“Something that I love about this business is the history it has to it. When researching all these different hats you find yourself reading articles that were based decades (even centuries) ago. Due to the fact that we are a hat factory, my inspiration comes mostly from gaining knowledge on the old shapes.”


PHOTOGRAPHY – NICO KRIJNO

ART DIRECTION / STYLING – JANA & KOOS

INTERVIEW: RICK DE LA RAY


TAKING THE LINEAGE OF THE SIMON AND MARY BRAND, WAS IT A CONSCIOUS DECISION TO FOLLOW IN THE FAMILY’S FOOTSTEPS OR WERE THERE ANY OTHER AREAS YOU WERE INTERESTED IN TO SCULPT A CAREER FOR YOURSELF?

 I had always grown up with an unusual love for hats. It was obvious because my father worked in a hat factory. Growing up as a kid I would come to the factory and spend days here running around having fun. During my time in high school I always knew in the back of my mind that I would join the business. I attempted studies in sound engineering and writing, but came to the conclusion that these are my hobbies and the hat factory was always going to become my future.

CAN YOU GIVE US SOME INSIGHT INTO THE HISTORY OF THE FACTORY AND YOUR FAMILY’S INVOLVEMENT WITHIN MILLINERY CULTURE?

Simon and Mary is a heritage brand established in 1935. The hat roots were first planted in South Africa when Mordechai Pozniak (Simon’s father) brought his cap factory from Poland to Johannesburg. Simon Pozniak eventually took the leading role in the company and grew it into one of Africa’s most renowned wool felt hat manufacturing plants. Simon’s wife Leah (whom he lovingly coined Mary after reading a novel) joined the business, working alongside Simon and attending to all non-manufacturing needs. In 1973, Simon’s youngest son, Julian, eagerly entered the family business and Robert his oldest son joined in 1988. Dean entered the business in 2008, a fourth generation Pozniak. He heads the brand and factory with the aim of continuing the legacy created by Simon.

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IN FRAME – SIMON POZNIAK

SINCE THE BRAND WAS ESTABLISHED IN 1935, FASHION AND TRENDS HAVE CHANGED DRAMATICALLY, A TREND CAN LOSE FAVOUR OVERNIGHT IN THE UNPREDICTABLE TANTRUMS OF THE FASHION INDUSTRY. WHICH PERIODS THROUGH TIME HAVE PROVEN TO BE MOST LUCRATIVE IN MILLINERY PRODUCTION?

Talking from personal experience and as well as conversations with my old man, our most lucrative period was throughout the 80s. We were the biggest exporters of woolen felt hoods, the raw material needed to make the hat. Eventually, China caught up and started producing the raw material, this caused us to have to change with the times and adapt.

WITH ALL THE ORIGINAL MACHINERY WHICH WAS PURCHASED IN THE 60S IN ITALY STILL IN WORKING ORDER, THE WORKSHOP SEEMS TO BE A FULLY FUNCTIONING TIME MACHINE. ARE THERE A LOT OF MAINTENANCE COSTS INVOLVED IN KEEPING ALL OF THESE VINTAGE MACHINES RUNNING?

What I love about all of our old machines is how strong they are. Back in the day things were made to last and these machines are testaments. We rarely have issues with our old machines but maintenance once a year helps with any hiccups.

DID THE BRAND EVER TRY AND INFILTRATE CERTAIN MODERN TRENDS, LIKE SAY FOR INSTANCE IN THE 80s AND 90s MANUFACTURING BASEBALL CAPS TO FIT IT WITH THE TRENDS OF HEADWEAR AT THE TIME?

The brand was only launched earlier this year. The factory is called ‘Supreme Hat and Cap Manufacturers’ and ‘Simon and Mary’ is a brand that I have awoken, basing it on the factory’s history and heritage. In the past we made hats for brands such as Dobbs and Stetson, but we were also a cap factory at that time. Making caps for the branded sports teams from around the world, as well as a lot of local brands.

AS THE TRADITIONAL MILLINERY TRENDS STARTED TO PICK UP AGAIN, HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT DECIDING WHAT ROUTE TO TAKE WITH THE NEW LINE OF HEADWEAR YOU DECIDED TO RELEASE, TO RE-ESTABLISH THE BRAND?

There are only a limited number of hat silhouettes in the world. We are lucky enough to have most of these silhouette blocks to work with and for me the next step was to alter the finishes, giving them a more modern look. Using all of this I have brought a young creative aspect to the factory whereby I am using our old machinery, but adding a modern day twist to the finishes of the hats.

THE COMPANY WAS SOMEWHAT OF AN AMBASSADOR TO SHOWCASE MILLENARY SKILLS AT THE LEGENDARY BREAD AND BUTTER SHOW IN BERLIN EARLIER THIS YEAR. WHAT PROCESS DID YOU FOLLOW TO GET INVOLVED IN THE SHOW AND WILL YOU BE EXHIBITING MORE OF YOUR WORK THERE IN 2015?

We were lucky enough to meet Joey from Bread and Butter while he was down for STR.CRD last year. He loved the product and the brand and was keen to get us overseas. We ended up making the hats for the staff outfits as well as showcasing at the show. We had limited time to get everything ready for the show but we pulled it off, working with Jana and Koos as well as Gareth Place, and my sister Aimee Pozniak.

