‘From the Gegent’ is a series of articles featuring businesses, services and the people behind them in the Crown Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn. Presented by Mica Soffer, owner and publisher of community news service COLlive.com and neighborhood directory gegent.com.
Photos: Sholem Srugo, Bassie Vorovitch
Levi Chayo and Yossi Chayo, Lubavitcher brothers who were born and raised in Crown Heights, were looking for quality hats for themselves but were unhappy with the high price tags that came along with it.
“The only option was over $300 for a good quality hat, and people were already saying, ‘let’s switch to kaskets instead’ because they were very upset about the high cost of hats,” says Yossi, 22.
So they decided to do something about it.
The brothers had no experience with manufacturing hats, but were determined to come up with a solution. They got to work, educating themselves on where to source materials, how to design, and what customers were looking for in a hat.
“I went to a trade show in Las Vegas and met everyone in the hat industry,” Levi Chayo says. “I learned where to source the materials, and then we tested all the materials on ourselves to see what holds up best.”
They then did research to find the highest grade rabbit fur and the rest of the materials used in typical hats worn by Lubavitchers, such as leather and felt. Once they figured that out, they started creating hats for family and friends.
And that’s how Bellissimo Custom Hats was created.
Beginning with custom orders, the company offered customers to create a hat from scratch, starting from 100% rabbit fur, choose a crown and then brim size, then lining and stitching of any color and style.
Their prices range from $185 to $220, for which others charge close to $400 for comparable quality, they say.
“People say ours is just as light as the more expensive brands, with the same fine material,” Levi Chayo says. “Our customers say the durability is great, saying their hat has gone through rain and snow and are still doing great,” he says.
The brothers were soon receiving requests for ready-made stock. “People just want to walk in, try on and choose a hat,” Yossi Chayo says. “Not everyone has the time or the creativity to want to create one from scratch,” he says.
So they began to build stock, and before the Kinus Hashluchim or a Yom Tov, they create 150-300 hats, “which we have been selling out,” he says.
Although not all of their sales are custom orders anymore, Yossi Chayo says, an important part of the experience of shopping with them is the appointment.
“In other stores, the customer is there for maybe 5-10 minutes, spends $300, and is not even sure that they like what they got. We make sure everyone gets a half hour appointment to really choose and decide, and we make sure you love what you get,” he says.
So far, they have been the sole seller of the hats, handling them from manufacturing to the customer “to keep the prices low,” Levi Chayo explains.
“If a family has to buy hats for a father and 4-5 kids, it’s not cheap, and we want to make sure our hats are affordable. Still, we want to sell them top quality. You don’t gain by buying junk that you have to replace in a half a year,” Levi Chayo says.
“Many people wear hats, not only in the Jewish world, but our Lubavitch customers are the most discerning customers and knowledgeable customers,” he says. “They know what they want, and they will spot a cheaper quality right away. They have been wearing hats since they are 13, so they can spot a hat that is too heavy, or doesn’t feel right, or isn’t the best quality, immediately.”
And although many encourage them to raise the prices for such quality, but that would defeat the entire purpose of opening a new hat brand, he says.