WHEN World War II came to Poland in the late 1930s, the young milliner Mordechai Pozniak was forced to flee his home, leaving a successful cap manufacturing business behind. Mordechai and his family found a new home in Joburg where he set up shop again, producing what he knew best – hats.
When he died in the early 1950s, one of his sons, Simon, took over the family business, growing it into one of the largest wool felt hat suppliers in Africa at the
This is how the story of Simon and Mary: The New “Old Hat” began. Today, these funky hats have become a staple item among the fashion-conscious elite. In bold colours and slick shapes, and worn by fashion influencers, they are now a familiar sight at fashion weeks across the country. Continuing the family legacy is a fourth generation Pozniak, Dean, who is now at the helm of the business. He describes his grandfather as a “good and honest man who had high business morals and lived his life as he preached it”.
Dean has breathed new life into the family factory, based in the suburb of Heriotdale in Joburg. He rejuvenated the brand last year and named it after his grandparents Simon and Mary.
“I based the brand on the heritage and history of the factory and business, naming the brand after my grandparents. Without them we wouldn’t be here today,” he says.
The business manufactures 100 percent wool felt, straw and leather hats. “We import the raw materials from Bolivia and China. In the ’70s to ’90s, we were exporting the raw materials to Europe, the US and even China at that time. With China coming along and making these materials at a much cheaper price we had to go with the flow and adapt with the times,” says Dean.
Dean says the type hats that were being made 20 to 40 years ago are still being made by the same people at the factory, and by the same machinery. “This is why when you buy a Simon and Mary hat you are not just buying a fashion item, but also a piece of history,”
“The people that have been working with us in the factory have been here
for decades. We have some people who have been working with us for over 40 years, Alfred Manyoni has been with us for 60 years.
“He (Manyoni) will give you a lecture on how young people today wear their hats wrong. The old-school way (his way) is wearing the hat on top of your head,straight on. The new generation, as he calls them, like to wear hats as they please, whether it be on the side, on the back of the head, or straight on top. In my mind there is no wrong way.”
Simon and Mary was recently selected by Vogue Italia, alongside 10 other African brands, for their latest instalment of V Talents – Scouting For Africa. The company joins two other South African creatives – accessories designer Katherine- Mary Pichulik of Pichulik, and knitwear designer Laduma Ngxokolo of Maxhosa by Laduma on the list.
“We are honoured and very happy with the nomination. Being nominated with such talented individuals and brands from Africa shows the progress we are making and gives us an indication that we are going in the right direction,” says
Dean. “Hats have always been cool. It was just a matter of bringing the old-school
elements and mixing them with the young fresh ideas that we bring to the table.”
Last year, Simon and Mary showcased at the International tradeshow for Modern
Urban Lifestyle, Bread and Butter in Berlin.
Simon and Mary’s brand ambassadors include Elle magazine South Africa’s first
local style reporter Trevor Stuurman and model and TV presenter Masego “Maps”
“These two gentleman first caught my eye when they were posting images wearing
some of our hats. The best part was that they had gone out and purchased the
hats from one of our retailers and they were punting them online as if we had
sponsored them. This showed me that they genuinely cared for the brand and in turn would care for the image that they give off,” says Dean.
Although the brand is more popular in Joburg, it is gaining popularity in Cape
Town. “We had a pop up shop at the end of 2014 in Cape Town, called Updog. It
was a great success and helped in spreading the brand and story in Cape Town,” he says.
Each Simon and Mary hat has a special name, and their customers “could be a 16-
year-old high school girl or a 70-year-old dapper gentleman”, says Dean. “Most of
the hats are named after people in our family, as well as the people that work with us in the factory. I also named some of them after common Polish names to honour my grandfather’s Polish heritage.”
Dean finds that there are more benefits to owning the factory than challenges.
“We have freedom of the factory for sampling etc. Whereas if you are trying to
build a brand and are using other factories you have to rely on other people,”
“Inspiration for our designs are 70 percent of the time born in the factory. Using old
imagery, old trimmings lying around, and all the wonderful discoveries we make
daily here at the factory add to the process.”
Their latest range will include bright summer hues and retail for between
R500 and R1 100, depending on style.
“We decided to break the classic mould of Simon and Mary by bringing in the brighter colours for summer. The range consists of Mounty, Bowler and the RAW Roberto hat, along with the Pith Helmet. We also released a Vintage Paisley Panama collection.”
Dean has a large collection of hats. “I’m very weird about hats, you will
catch me staring at people from across the room just so I can assess their piece of headwear.
Growing up knowing that my family owned a hat factory has always
helped with my growing love for hats. It’s a part of my family, in my blood and an
item that holds more value to me than most. I funnily enough don’t wear hats –
it’s a combination of not wearing my own product as well as having a large head,
with lots of hair,” he adds.
● Simon and Mary hats are sold across South Africa. To find a retailer, visit
[This feature was first published in the Cape Argus, March 30 2015]