Veterans: Hats off to a business mind

Mimi made aliya, stayed, thanks to her children. Her skills paid off as she gave head-covering a whole new meaning.

Mimi Kaizler 521 (photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Mimi Kaizler 521
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Any woman who has ever bought a special hat in Israel probably knows Mimi Kaizler of Mimi’s Hats. She has been in the hat business more or less since she arrived in Israel and settled in Ra’anana.
What few of her regular customers know is that she has a background as a corporate vice-president in a private industry company, and this is what she had intended to do here when she made aliya with her husband, Daniel, and three small children from New York in 1995.
Hats were the last thing on her mind.
“I worked all my life after studying for a bachelor’s in business at Baruch College [at the City University of New York],” she says.
“I started from scratch and worked my way up the corporate ladder. When we arrived in Israel I started going for job interviews in hitech companies and I got accepted to many positions but the salaries were so bad I couldn’t even consider taking the jobs. I had a three-year-old and a one-year-old and it didn’t make sense to work for what I was being offered and pay a babysitter more.”
Even today, 17 years later, she doesn’t think a woman can work a 10-hour day as an executive, doing the same job as a man for less money, and pay for someone to take her place in the home.
But the corporate world’s loss was the hatwearer’s gain. Not at first though. She just stayed home with the baby, missing the business world and wanting to go back to New York.
“If not for the children, I would have gone back,” she says.
She went to synagogue every Shabbat, wearing one of her American hats, and friends started to notice them and ask questions – where did she get it, why can’t we get high-fashion hats here in Israel? Slowly, the realization dawned on her that here was a business she could run from home.
She began to import hats and started to do shows in people’s houses. In 1996 she opened a store in Jerusalem, run by a sales manager, while in Ra’anana she sold hats from her basement.
“I began to understand that there was a demand for really high-end headgear and for a woman making an event like a wedding or a bar mitzva, the sky was the limit,” she recalls. “I began to import the really top names in American hat couture like Patricia Underwood and Saks Fifth Avenue. Then I started to fill specific requests for clients, supplying a hat which I had in stock in another color.”
This led to some harrowing experiences, like being unable to release an item from customs and actually turning up with it at the wedding hall on the night of the wedding.
Kaizler has endless patience and never loses her cool, even if a potential customer tries on every hat in the place.
“I enjoy dressing a woman who wants to look good,” she says.
Two years ago, her friend Chaya Mansdorf approached her about selling good costume jewelry and the two went into partnership.
“We import high-end gold-plated, sterling silver or crystal jewelry which are often copies of Cartier and other top designers, and we find they are very popular with clients who can well afford real diamonds but prefer to leave them in the safe and wear our copies,” she says.
The new venture is catching on quickly.
Some women mix their real diamonds with the faux and maintain that no one can tell the difference. Sometimes a customer will come in to buy jewelry, see the hats and say she wishes she could wear one but she doesn’t want to look as though she is Orthodox.
Kaizler acknowledges that most hat-wearers these days do so for religious reasons.
For a time she had a fling at another business venture, selling second-hand clothes along with the hats. Some of the items were top designer labels but clients didn’t appreciate that they were paying for a name so the project didn’t take off.
She also dabbles in shidduch-making and is a volunteer matchmaker on the Internet website Saw You at Sinai.
“I’ve been doing it since I was 18 years old as a hobby and charity thing,” she says. “I’ve so far had three successful marriages, a fourth on the way and no divorces yet.”
She met Daniel through a set-up, but that’s not the reason she tries to match people up.
“I just have a soft spot for people who need to meet each other,” she says. “It’s no use waiting for your partner to arrive on a white horse – it isn’t going to happen that way.”
Today, Daniel works as an events planner and the children have all grown into happy and productive Israelis. The older daughter has a degree in psychology, the second is in national service and the son who was a oneyear- old baby when they made aliya is in a pre-army preparatory yeshiva.
Although the beginning was hard, she believes it was a good decision to stay and raise the children here.
“I stayed because of them and I’m very glad I did,” she says.