07/15/2015 01:56 EDT | Updated 07/15/2016 05:59 EDT

Toronto-based company behind iconic Tilley hat sold to U.K. company

TORONTO - Tilley Endurables, the Toronto company behind the iconic Tilley hat, now has a British overlord but its signature line is still as Canadian as maple syrup, says president and CEO Mary Coleen Shanahan.

Tilley announced Wednesday it had been sold in late April to a subsidiary of U.K.-based private equity firm Hilco Capital, known for its investments in distressed companies.

"It was between private companies so nothing was said at the time, but there have been some inquiries so they decided to do a press release," Shanahan said.

Financial and other details of the sale to Re:Capital, the Canadian arm of Hilco Capital, were not disclosed.

Tilley Endurables, also known for its wide variety of travel wear and accessories, was founded in 1980 by entrepreneur Alex Tilley, who long insisted that virtually all Tilley-branded products be made in Canada. (An exception is socks, which are manufactured in the United States).

The made-in-Canada distinction was preserved in the deal.

"Part of the attraction to Tilley for (Hilco) was that it was a well-known brand and they saw the value of it being made in Canada," Shanahan said.

"Their plan is to continue making everything in Canada and all of the factories are going full steam ahead."

The company employs 75 people at its lead factory in Toronto, while contractors in Nova Scotia, Quebec and British Columbia employ an additional 150 to 175 people making hats and clothing.

Another 75 employees work at Tilley's four retail outlets: one in Toronto, two in Montreal and one in Victoria. So far no jobs have been lost, the company said.

Besides preserving Canadian manufacturing, Tilley, who at 77 years of age wanted to retire, was also looking for a buyer able to take the company to the next level, Shanahan said.

"Re:Capital fit that bill," she said. "They have manufacturing, wholesale and distribution expertise as well as financial expertise."

Tilley has good distribution in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, but it has managed to penetrate only a few stores in many of the 15 other countries where the company's line is sold, she added.

"There is much more that could be done," she said.

"There are many more heads outside of Canada than there are in Canada."

Re:Capital's past Canadian acquisitions have included HMV Canada in 2011 and the Kraus Group, a flooring manufacturer and distributor, in 2012.

In acquiring Tilley Endurables, it takes on a company whose famously durable hats enjoy a fiercely loyal following, having graced the heads of Prince Philip, famed explorer Sir Edmund Hillary and Canadian soldiers during the Gulf War, who sometimes dyed the light coloured hat with coffee to make it more camouflaged.

The company itself often bragged of the hats having emerged unscathed from the jaws of a lion and passing through the digestive system of an elephant three times.

The idea behind the hat was born from Alex Tilley's failed search for a sailing hat that wouldn't blow off his head nor sink if it fell overboard.

Within months, an early concept for the Tilley hat was created. The hat debuted on the North American boat show circuit selling for $15.50 a pop, which meant Tilley barely turned a profit at first.

By the late 1980s, the Tilley hat was a phenomenon in the outdoors industry, helped by its lifetime guarantee and the face of its founder, who appeared on posters for the company's clothing lines.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had an incorrect spelling for Prince Philip's name.