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Pajk’s products are not popular just because they are stylish, but because they are made using traditional methods that have not changed much for decades -- a rarity in today’s world. Some of his clients come from as far away as the United States and Asia. (The picture is symbolic) Foto: EPA

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A Hat for All Seasons

Slovenia Revealed
18. December 2017 ob 06:18
Ljubljana - MMC RTV SLO

A coalmining accident almost a century ago changed the life of a young man and began the story of a hatmaking brand that lives on to this day.

It all began in 1920, when an explosion at a coalmine near the town of Trbovlje claimed 26 lives. One of the survivors was a young man named Rudolf Pajk. According to the company’s official history, it was then that he decided to look for a new profession, as far removed from the toil and danger of the mines as possible. After an apprenticeship with a local hatter, Pajk moved to Ljubljana and opened his own hatmaking workshop.

His hats for both men and women became prized for their quality – and their style. Some of them were fashionable, while others were made for specific customers, such as hunters and horseback riders. Pajk eventually operated a chain of stores across the capital. Despite significant competition, fashion-conscious people flocked to his store, and Pajk hats soon emerged as a fashion icon. The company was the first in Slovenia to introduce modern hatmaking technology, but each hat still received individual care and attention.

But tough times lay ahead for Pajk. A large part of his business was confiscated by the Communist authorities after World War II. After the war, Rudolf’s son Rudi continued the family business, but on a smaller scale, with a single workshop. The Communist Party severely restricted the size of the business, even though Pajk hats were much more popular than the ones produced by the state-owned competition. Cowboy hats were becoming especially popular; they were popularized by Westerns, which attracted thousands of Slovenian moviegoers in the 1950s.

Because of consistent hardship imposed by the state on the business, the Pajks moved their operations to Austria, where they operated a small store across the border. To supplement their income, they sold various items that were unavailable in Slovenia. In the 1980s, Rudi and his son Sergej moved their hatmaking business again, this time to the New World. They opened a workshop in Canada, which specialized in riding hats for equestrian sports. According to the company’s official history, they even made a specially commissioned hat for U.S. President Ronald Reagan.

After stints as a carpenter and a pizza chef, Sergej Pajk returned to Slovenia after the country became independent in 1991. Even though hats had fallen largely out of fashion, he carried on the family tradition. But fashions change, and in recent years, hats have once again become in vogue. Pajk’s products are not popular just because they are stylish, but because they are made using traditional methods that have not changed much for decades -- a rarity in today’s world. Some of his clients come from as far away as the United States and Asia. Pajk’s approach has ensured sustained demand for his hats and the continuation of a family tradition that has lasted almost a century.

Jaka Bartolj