SE: What sparked your interest in hat making?
NR: The town where I was born (Luton) is the world center for hats. There used to be 500 factories making hats..there are now only 8 left. My family have all worked in hats for hundreds of years as it was the main source of employment.
SE: Has your family always been supportive of your dream?
NR: Yes. My family has always been there for me 100% helping me to fulfill my dream.
SE: At what age did you call yourself a “real designer”? When did you make the first hat you were really proud of?
NR: I have been making hats since the age of 15, I’m now 50, so I’ve been in the business a long time. My peak was 90,000 pieces in one year. My claim to fame is the large red hat that is now our company image-logo and people now associate me with the image.
SE: It’s incredible to see a man successfully design for women- we applaud you! What led you to developing a women’s line?
NR: For me it’s easy, as I know what a woman should wear and every woman loves a man to see her wearing the right hat.
SE: How many hours go into making one hat?
NR: The minimum is one hour but our "One In The World" pieces can take up to 8 hours.
SE: Your hats are truly one of a kind. Where does your inspiration come from?
NR: Everything I see that’s all around me is translated into a hat or a trim of a hat..I never stop thinking of the next inspiration.
SE: What was the first store that sold your hats? Where can women buy your hats now?
NR: Harrods was my first customer and also John Lewis but now we have 700 specialty stores worldwide that stock our brands. We also have two stand alone stores- one in London and another in Manchester.
SE: Which hat is your bestseller? Which style is your favorite?
NR: The Kate Middleton Effect. When Carol Middleton wore a disc style hat to Kate’s wedding it changed the industry. Now, 70% of woman want a disc style on a headband. They are easy to wear and great for photography as the face can be clearly seen.
SE: Where can a woman wear your hats?
NR: Weddings are our biggest business taking 85% of our sales followed by horse races, meetings, garden parties and religious events.
SE: Any advice for the young designer?
NR: Always aim high. Don’t give up. I can remember in my first year I entered a competition and was told that I didn’t stand a chance in the hat business as I didn’t have any flare.. unfortunately that designer-judge died last year..he was a Royal Milliner and to this day never accepted my success. The business is very tough and there is big competition with people leaving design school. It is really difficult to get a foot on the ladder as the industry is a closed book.
Shop the Nigel Rayment collection HERE.