SS15 campaign imagery by Nico Krijno

Sustainability can often come across as a buzzword. Tell us more about the measures you are taking to apply sustainability in your practices?
To shape a 100% wool felt hat requires a lot of steam. Making that steam requires water. The boiler at the heart of the Simon and Mary factory in Johannesburg is paramount for making their heritage-fueled collections of contemporary and classic hats but its environmental impact also weighs on founder Dean Pozniak’s mind. It’s not easy but when starting a small business/brand you need to focus on the principle of the triple bottom line. Your business should not only be sustainable because it’s profitable, it should be profitable because it is sustainable. The company introduced JoJo tanks to the property to collect rainwater and in taking this one straightforward step they manage to save 30 000 litres of water every month. Any overflow of water is re-used in their pressing process. 

Making products that can be passed down to the next generation means that sustainability has always been built into the family business. But Dean wanted to make a more intentional move toward good over harm. It’s about bringing balance to the world. We like to balance out the bad that we may be causing, with the good. One way Simon and Mary does this is by partnering with reforestation and urban greening organisation Greenpop to plant a number of trees calculated proportionality to the sales of their hats. So far they’ve planted over 500 trees. Bringing balance to the world also extends to Simon and Mary’s workforce. Eighty-five percent of the staff are women; a percentage of who are regularly upskilled in various ways. This includes identifying potential in factory workers and enabling their move from factory jobs to working in the office. We’ve always had a philosophy that upskilling within rather than hiring from the outside gives our employees a chance.

In 2016, Simon and Mary released a collection made from hemp and this year will see a vegan range of caps. The Simon and Mary pin will soon be made from sustainable materials and the swing tags are printed on recycled paper. Of course, the climate crisis needs to be met with grand action but small, incremental and practical changes have an impact when done collectively. It’s important for brands in the clothing industry to be cognizant of what we are doing, and balance it out the best we can. In doing so, Simon and Mary are making a case for starting with the obvious and sharing what they’re doing with others. Perhaps the most revolutionary step that the clothing industry can take is embracing transparency. 

How do you support local?
We support local suppliers when it comes to accessories for our hats (ribbons, pin, feathers) as well as our boxes, and other needs. From a personal level I am a big supporter of local fashion, GOOD GOOD GOOD being my favourite, a local brand that is on par with any international brand – also made in South Africa.

Do you have any sneak peeks of the vegan range of caps? 
Unfortunately we do not have anything at the moment. We’ve imported cactus leather from Mexico and had just started sampling when the lockdown came into effect. If all goes to plan we’ll be launching this range around September.

Is there anything that you took for granted before the lockdown and Corona?
We’ve always felt blessed with the state of things in our hat factory. Having been established in 1935 and still going strong 85 years later is something that we have never taken for granted. Our time and freedom may have been taken for granted with the current state of affairs but we know its necessary to get through this pandemic and come out alive on the other side.

How has Corona affected the way you are going to do things going forward?
It will have a domino effect starting with our retailers. A lot of our resellers are small businesses and they might feel the pinch with no turnover and expenses continuing as normal. The economy has taken a massive hit and this will trickle through into retail which will affect our turnover etc. We are however in touch with some of our international clients and feel there will be opportunity with exporting. On top of that we would like to think that big retailers and chains in South Africa will turn to local manufacturers instead of importing their felt hats from China. We are hoping for the best and planning for the worst.