TORONTO — For 37 years, Tilley Endurables’ beige, wide-brimmed sailing cap has been its trademark worldwide, becoming a top pick for Gulf War soldiers as well as outdoor enthusiasts like Britain’s Prince Philip and famed explorer Sir Edmund Hillary.
Despite such admiration for its signature product, the Canadian hat manufacturer is now focused on wooing younger consumers to the brand, according to chief executive officer Andrew Prendergast.
“Since its launch in 1980, Tilley has created the Cadillac version of the outdoor hat and remains a core value for the company. But the brand has been narrowly traded for years,” said Prendergast, who joined the organization after its sale in 2015 to ReCapital, the Canadian arm of the U.K.-based private equity firm Hilco Capital.
“Our short-term goal is to attract greater numbers to the Tilley brand. But in the long term we want to trade on more contemporary design,” Prendergast said. “Customers are telling us it’s about time.”
To that end, Tilley last fall introduced new silhouettes such as merino wool beanies, newsboy caps and faux fur toques, plus more seasonal colors to its lineup. These additions, priced between 50 and 70 Canadian dollars, or $37.90 to $53 at current exchange, have all been available in Canada in a limited supply since then.
The Toronto-based company, which still manufactures all its products in Canada except for socks, will take the new winter toque and baseball cap lines worldwide, with fall launches scheduled in Europe and the U.K.
New hiker and paddler hats will also debut this spring, which have both been designed to appeal to 35-year-old nature enthusiasts — the new focus for the company.
“In many ways, this 35-plus consumer is similar to our existing customers who are active and outdoorsy. They all want products that enhance the outdoor experience. That’s what we deliver,” Prendergast said.
For example, Tilley’s new paddler hat features a lower profile and closer crop to the head for less wind pick up. Its design also includes soft shell technology for greater comfort; a reinforced brim to fight through wind; a cinch around the crown for ideal fit adjustment, and a color palette on the under-brim that cuts down water glare on the eyes.
Smart design also drives Tilley’s new “systems” hat concept, which launches in Canada, the U.S., Europe and the U.K. this fall. These hats offer greater flexibility in winter, particularly if it is cold, wet, or both at the same time. “It’s hard to rely on snowy winters anymore,” Prendergast said.
Tilley’s new web site, which debuts this summer, also mirrors the company’s overriding desire to immerse consumers in the brand. “As we grow our retail channels in the U.S., the U.K. and Canada, we want customers to come to our web site and test the fit of any hat with our videos and other featured tools. It’s a great step forward for us,” Prendergast said.
“Our move forward is a recommitment to sports and Tilley’s quality. But it’s also a recommitment to Tilley’s Eighties values and the old world craftsmanship and performance of the brand. We believe younger consumers will buy into that once they experience it for themselves,” he added.
Founded in 1980 by Alex Tilley, the privately held company was sold in April 2015 to ReCapital, whose past Canadian acquisitions have included HMV Canada in 2011 and flooring manufacturer and distributor Kraus Group in 2012.
According to Maureen Atkinson, a senior partner at J.C. Williams Group in Toronto, Tilley’s reinvention makes sense.
“Tilley is not perceived as a youth brand, so left as it is it won’t grow,” Atkinson said. “Tilley isn’t Roots. It’s a small company by comparison. But the big challenge Tilley now faces is communicating its new direction to this audience and changing their perception of this brand.”
Tilley is sold in 7,000 stores across Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Europe, Australia, Japan, China, Singapore and Taiwan. The company hopes to venture into as many as three more markets in 2017, according to Prendergast.