It's Much, Much More Than Just a Hat

They did, opening a cart in 1992 in Chestnut Hill’s Atrium Mall, then owned by their dads’ development group. Fischman was a junior at BU and Karp still in high school at Belmont Hill. The venture, called Lids, was an immediate hit. College students flocked to the cart, clamoring for well-fitting hats—the most popular of which were adjustable collegiate designs sporting easily broken-down crowns and bills that frayed quickly (Trot Nixon would have been jealous). These customers were less concerned with representing alma maters or their sports teams than with making a statement. South Carolina Cocks and Oregon State Beavers models, you’ll be shocked to learn, moved especially well with this crowd. "There was something in the early days of Lids hats that was irreverent," Fischman recalls. "It was a kid’s thing, and that was part of the fun."

The cart rapidly grew into a full store in the Atrium, and then, within a year, into six other stores in New England. But some of the hats they were selling, notably the MLB ones, still didn’t fit perfectly. Karp and Fischman realized that if they applied the same principles that made the college hats popular—which was really the fit, not the sophomoric double-entendres—to other hats, particularly Sox hats, they’d have gold. College campuses have a reputation as fashion incubators (major retailers have been known to send employees to schools just to take notes on how kids dress), so if they could make the perfect MLB hat and sell it in a college town like Boston, they could sell it anywhere.

The next step was convincing manufacturers that the fit was more important than the logo. It was a hard sell at first, but as Lids expanded (eventually to hundreds of stores), they gained leverage and soon found a partner in Dedham-based Twins Enterprise (recently renamed Twins ’47), one of the largest hat makers in the country. Starting in the mid-’90s, Lids and Twins made samples out of all types of fabrics with all types of embroideries: felt, twill, cotton, wool, synthetics. They tried different stitching patterns, added patches, took off patches. Just as significant, they also decided to forgo the traditional hat-sizing scale. Instead of nine sizes that measured sweatband circumference—the standard 6 7/8 to 8 inches—Lids and Twins used just four. The small, medium, large, and XL sizes were easier for customers to understand and more economically efficient for Lids: If the company could carry less inventory, it stood a better chance of not stockpiling unsold hats. Every so often, boxes of samples came in from Twins. Karp, Fischman, and Lids’ head of product development, Craig Rodia, would slam the caps on, compare notes, and pass a few out to friends for trial runs.

After a year, they had it. Cotton delivered the relaxed, vintage look they wanted. And after creating their new sizing scale, they had achieved a more holistic fit: The caps did not pull uncomfortably in any spot, or crease, or have a bowl that either came down too low (Dumbo again) or stopped too high (the Tweedledee-and-Tweedledum look). Today every major university and North American pro league except the NFL (which has an exclusive deal with Reebok) licenses the sale of Franchise hats.

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  • s

    Great story. Why do the work and break your hat in like Trot when you can pick up a McFranchise and have the work done for you? One question: do you find the pink fades much with wear?

  • shooter

    Most of the people who wear those caps are bandwaggoners who want to look like they have been Sox fans for a long time. They get a hat that looks worn out so it looks like they have had it for a while. These are the same people who wear Joe Montana throwbacks. The Red Sox are the Lakers of MLB.