Monday, 8 February 2016

The Luton Hat Trade

The largest straw hat in the world, Luton c.1905 [Z1306/75/17/45]

Tuesday 8th February 1916: As the winter progresses, notices advertising for good machinists and workers with experience trimming hats are appearing across the town. The need for hat trimmers suggests that the semi-millinery business is developing, producing hats that are sold ready to wear. The large number of advertisements for straw hat workers may be a result of many former employees of the industry leaving for the local munition works, and the hat manufacturers are faced with unprecedented conditions in the labour market. If lack of workers means they are able to make less hats, they will need to increase the profit margins on those they are able to produce, particularly as taxes are likely to be very heavy.

A few Luton manufacturers are being successful in securing trade that had previously been lost to Germany, and consignments of hats have been shipped to Norway and Canada. However, the insecurity of the Mediterranean route has considerably increased the cost of both straw and hemp plait that is bought from Japan. This is now being sent by the Cape route, which takes several weeks longer and risks the capture of vessels by raiders in the South Atlantic. Fortunately supply shortages matter less than they might have done due to the lack of skilled workers to make hats with the plait, leaving supply and demand for materials more or less equal.

The home trade seems quite healthy and people are being warned to order early. It appears Luton will be in the unusual position of being unable to meet demand – in recent years the town has become accustomed to producing more hats than it can sell. The shapes which have been selling in recent months are beginning to look out of date and new styles are likely to prove very popular.

Source: Luton News, 10th February 1916

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