A not-so-mad hatters' success story
This is one in a weekly series of profiles on locally owned and operated businesses in Southern Oregon.
What do you do and how long have you been doing it?
We've been making hats out of natural fibers ' wool, cotton and linen. We sew the fabric together. One of our main styles is called a newsboy or touring cap. Most of them are billed caps. We made our first hats in 1978 and started getting pretty serious in the early 1980s.
How long have you lived in the Rogue Valley?
— Carol grew up in Los Angeles and has lived in the Rogue Valley since 1976. Jim has lived here since 1972 and was raised in Brookings.
What inspired you to go into this line of work?
Carol: I learned to sew in high school. When we first started making hats we lived on Silver Creek in Josephine County. We'd get snowed in, make the hats and then sell them later at fairs to make money. At first we got free material here and there. We could stick the hats in a duffel bag and go to Eugene or Portland and sell them at a Saturday market. Those Saturday markets encouraged cottage industries like ours. We came back with some money and then could buy more fabric. We would pay &
36;300 to be in a fair and make &
36;900 and found we could keep doing it.
What decision or action would you change if you could do it again?
We're starting to realize now after all this time, maybe we needed a bookkeeper.
What's the toughest business decision you've made?
Getting involved with the Briscoe Art Wing at the former Briscoe Elementary School was one thing. We were in there five months before moving our machines over there from our home in Talent and started manufacturing there. Moving things from our home was difficult, because I had been doing it so long. It was nice to work at home because my work is more integrated with my life. I can start dinner, go outside in the yard and then come back and work. It was getting too small though. Our work room was pretty jammed up and now we have a high ceiling and a total work environment. We can have a couple helpers there with us and it isn't crowded. At our home studio, things got crowded.
Who are your competitors?
The Haberdasher in Seattle makes similar hats. There are some fairs we're at, and he's there, too.
How do you define success for your business?
It's not so much the money we make. One way of success is that you have more demand than supply and that seems to be the case. If we did things differently, we'd have better production. This last Christmas season, we couldn't fulfill all the orders we had. It took us into February to catch up.
What are your goals?
In the past we've gone to as many as eight or nine fairs a year, but now we've cut to four or five because of our Web site. That doesn't include Saturday markets. We're looking at ramping up production and delegating more work to the subcontractors. I'd like to find people who are reliable sewers. A lot of times when moms are home with kids, it doesn't make it easy for them to work. We do a few thousand hats, perhaps as many as 5,000 a year.
What training or education did you need?
My grandmother taught me to sew and I took sewing classes in junior high and high school. My mother is an artist and I attended San Francisco Art Institute. Jim took a lot of art classes at the University of Oregon and he's a good designer. His dad ran a furniture store and he's really good at selling things.
What's your advice for budding entrepreneurs?
You should be doing something you like and do something within your means. We didn't start off looking for capital we started off doing things with what we had. Surround yourselves with role models. I've seen people start craft businesses, but their sense of design was a dud. Having an artistic flair makes a lot of difference.
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