Georgiette Morgan-Thomas is known among friends for never being seen without a hat, but she surprised them by investing more than $100,000 to take over the Philadelphia company she’s renamed American Hats.
NEW YORK — The straw hat with ribbon and a silk flower slid easily on Zina Burton-Myrick’s head as she looked in the mirror, cocked her head to the side and then dipped her knees a bit to view herself from various angles. There was silence as everyone in the showroom in Harlem waited for the verdict.
“I’m feeling this. This is it,” said Burton-Myrick, 54, a representative for the United Federation of Teachers, who wanted a hat for a convention.
Nearby, the Rev. Georgiette Morgan-Thomas, who owns the showroom on Strivers’ Row and has been a part of the Harlem community for decades, gave a clap of approval before stepping in to make adjustments.
Background: Retired in May as director of Harlem services for Goddard Riverside Community Center, after 20 years at the New York City social-services organization
Goal: Hopes to open a second factory for American Hats in Harlem
“The hat is empowering. If you go back and look at pictures of women in the suffragette movement, they were all wearing hats,” Morgan-Thomas said. “It gives a woman good posture. When something is on your head, you hold your head up straight.”
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Morgan-Thomas would know. She owns more than 100 hats and is known for never being seen without one. Though, at 68, she never expected to own a hat factory.
But in 2015, when her friend Harriet Rosebud, a hat designer, mentioned that the ailing S&S Hat Co. in Philadelphia was for sale, Morgan-Thomas jumped at the opportunity.
“I just said, ‘I’ll buy it.’ Then I said, ‘What did I just say?’ ” Morgan-Thomas recalled at the factory in May.
She invested more than $100,000 and took over in January 2016, renaming the factory American Hats.
“She just doesn’t say she likes hats — she lives it, “ Rosebud said. “When she doesn’t wear a hat, people sometimes don’t recognize her. I’ve seen it happen.”
The company quickly lost a $32,000 annual order, and a manager left. Morgan-Thomas, who had planned to handle only the managerial and marketing aspects, leaned on her employees to learn the basics.
“We weren’t taking over a business that was successful,”…