Pastor and cancer survivor saves Northeast hat factory filled with 100 years of history, art

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- They say when you support a small business, you support a dream.

During the holiday season, if you're buying handmade hats from a nearly 100-year-old factory in Northeast Philadelphia, you're also supporting a piece of city history, and an art form with deep roots.

"We actually make everything. Not only do we sew and create the hat shape, we then create the trim," explains Rev. Georgiette Morgan-Thomas, the owner of American Hats LLC. "It's an art form."

It's been that way since 1923.

"All of the equipment here was used from the very beginning," she says. "Two brothers started the S & S Hat Factory to manufacture hats for women when Stetson and Bowman were here in Philadelphia manufacturing hats for men."

A few years ago, the hat factory in the Northeast fell on hard times. Morgan-Thomas stepped in.

"I am a hat lady. I wore a hat every day and I still do," she said.

She owned more than 100 originals from S & S.

A retired pastor and two-time cancer survivor, the reverend took a leap of faith.

"I was always complaining that we need to make stuff again here in the U.S. So I put my money where my mouth is," Morgan-Thomas said.

She's preserving not only the art form but the history.

"It's like sculpture and so there are not very many people who know how to do this," she explains.

Now called American Hats, Morgan-Thomas just opened up her first retail location, an anchor store in the new Philadelphia Fashion District.

"The response is amazing," she says. 'We have people who walk in the store and look around and go 'Ahhhhh.'"

She says it's a spiritual, full-circle moment.

"The S & S Hat Company was down on Filbert and 9th near where our new retail store is," she says. "It's ironic."
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