THE BRAND HAS CHOSEN TO WORK VERY CLOSELY WITH THE CREATIVE DUO JANA AND KOOS. HOW DID YOU MAKE THE CONNECTION WITH THEM AND WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO WORK WITH THEM?

When the idea of Simon and Mary came to me, Jana and Koos were highly recommended by a good friend. After a few meetings they presented their work to me for the brand, and we were all blown away. We are very happy to be working with the talented duo and look forward to many more years with them.

AT ABOUT WHAT PERIOD DID YOU FIND THE TREND FOR WEARING STYLISH HEADWEAR STARTED TO APPEAR AGAIN WITHIN STREET CULTURE AND WHERE DO YOU THINK IT STEMS FROM HERE IN SOUTH AFRICA?

The trend has been creeping back in on an international level for the past few years. The customer my grandfather used to supply was your old school gentleman wearing his suit and tie. These days the customer is a lot broader and allows the hats to be worn in a more street level kind of way. With social media making the world so small it has allowed us to follow international trendsetters and watch them daily. This has bought trends closer to home and has allowed easier access in gaining the ‘fashion advantage’.

THE LATEST RANGE HAS BOASTED WITH A VERY BRIGHT AND COLOURFUL LINE OF FELT AND VERY INTERESTING SHAPES LIKE THE COLONIAL PITH HELMET. HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT RESEARCHING A PARTICULAR STYLE OF HAT AND PREDICT HOW IT WOULD FIT INTO A MODERN MOVEMENT?

Something that I love about this business is the history it has to it. When researching all these different hats you find yourself reading articles that were based decades (even centuries) ago. Due to the fact that we are a hat factory, my inspiration comes mostly from gaining knowledge on the old shapes (silhouettes). The next step is making sure the hat is relevant in our times and then putting our own finishes to it.

IF YOU LOOK AT ALL THE HATS THE FACTORY HAS PRODUCED IN THE PAST, IS THERE A PARTICULAR DESIGN THAT HAS STOOD THE TEST OF TIME, A CLASSIC ONE THAT JUST DOESN’T SEEM TO GO OUT OF PRODUCTION?

It would be impossible to tell as they are all still in use and are spread out evenly.

HATS TODAY DO NOT REPRESENT STATUS THE WAY THAT THEY USED TO. WEARING A HAT FOR ITS NATURAL PURPOSE (PROTECTION OF THE HEAD) WAS RESERVED TO THOSE OF THE LOWER WORKING CLASS. PEASANTS WERE NOT ALLOWED TO WEAR HATS UNTIL THE END OF THE 17THCENTURY, WHEN THEY WERE ALLOWED ONLY TO WEAR HOODS AND PROTECTIVE HATS. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY WEARING A HAT THESE DAYS REPRESENTS TO MODERN SOCIETY?

As you have said, back in the day hats represented class and stature in society. You’ll see in all movies based in the old days, the guys wearing the high, large top hats are normally noted as more important. Today it is more of a fashion item, not purchased for stature. I’m confident to say that they are purchased for look rather than protection in most cases.

ARE YOU AWARE OF ANY OTHER ACTIVE MILLENARY FACTORIES DOING ANYTHING SIMILAR IN AFRICA AT THE MOMENT?

No.

WHERE DO YOU ACQUIRE THE FELT AND MATERIALS USED TO MANUFACTURE THE HATS FROM AND CAN YOU EXPLAIN A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF HOW A HAT IS MANUFACTURED IN THE FACTORY?

We acquire the felt from both Bolivia and China. We do the rest in our factory. There are many steps involved in making a hat in our factory. We still make them the old school way which requires many steps. In short, we block the hood for size and brim width. We then press the hood for crown shape, in the next step the brim gets cut to size. From there we do all the ‘accessories’ (lining, sweat band, ribbon, pin etc). Once this is complete then the hat goes and gets sandbagged, this gives the brim its shape. There are some other processes involved in making some of the other hats, but the above is just your basic outline

SURELY THERE IS NEW EQUIPMENT AND MACHINERY AVAILABLE TO MANUFACTURE THE TYPE OF HEADWEAR THAT YOU DO? WHY HAVE YOU CHOSEN NOT TO ‘UPGRADE’ THE FACTORY IN A SENSE?

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

HOW MANY STAFF MEMBERS ARE WORKING WITHIN THE FACTORY AND THE COMPANY AT THE MOMENT?

We have about 50 staff members and most of them have been here for over 25 years.

HAS THE FACTORY MANAGED TO KEEP AN ARCHIVE OF THE HATS THROUGH THE YEARS, DO YOU SEE HAT COLLECTING BECOMING AS POPULAR AS SNEAKER HEADS COLLECTING VINTAGE AND LIMITED EDITION SNEAKERS, IN THE FUTURE?

I always find old and interesting things lying around from the past. I managed to find images taken for a catalogue in the late 80s a few months back, in the factory.

WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM SIMON AND MARY IN THE FUTURE?

You can expect lots and lots of hats. We will be having a pop-up in Cape Town at the end of November with some other great brands. Other than that we are currently working on a new range that will all be revealed next year. One step at a time.