I bought my first Vermont Originals hat at L.L. Bean. Now I order them directly.
Here’s a story that you may have heard. For successive generations, the leadership at L.L. Bean built an increasingly iconic American company. They nurtured a rich ecosystem of dedicated vendors, and sold to their customers top notch products. Then, a few years ago, L.L. Bean changed leadership and direction. I am sure there was a Harvard MBA or Wharton graduate involved somewhere. They decided they could make a lot more profit if they dumped hundreds of their branded vendors, and outsourced to China.
The twist of the story, of course, is that the strategy didn’t work. L.L. Bean instead suffered from massive quality issues, customer loyalty problems, a brain drain as talent both was fired and left, and we now have LLB Signature being hawked by True Prep.
But this is not a post on the avarice and decline of a once great American institution. Or the tendency of so many retailers to ramp up marketing and PR while gutting quality.
Rather, this is a story of the success of well made products.
Because many of the superb vendors that L.L. Bean fired are still around, and still producing great items. And a lot of customers, like myself, who were exposed to great products at L.L. Bean, are now finding and getting their original beloved products directly from the vendors.
Which all takes us to Vermont Originals.
They make, in my opinion, the best winter hats ever. (It makes sense that a company in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont would know how to handle cold!)
Of course the hats are made in the U.S. In fact, all hats are made by home knitters in Vermont on home knitting machines (most of whom have learned the craft from family members) .
They use very high quality materials. The 100% wool is skein dyed, and won’t pill. It is even double waxed for smoothness. They also use Malden Mills Fleece for their lining.
And for about $2.00 more, you can custom design your own hat. (Some call Vermont Originals the Michael Dell of hats.) Any design can be combined with any style. You can order them fully lined with fleece, instead of the regular fleece band. You can also order extra large, which is a great for big-headed people like me. Just click here. Choose a base color; choose a design; choose color one; choose color two. Make sure you specify whether you want a flap hat, tassel hat or beanie. And you can then add text if you wish.
With their reasonable prices, it is no wonder that they have a 90% repeat order rate. And it is no surprise that between 500 and 600 colleges and prep schools have Vermont Originals make hats for their campus stores.
Every once and a while you come across a small company that is so inspiring, because it turns out superb products and also does it in an exceptionally ethical way. Vermont Originals is one of those companies.