Hats off to Montappone

The small but historic town of Montappone, in the Fermana hills in the province of Ascoli Piceno in Italy’s Marche region, is the centre of Europe’s most important hat-producing district.

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Already in the 17th century the area around Montappone specialised in the working of straw for the production of hats, together with the nearby towns of Massa Fermana, Monte Vidon Corrado, Falerone, Mogliano, Loro Piceno and Sant’Angelo in Pontano. The traditional craft working of straw hats was transformed over the years into the production on a vast scale, and towards the end of the 19th-century the town became the first Italian Centre to industrialise hat production. The district of Montappone last year achieved an overall turnover of around € 150 million, considering the companies that produce hats (over 100, of which 45 in the Council district of Montappone alone), and the 35 companies which operate in associated sectors: factories producing metal moulds and components, embroiderers, box makers, printers and dyers. In Montappone, a town of 1800 inhabitants, 50% of the population is directly or indirectly employed in hat production, and there are overall around 1500 people employed in the sector (representing 37.5% Italy’s total workforce in this business). 60 million hats in straw, fabric, felt, wool and leather are produced every year in the area: 70% of Italian production and 50% of Europe’s.

Since the second half of the 1980s, the strong competition inside the district, the production innovations introduced by the businesses and the “production culture” typical of Montappone, have driven many companies to strategically reposition themselves: from producers of standardised hats at a low price to highly differentiated producers of hats with significant added value. This leap in quality has allowed the hat district of Montappone to become an extremely dynamic area which has obtained success all over the world.

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One of the largest companies in the town is Icas , with over 100 employees. Compared to the dominant situation in the area of family sized companies, Icas is a real giant, producing 10 million hats a year. It has received orders from the Italian Army and was the exclusive producer of the World Cup caps for Italy in 1990 and France in 1998. Icas has grown over the years, adding items in fabric and felt alongside traditional straw hats, to diversify production and reach higher bands of the market.

Atum in Ferruccio Vecchi, with 11 employees and a turnover of €1.2m, is specialised in exports: 83% of the products are in fact destined for Japan, North America and – recently – also the new emerging markets in Asia such as China. Laco srl, meanwhile, produces around 500,000 items a year for the mass market. At Complit, a group which owns another two companies, 25 people work, and income is around €4m a year. The company holds the record for the share of products destined for export: almost 90%. Complit produces women’s hats of the utmost quality and finishing exclusively for the market of boutiques, in which fashion considerations and constant improvements in product finishing are the guiding principles.

Tradition and innovation: italian hats Massa Fermana – with 900 inhabitants and about 30 companies in the sector – also has a hat factory, Tarulli . Giampiero Tarulli, taking over the family business in 1983 when it was on the verge of bankruptcy, has built up a business reality which today provides work for 20 employees and achieves sales of €3.8m, after having paid off 500 million in debts over 10 years. Tarulli can boast a collaboration with the brand Dolce e Gabbana, with which a distribution agreement until 2008 has been signed, as well as with other major companies such as Playboy, Richmond children’s wear, Chicco and Prenatal.

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In addition to the district of Montappone, there’s Borsalino . Its story begins back in the early 19th century, and the brand has even been immortalised in cinema in two Alain Delon films. The historic hat producer has small companies all over Italy, headed by the industrial families of Gallo and Monticone di Asti. In 1997 “Borsalino Sud” was set up, a sister company to the holding which has taken over companies such as “Sabino d’Oria e figli” in Puglia. In America, “Borsalino America inc.” has been set up, an affiliate dedicated to the promotion and distribution of the hat all over the continent.

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Every year the town of Montappone plays host to an international hat show: “Il Cappellaio Pazzo” (‘The Mad Hatter’), whose last edition attracted around 3000 people. A permanent museum – whose most prized pieces include the last straw hat worn by Federico Fellini – attracts tourists and the simply curious, who arrive every year in this medieval town which has hardly changed over the centuries. The busiest time of year is late July, with the wheat harvest and thus the beginning of straw working.

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