Massachusetts is, yes. The designer Joseph Abboud makes custom suits in New Bedford for Men’s Warehouse. Sterlingwear, based in East Boston with another factory in Fall River has made thousands of pea coats for the U.S. Navy since 1968, along with other military garments, and a line of attractive civilian clothing. New Balance, who also has its corporate offices in Boston, has some premium American Made sneakers, albeit at about twice the list price of its foreign manufactured shoes.

I asked Don Rongione, who has been President, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman, of Bollman since 2002 if the recent federal corporate tax cuts have helped him as he brings jobs back to the United States. He has carry forward losses from last year. Therefore, the answer is not yet. Still, when the time comes to revisit our recently and hastily composed new tax system, shouldn’t manufacturers using specialized skilled labor in this country be given a larger tax break than those who outsource everything? I think the good people of Adamstown would say so. In the meantime, if you are looking for a stylish wool hat for the cooler seasons, stop by Macy’s or hats.com and get one from the Country Gentleman.