This week Vivid Minds interviews Ross Patch, renowned in Armidale for his quality teas and coffees at the multi-award-winning Daily Ritual. Two years ago, Ross went on holiday to New Zealand and from there, New England Hatters was born.
Tell us a little bit about yourself
I’m best known for the Daily Ritual, which opened its doors in 2007.We have the best range of teas in country NSW, with over 160 blends and a great range of coffee. I’ve also started the New England Tea and Coffee range.
What led you to start a second business, and why hats?
Two years ago, I was holidaying in New Zealand and I came across these great hats that were made from coffee bags. Obviously, as a tea and coffee man they had instant appeal and I thought they would be a nice addition to my café and retail outlet. And I really liked the quality and how unique they were.
We got the coffee sack hat range in before Christmas last year and sold 40 of them, which is not bad for a new product.
Since then you’ve expanded the range from an add-on to your tea and coffee retail to an independent business.
I often have gentlemen whiling away their time reading papers and drinking coffee while their significant others are shopping at Turners across the way, and it turned out they were very interested in the hats. I got a lot of enquiries for other styles, such as the Panama and the Trilby.
I was looking for a niche business and learned there were only three proper hat businesses in NSW. I thought it was a unique opportunity for the New England, and here we are.
What type of hats does New England Hatters stock?
We have a really good range now, from the casual coffee bag style, the quirky, to the more fashionable upmarket Panamas, which are suitable for the races.The felts I have here are either made of wool or rabbit fur – I was looking to the wedding market with those. Currently, I only have samples because the rest are still on the production bench in New Zealand.
My order includestop hats and trilbies. I had one wedding party interested in the blue samplebecause it matched the bridesmaid’s dress and was stylish. I’ve also had a great deal of interest from musos wanting top hats.
We don’t have a women’s range yet, but we are planning to get some, starting with a bigger brim style for my mother. There’s also a range of peak hats, bucket hats, and a technical hat which can be folded up into a ball and springs back into shape.
What makes your range unique?
Our range appeals to people who are after a really good quality hat thatwon’t date and will stand the test of time. Our Panama hat comes in three different styles and grades. The grade 3 is the very best you can buy in Panama hats.
Currently we have flat hats and duckbill in our winter range. The cloth comes from England and Scotland, so we have a lot of Scottish tweed. To get the idea, there’s been a TV program called Peaky Blinders which featured these styles of hats.
What do you want to be known for?
Quality. Being unique. They’re the main two. We also want to flexible for sizing. Nothing is mass produced so we can also offer individual custom orders, although there is a wait of four to five weeks.
Is ethical production important to you?
Yes, it is. It’s always been important, even with my tea and coffee business. My teas and coffees are ethically produced. The hats made from the coffee bags are, of course, recycled and therefore sustainable. They’ve also got another hat made from cork – a thin layer of cork which is a natural fibre.
The oilskins come from the UK, they’re oiled in Australia and manufactured in NZ and they’re all really good quality. The rabbit felt is from Portugal. They use that mainly because they have a trial of the humane side of things with the rabbits – how they’re grown and how they’re looked after.
What are some of the challenges you have experienced?
Of course, the coronavirus has thrown some unexpected hurdles in my path. In January, my wife and I were in New Zealand for a buying trip and we had 300 odd hats ready to go into production. However, with the mandatory closedown in New Zealand,a lot of my hats are still on the cutting table and couldn’t be finished.That means I’ve only got a tenth of my winter range in because it’s still coming. Fortunately, hat design doesn’t change a great deal for men so it’s all about the quality instead. I’ve been a small business operator for a long time so we will work through this and come out the other end.
What inspires you?
I love my tea and coffee, that will never change. I’m very proud of our expertise and the fact we know the provenance of all our teas. I also really enjoy the people who come through the doors –it’s the people that make the business. But at the end of the day it’s about family, my beautiful wife, Cherie, our children, and now my growing collection of grandchildren.
What’s next for New England Hatters?
The goal is to build New England Hatters into a stand-alone businessthat, further down the track,will operate out of its own retail outlet and be supported by a website. My regulars have christened me the Mad Hatter. It’s all good fun!