Top notch headwear maker Laird Hatters expands with new label and store

“We have stuck to our expansion plan, recruited more staff and are preparing for the recovery,” says Alex Torun-Shaw who co-founded the Laird with wife Zofia a decade ago “with zero experience and because we liked hats,” they explain. Setting up took less than a week as they seized a gap in the market and haven’t looked back.

“In an era of fast fashion, hats stand out as attainable keepsakes, capable of easily transforming a look,” they explain. “Our clientele is unisex, from teens to octogenarians. We are hatters not milliners. We’re reinventing the perception of hats, making them more fashionable to appeal to a younger audience – anything but drab.”

Today one of the pitifully few UK businesses left making headwear, Laird’s handcrafted swish fedoras, trilbies, bakerboys, homburgs and porkpies, sourced from the finest cloths across the UK, have won fans from Brad Pitt and Tom Hardy to Jason Statham and Keira Knightley.

The latest shop in Oxford joins four in London and another in Cambridge, while production is carried out in its Herefordshire workshop, where hats in tactile velours and felts are fashioned on Laird’s own signature blocks, stitched and hand finished.

“It surprising how many component materials a hat has, but making our own gives us speed and the ability to be ahead of the curve,” explains Zofia.

Prices range from £60 for the caps and £90 for hats upwards to £400 for bespoke creations. Its new British-Hats label however broadens the appeal targeting the mid-price market with urban Soho and nostalgically debonair Classic ranges. The company has also introduced a vegan wool hat.

Turnover remains on track for £1.8 million in 2020, bolstered by £600,000 of investment from peer-to-peer small business lender Funding Circle.

Creating a multi-channel, part wholesale business was already underway prior to Covid.

“Borrowing in 2013 and then this year with a coronavirus support loan has been very swift. That has enabled us to grow, given us manoeuvrability, and saved us when our stores were closed,” says Alex.

“E-commerce sales are up 200 per cent and we have the same style of friendly, prompt, informative service whether it is personal or digital.”

Being one of the creative few in a very small industry quickly attracted commissions from the worlds of film, fashion and TV.

Advertising drama Mad Men and its cool, sharp-suited Don Draper drove a trilbies trend that helped the Laird.

But in image inspiration terms its best trade boost has been period crime drama Peaky Blinders and the flat caps worn by rogue and workwear style icon Tommy Shelby.

“Customers’ desire to replicate his look has been phenomenal,” says Alex who, following a request from a fan, also recreated the hat worn by Tom Hardy in the brooding 19th century colonial drama Taboo.

For Laird other Government support through furloughing and rates relief have also been essential in getting it through Covid, the most challenging time commercially it has ever known.

“But we began in a recession and that experience keeps us strong,” explain Alex and Zofia. “There is light at the end of this tunnel.”

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