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Mad at the Hatters

Ezriel Yudkowsky, with reporting by Yisroel Besser and Rachel Bachrach

Decades ago, when the frum community embraced Borsalino as its hatter of choice, it seemed like a shidduch made in heaven. But with rising prices and grumbling discontent, will a Borsalino boycott keep that black hat from putting you in the red?

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

At first glance, the shidduch may have appeared an unlikely one. One side spent days bent over Aramaic texts, spiced its conversation with Yiddish phrases, and savored Eastern European delicacies like kugel and cholent. The other seemed the antithesis of the yeshivah world, taking pride in motorcycle helmets and violently pink headgear. But both shared an abiding respect for tradition, a quest for quality, and an appreciation for handiwork that lasts. Thus was born the unlikely alliance between the Torah-observant world and Borsalino, famed Italian producer of upscale felt hats. And for decades, the match seemed blissful. Importers in the United States, Europe, and Israel formed strong relationships with the Italian owners of Borsalino, putting in staggeringly large orders for the black rabbit-fur hats. Borsalino in turn came forward to meet the demand, upping their production of black hats (their color selection ranges from green to pink to yellow), and tailoring their fedoras to meet the preferences and predilections of thousands of yeshivah bochurim across the sea. The hat became the topper of choice for generations of bar mitzvah boys and chassanim who swallowed the high prices, knowing their heads would be covered in style and quality. The 21st century even brought a Borsalino franchise to Israel, where it’s competed successfully with local hatters. But now the relationship seems to be souring. In recent weeks, there’s been a growing movement to boycott the famed hatmaker because of price tags that just keep getting higher. The boycott originated in Israel, where petitions have been passed through major yeshivos such as Mir Yerushalayim, garnering thousands of signatures. Now a group of Chabad bochurim in New York is trying to “import” it across the Atlantic, where the prices have risen to $300 per hat. Can the boycott gather enough steam to level the playing field, or will generations of loyal patrons make their peace with the latest increase in a price that’s always been steep?

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