The Retailer of the Year award went to Clay Cavender of Cavender’s, a distinguished leader in western wear, with 77 stores in Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri and New Mexico. (While the rest of the retail world is closing stores, these guys keep opening them!) The Cavender family lives an authentic western lifestyle, also operating five working ranches throughout Texas. In addition to hats, they sell western apparel (men’s, women’s, kids), and handcrafted western boots.
Aida O’Toole of J.J. Hat Center (said to be NYC’s most iconic hat store) received the Ben Rosenthal Award. From a one day a week part-time job in 1989, she soon became store manager and, in 1996, she bought the business, always fine-tuning its focus on quality product and exceptional customer service. In addition to thanking the usual suspects who helped her along the way, she gave a special call-out to the credit managers from all her key brands, thanking them for their support and patience. “I wasn’t sure what I did to deserve this award but I finally figured out that since I’m still in business, it’s probably an award for survival,” she noted with much humility.
The FIT Scholarship Award was presented by Dorfman’s Bill Stein to a most talented student designer: Juliana Caligaris. And the Hat Person of the Year went (posthumously) to Prince, who beat out Alicia Keys, Cam Newton, Janelle Monae, Jason Aldean and Beyonce.
Perhaps the most moving tribute of the evening was in memory of Ruben (Ruby) Spitz, a much loved and widely respected Holocaust survivor-turned-hat maker who died this February at age 88. Friend and colleague Bob Broner from Broner Hats spoke poignantly about the first time he went into Ruby’s office and saw it decorated with war-time photographs of Nazi death camps and numerous articles about the war. “He tried not to let it define him but it often did,” Broner said of his “Uncle Ruby.” “What he saw in war, nobody should see,” Broner declared. “As a ten-year-old child he saw loved ones shot and killed. As a young boy, Ruby escaped the German army with his older brother and barely survived living in a forest. He joined the Polish resistance to battle the Nazis, often fighting with only his bare hands. In 1950 at age 20, he crossed the Atlantic and arrived in NYC with nothing, eventually finding a job sweeping floors in a hat factory, often sleeping hungry on the factory floor, and always teaching himself the business, learning to sew, repair machinery, and perform all tasks necessary to keep the factory running…”
Broner then shared two favorite Ruby Spitz quotes: “Never give up and never give in” and “People can make money but money can’t make people.” Thanks for reminding us Ruby! And thanks to the Headwear Association for all they do to help make a better world, including hat giveaways and public awareness campaigns about skin cancer, and numerous Headwear for the Homeless events. Hats off to a trade association that deserves accolades!