Tell us about the history of your company and its products:
It was 1980 and Alex Tilley couldn’t stand losing his hats when he went sailing in Lake Ontario. Knowing nothing about hat making he set out to build the best. He began selling hats at boat shows and out of the basement of his house. He later applied the same thinking into making a full line of travel clothing which we sell to this day through our seven retail stores across Canada.
What makes your products different from others in the industry?
Tilley Hats are all made in Toronto (50 meters or so) from my desk. We choose to keep our manufacturing close so we can keep a watchful eye. Most hat styles are guaranteed for life, insured against loss, float, come with a four-page owner’s manual (printed in seven languages) and have the best sun protection rating you can get. We try to exceed our clients’ expectations.
Where did your inspiration come from?
Alex Tilley – founder and chairman [who said]:“Let’s design and build the best in the world then try to improve on it. Charge accordingly.”
What’s the one best feature of your product?
Sun protection. “Practice safe sun” is a part of the Tilley culture. We do not address skin cancer directly but inform clients to the benefits of proper sun protection which (self-serving plug here) includes a hat. Over the last 20 years we have built a large network of dermatologists who recommend our hats to their patients. It’s a point of pride to have such a high level of endorsement; to make a product, which really helps people.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Currency fluctuations between the U.S. and Canada is a big one. If it swings a few cents it can make or break your year. We can’t really do anything about it. It’s like predicting the weather. A few years back I sent a winter hat to the governor of the Bank of Canada with a note explaining how his government’s monetary policy was hurting domestic manufacturers. Despite receiving a nice letter back the exchange rate did not move into our favor (still hasn’t).
Who do you look up to in the industry?
Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia. He built a great brand and uses it to raise awareness for many worthwhile causes. He makes many decisions based on what right and what needs to be done and not on how it will read in a P/L column.
Who do you want to compete against in the industry?
I would prefer to compete against no one. A monopoly would be just fine. If this were to occur I promise to broaden our women’s assortment. Headwear buyers of the world please note.
--Compiled by Ana Trujillo