If the Cap Fits...
As Holbeck flat cap company
JW Myers faces closure Phil O'Connor faces a Yorkshire
future bart 'at.
The news about the crisis
at JW Myers broke around the turn of the millennium.
It seemed almost unbelievable. The company, based in inner
city Leeds, has turned out the familiar flat cap for 110
years exporting to 22 countries. They have fought against
the vagaries of fashion for years as us young tykes turned
away from the traditional headgear. They have seen it
all, from straw boaters to baseball hats, and with a few
nifty new ideas stayed in business.
The firm was taken over a decade ago by
the Cumbria firm Kangol, and this seemed like the deal
that would take the firm into the 21st century. Kangol,
specialists in berets were big enough to market, to finance
new ideas and to expand. Despite all this, it looked as
if the old flat cap was history. Like Dickie Bird, our
famous flat cap wearing cricket umpire, it had had a long
magnificent innings. 110 not out. The light fading and
the overs were over.
But the flat cap was in
surprisingly good hands. Kangol was a company
with a fine tradition too. Founded in 1938 in Cumbria
they had a huge market amongst workers, members of the
British Armed Forces and legions of golfers. The Ang
stood for Angora, the ol for wool and the K for
euphony. In the states the name was always mispronounced
as Kanga, and the now ubiquitous Kangaroo logo leapt forth.
Then the Hip Hop world in New York got a
hold of it. 80's rappers like Doug E Fresh and Run DMC
were strolling around in broad daylight with what looked
suspiciously like their dad's hat on. Then LL Cool J came
on strong with a terry cloth Bermuda on his nut, and suddenly
the cap was back - worn with as much jewellery as you
could get from Rattners or you could prize from the neighbours
In the early nineties it was the Spitfire
model, made of an angora-wool mix called furgora, that
caught stateside imagination. Still we sniggered. By now
though Kangol were doing serious business and wide boys
in Britain were soon catching the drift. Liam Gallagher
of Oasis was moseying around in his coolest sneer, a Kangol
covering the head. The cap suddenly fitted. Suddenly we
all want one.
The hype went into overdrive with Quentin Tarantino's
filming of an Ellmore Leonard novel, Jackie Brown in '97.
Miramax, the film's distributors used the Kangol Spitfire
as promotional items. On the screen the gorgeous Pam Grier
as the title character, and gun-toting Samuel L Jackson
were conspicuously Kangolled, wearing the thing backwards
so we could see the logo throughout the movie. Majorly
cool, Kangol profits soared yet again.
The hype continues in the persona of Phillip
Bloch, Hollywood's hippest style guru. His signature style
is the Kangol flat cap, which he wears constantly, in
fine old-bloke tradition. Bloch is so hip he's dislocated.
Sandra Bullock, John Travolta, Will Smith, Jim Carrey.
You get the idea. Definitely not the kind of names you
normally see in Ayup's pages. No-one speaks the words
"you look Fabulous" in quite the same
way. The flat cap is so right-now-dot-com it is
So how come JW Myers, flat cap makers to
the glitterati,, (albeit one step removed) are in trouble?
The Guardian quotes Kangol MD David Heyts as saying that
a move to production in Panyu, China would be the logical
step. He told the paper that the factory in Holbeck, employing
just 40 people, is losing his company over £100,000
a week. This, friends, is serious losses. Even for a company
putting the flat cap back on young heads.
So after the foundries, the pits, the mills
and the weavers, it seems the little guys with the big
traditions are hitting the wall too. Like Rover and BMW.
The big guy won't take the losses. Won't get their top
notch highly paid marketing gurus back on the plane from
Hollywood and New York to work out a bold new strategy.
Won't step in for fellow countrymen when profits are at
stake, and you can pay Far-Eastern workers 20p to make
a $29 dollar product.
But you never know.
This might have been a "Salad Cream" stunt.
Tell the people that the old traditional product is about
to cease production, reap huge publicity, then change
your mind and play the hero. It happens. You never know.
Sanjeev Bhaskar and Kulvinder
Singh show how it's really done, aided and abetted
by Meera Sayal and Nina Wadia. They are the Kupoors. Sorry
the Coopers. Goodness Gracious Me.