Coromandel Valley locals Bernie and Melissa Sharrad are two salt-of-the-earth people whom I’ve known since 2010 when Melissa and I did our training to be netball umpires for our girls’ primary school teams. Bernie’s an ideas man if ever there was one, an excellent landscape photographer and someone who lives and breathes adventure in the Australian outback. In fact, it was while Bernie was on one of these adventures on the far west coast of South Australia in 2004 that CapHat™ was born.
“It was a stinking hot day. I had a hat on, but I was still getting sunburnt, so I taped together the first CapHat™ using duct tape and paper towel” recounts Bernie. The cobbled together sun protection was simple but effective and inspired him to construct one using material and a sewn construction.
Bernie used his professional skills in project and process management and packaging to develop the design of CapHat™ to its current form: a lightweight, one-size-fits-all, UPF45 ‘attachment’ that slips over your favourite cap or hat.
CapHats™ have been independently tested and rated as excellent sun protection, an attribute that is particularly important to Bernie, and part of the reason for their development. Melissa had a skin cancer removed from her nose in 2013 and it was the catalyst to look at his invention more closely. “I remember the day vividly … dropping Melissa off to have her nose operated on … and she had asked the doctor if it was serious,” Bernie recalls. “He [the doctor] basically said that he wouldn’t have removed it if wasn’t serious! It was a Basal Cell Carcinoma, and it could have turned very nasty. I learnt a lot about skin cancer in the months after Melissa’s surgery … and we had family and friends who were already wearing CapHats … they encouraged us to ‘have a go’.” CapHat was launched in 2014 with a Facebook page and shortly after, a website: caphat.com.au.
Since then CapHat™ has sold in excess of 3000 units, has received a ‘seal of approval’ from the Melanoma International Foundation, won the ‘Best Clothing Accessory, 2015’ at the Australian Fishing Trade Association awards and the couple has recently returned from New York where Bernie was presented with a prestigious Bronze Edison Award; here he rubbed shoulders with entrepreneurs and businesses of the calibre of Cisco Systems, Caltex, Bosch and Proterra and other entrants including the NASA mission to Pluto! CapHat™ is the first South Australian product to receive an Edison Award and only the third Australian representative at the awards. “The Edison Awards are an enormous deal in the US,” says Bernie “on our return through customs the security man at the scanners saw our award on the X-ray machine and knew all about them [the Edison Awards] … he wanted to know what our award was for, so there we were at the X-ray machine with miles of people in a line behind us, and we’re talking to the security guy about CapHat™!”.
The accolades are a testament to the determination and hard work that both Bernie and Melissa have put into their product; but they’re really not ‘in it’ to become millionaires (although it would be a nice bi-product!). From the sale of each CapHat™ product 5% is donated to Cystic Fibrosis research. “We have a friend with Cystic Fibrosis and while staying with her for a week, we saw first hand the struggles and the medication and routine that she copes with on a daily basis. Right from the word ‘go’ we decided that we wanted to make a difference. People have said to us ‘why would you want to do that [donate]? You should be using that money to go back into your product’. But that’s what Bernie has always wanted to do. To give back to the community,” says Melissa.
And the ultimate dream for Bernie and CapHat™? “I’d like to ride a horse across Australia. The biggest mystery in Australian history is the disappearance of Ludwig Leichhardt. He set out to cross the continent – before Burke and Wills and before McDouall Stuart – east to west – but he disappeared and no-one is really sure what became of him or where he actually went. I’d like to re-create his trip, not only to complete it (from Mount Abundance in Queensland to the Swan River in Western Australia)… but do it for charity: supporting Cystic Fibrosis, the Leukaemia Foundation and the Royal Flying Doctor Service. To have CEOs like [Sir] Richard Branson and others like him from around the world come in, sit around a campfire, listen to drovers, experience the bush and bush tucker… and potentially create the biggest charity event in world history (or at least Australian history). It’d be pretty awesome.”
Bernie never stops. He’s developing new styles designed to suit different industries and applications, and is really excited about the launch of the new CapHat™ Hoodie*. Make sure you head over to the CapHat™ website and take a look, join his on-line community and receive his Top Tips Newsletter (where he shares products and tips for adventures in the bush) but most of all, support a true local entrepreneur who has a heart for his community.