The Company was formed in 1889 and the Wright family have been involved in the making of quality ladies hats for over 300 years, making Philip Wright one of the oldest “blood line” hat manufacturers in the world.
What does your family business do?
The Company was formed in 1889 by Walter and Minnie-Susan Wright in Albion Road, Luton and our family have been involved in the making of quality ladies hats for over 300 years, making us one of the oldest “blood line” hat manufacturers in the world. In 1982, I joined the family business. As a result of the combination of the long experience of previous generations and his training under Madame Marie O’ Regan, at the London College of fashion, I have been able to bring the family’ firm into the 21st Century.
How did you get involved?
I was invited to learn about the value of pocket money by my Father, bless him, by working in the factory during the school holidays from the age of about 7 but my love and appreciation for the theatre of hats really started in a cafe in Greenwich when I was about 19. How I actually ended up in the business is quite an interesting story too – I was working in London and was pretty bored with my job and I used to play ‘chicken’ with lorries on my motorbike and one day I lost and was involved in an accident.
After discharging myself from Hackney Hospital I had to return to my family to mend as I was unable to walk much, and whilst mending I pottered around the factory designing and making a hat for a National Young Designers Competition. My entry did rather well and I really enjoyed the creativity so I left my job in London and started as a junior blocker at the factory in 1982. I learnt Model Millinery at the London College of Fashion and eventually bought out my father in 1999.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
You could say that I am still growing up today!! When I was at school I did not know what I wanted to do. I liked acting and entertaining so I guess I’ve landed the perfect job!
What pressure does a 120+ year old family business place on you?
Now, none! It did take me ages to break the pattern of my predecessor, my Father, the way things were done and the attitude which hindered my ability to fully embrace my talents and evolve into a very different market.
I also associated the factory as a place of work and not of fun and creativity so again that hindered my real enjoyment and development. In hindsight, what I did was right at the time and I am still here…
How do you embrace the heritage of the business and move into the modern era?
BIG TIME!! I am proud of what we do and embrace the importance of that by not trying to change but to evolve. The past of selling vast quantities of quality hats to the High Street for me is over – if the department stores want to turn themselves into warehouses without any sales advisers then we do not want to be part of it – hats are not the same as socks and sell far more effectively with a knowledgeable member of staff to advise them on what hat to choose and how to wear it. As the big stores cut staff, and cut the hat departments too, there is an opportunity for us and I am ‘taking the hat direct to the people!’
What marketing activities do you do and how do you engage with new markets?
These are important activities so I meet lots of people, I give lectures to various organisations such as the Womens Institute and we hold Open Studio sessions for past clients and their friends to help them ‘discover our world.’ We have also created numerous YouTube videos to demonstrate the diversity and range of what we do an I have even given a five minute cabaret act too!! Our business is all about profile, word of mouth and recommendations rather than expensive advertising campaigns that are forgotten the moment they stop running.
Is there a next generation waiting in the wings?
Maybe! When I arrived on the scene I made my contribution as the next generation so who knows… My daughter is learning the skills and maybe if and when she is ready she will join me, if the time is right and that is really what she wants to do too.
Do you enjoy what you do?
Yes, I love it!
Words of wisdom – If you could change one thing what would it be?
Not a great deal because everything that has happened in the past has brought me to this point today, which I am truly happy about. Nothing radical to change but maybe I should have hung around more fashionable bars and clubs in my earlier days, the extravagance and creativity would have been great inspiration and I may have influenced a celebrity or two to wear one of my hats and helped with my public awareness too.
I do not beat myself up with hindsight although I’d love to meet Mary Portas!
Today my heart is full and my suitcase is light!!