The unlikely inspiration for American manufacturer Northern Cap & Glove came to founder Sam Rafowitz at the worst time in his long and productive life—a prolonged internment as a young man in five Nazi concentration camps during World War II.
It was then that Rafowitz began making French berets using cloth re-purposed from prison uniforms, offering hand-sewn hats to doctors and Kapos—the prisoners in charge of supervising forced labor—in exchange for an extra ration of bread or other small act of kindness.
“I made up my mind. I know how to make a beret, so when I was going to be liberated, this was going to be my future,” says Rafowitz, who at 88 still exudes the stalwart enthusiasm for headwear that earned him the nickname “Sam the Hat Man” in the retail trade. Rafowitz would go on to develop one of the premier hat and glove manufacturers in the United States, supplying major retailers from Kohl’s to J.C. Penney to L.L. Bean with everything from seasonal headwear to specialty items.
After his liberation from the camps in 1945, Rafowitz moved to Paris where he worked for relatives who manufactured apparel. With the help of a Jewish relief organization, he, his wife and young son emigrated to Minneapolis-St. Paul in 1949. Finding American life as unfamiliar as its language, the Warsaw native took night classes to learn English.