The 137-year-old Sevillian hats that conquer the Windsors and the ultra-orthodox Jews and now want to take over Texas
The last time they have been seen they covered the most aristocratic heads in Europe during the state funeral for Queen Elizabeth II, held in London on September 19. Among so much solemnity, the hats of the Spanish firm Fernández y Roche appeared, which throughout 2022 manufactured and exported a total of 92,000 pieces of felt from a small corner of Seville, in the nearby municipality of Salteras, 15 kilometers from the capital. This precious accessory comes from this Andalusian town of about 5,500 inhabitants until it ends up adorning not only the heads of the British royal family and the guests at their events, but also those of the models of the French firm Dior on their international catwalks (such as the parade held last June in Seville) and the flight attendants of Emirates and Qatar Airlines, among other major international clients.
But these clients have not been the first nor the only ones. Harrison Ford already wore it before, with the unmistakable hat of his iconic Indiana Jones character in the movie in search of the lost ark (1981); also Colin Firth, in The king’s speech (2010) and, as a core part of the business, almost all ultra-orthodox Jews who carry this accessory, in a mandatory manner, in any corner of the world, a group that revalidates each year their confidence in this artisan product. made in Spain. It is the epic that the Sevillian firm Fernández y Roche has been signing throughout its centenary history, which in 2022 has celebrated 137 years in the hands of five generations of the same family. Today they are crowned as the only factory in Spain, and one of the few that remain in the world, that is dedicated to the complete process of making hats in a completely handmade way.
Upon entering the factory located in the small Seville municipality of Salteras, where today 60 people work —mostly women—, history and the avant-garde intersect in the itinerary of the manufacture of this accessory, as if it were not possible to explain oneself. the success of this family business —which has no national or European competitors— without the perfect combination of both factors. Founded in 1885 by Sevillian businessmen José Fernández and Antonio Roche, this hatmaker took its first steps right at the time of the accessory’s greatest splendor. “In the first third of the 20th century, it became one of the most important companies in Seville and the country in terms of business volume, employment (with more than 500 workers) and turnover,” recalls Enrique Fernández, great-grandson of the founder and current President of the company.
However, the advent of the global movement known as hatless Starting in the 1940s, just at the end of World War II, he caused the business to falter until they feared for their survival. “It is then when the urgent need to export arises, since the national market is greatly reduced, although the international one also continued to fall, with the closure of the large factories. There were years of enormous business weakness, between the forties and the seventies”, recounts the president.
The true revival of the Sevillian hatmaker occurred —and, with it, the beginning of a new era in the company— with its opening to the Jewish market in the 1970s, which has made them world leaders in their sector. “The ultra-Orthodox is the largest community in the use of the hat worldwide. Our exit was to look for a market in that niche where our product was not a fashionable item, but mandatory use”, explains Fernández. And so they reached New York, where the largest community of ultra-Orthodox Jews in the world is concentrated.
It can be said, without mincing words, that all the Hasidic Jews in the populous ultra-Orthodox community of the United States, gathered in their vast majority in the neighborhood of Williamsburg (New York), wear hats made in this placid corner of Andalusia. “Today, the Jewish client constitutes the largest market for the company in the United States and Israel, it has given us recognition as a prestigious brand and has led us to master the highest quality requirements,” explains Abraham Mazuecos, CEO of the signature.
This factory from which 500 hats come out a day is, in effect, a perfect gear of people and machinery that have perpetuated this centuries-old trade, but for which it seems to exist, says its president, “generational change”. Fernández y Roche offers training not only to its new employees to guarantee the highest quality and rigor in the artisan manufacture of their hats —a very slow process with more than 200 steps—, but also to technicians in maintaining their scarce technology , with the intact conservation of the same machinery used since its beginnings at the end of the 19th century. It is also an example of sustainability, with 0% emissions and the treatment of its animal product, understood as a by-product of the food industry.
The Jewish hat has allowed Fernández y Roche to consolidate itself as a world reference and expand its production to other lines of business, once again approaching the fashion industry. At the close of the financial year of 2022, the acquisition of clients such as the French Dior allowed the Sevillian factory to make a total of 1,000 pieces for the parade of its 2023 cruise collection, held last summer in the Plaza de España in Seville. . The Asian market, with a strong presence in Japan, a major importer of the classic wide-brimmed Cordovan hat, also confirms the leadership of this milliner, consolidated in Europe with the export of its bowler hats and top hats to the United Kingdom, where its supplier is famous Lock & Co. Hatters store, the oldest hat shop in the world —it was founded in 1676—, located in central London’s St. James’s Street and whose main customer is the British royal family. At Lock they receive 4,000 hats a year from Seville.
Having conquered all these territories, and with an annual turnover of seven million euros, the next expansion plan for Fernández y Roche —which has 80% of its business in exports— looks to the Texan market, “the largest market for hats in the world, where 50 million people live and there is a high purchasing power”, explains its president. A new challenge for Seville: the conquest of the Far West.
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