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Meet the Italian hat-maker who brought his family's century-old business to Vancouver

The business was hit hard by COVID-19. Even though he is a B.C. resident, the business owner could not claim any of the benefits offered by the provincial government.
Italian hat-maker Adi Bertacchi, 40, inside his Vancouver shop

It all started around a hundred years ago in Siena, Italy, when the Bertacchi family became milliners.

Today, with the vision of the second generation of the family business, they have grown their presence and product categories.

Cappelleria Bertacchi, located in Gastown, is one of the very few hat-making businesses in Vancouver that designs and manufactures their own hats.

"Hat lovers usually don't look for brands. They look for designs. We are designers with our own brand and not re-sellers," said 40-year old Adi Bertacchi, who is also the trade expansion manager for the family business.

Born in Siena, Bertachi brought the century-old business to Vancouver in 2015, almost a year after he immigrated to Canada.

"It is hard to say how long I have been in this industry as I have been helping my dad since I was a little kid. I grew up in a certain environment. But officially, my brother and I took over the business from our dad in 2012," explained Bertacchi.

On average, the Bertachhi hat-makers design 500 hats every year, covering a wide variety of women's and men's styles. Many of their hats have been featured in movies and TV shows like The Chilling Adventures of SabrinaThe Man in the High Castle; The Good DoctorThe Philosophy of Phil; and Bad Times at the El Royale, among others. Recently, they collaborated with costume designer Barbara Gregusova to make a headpiece for the actress portraying Meghan Markle in the movie Escaping the Palace.

Bertacchi immigrated to Canada with a work visa and a hope to expand his family business but faced troubles securing credit for his privately held corporation. He believes Canadian immigration laws are complex, and often, people with "skills and will to grow the economy" may end up having to go back home. "If you want to immigrate, either you invest money in a certain way, or you don't fit the criteria." 

As a company established abroad, Cappelleria Bertacchi did not have credit history in Canada, therefore banks were not willing to provide them loans. The
interest rates that private financing firms offered to them were as high as 40 per cent.

"Banks were not even willing to have a conversation with us. They said we are too risky for them as our shareholders do not reside in Canada. They didn't want to look at our sales, cash flow and spreadsheets," recalled Bertacchi during an interview at his shop in Gastown.

"In the end, I was able to stay in Canada because my girlfriend sponsored me, not because Canada did something to make it happen. We would have been closed. In 2018, I was almost forced to leave."

Establishing a business is not easy, especially for immigrant entrepreneurs hoping to expand their operations in Canada. Often their loan applications are rejected as banks categorize them as "too risky."

Bertacchi also shared his experience running a business during the pandemic. He claimed the provincial government did not do enough to help immigrant entrepreneurs: "During the pandemic, I have to thank the federal government as they put a blind eye and said, 'okay, we are going to help everyone.' But the B.C. government didn't help us at all."

Bertacchi further attested he couldn't claim any of the business-related pandemic benefits the B.C. government announced because the shareholders of his business are not here: "We employ Canadians, and I was willing to provide any document to guarantee that I will spend every penny in Canada, and nothing will go to shareholders. However, nothing was enough."

Even though there are struggles, he is hopeful that tourists will be back in Vancouver. Bertacchi continues to help young designers, especially from the BIPOC community, by offering internships and other opportunities.

Cappelleria Bertacchi currently has two locations in Italy (Siena and Lucca) in addition to the one in  Vancouver. The family business is already designing its Summer 2022 collection.