A Tale of Two Bad Hats

I’ve mentioned in my About page that I make hats for kids because I have two young sons. But that’s not quite the full story…

It all started with disappointment.

How’s that? Well, about four years ago I bought a lovely sun hat for my eldest son. Made from cotton in a combination of greys, blues and soft yellows, it was an attractive design which suited him, and at $35 from a gift store the price seemed reasonable. I looked forward to him wearing it all summer.

On the second or third occasion he wore the hat, we met up with friends at the park. It was a blisteringly hot day – well into the 30s Celsius (or 90s Fahrenheit) – and humid with it. Being an energetic little dude, my son played the day away regardless, and naturally, perspired a lot in the sun. When we got home I discovered his hat had a sweat stain that had soaked right through the lining and was visible from the outside.

‘Oh well,’ I thought, ‘No worries, it’s cotton, I’ll just wash it.’ I put it on a gentle cycle with the usual detergent and got on with my day. It was a bit of a shock when it emerged from the wash looking much the worse for wear! The dye in the fabric had run from the crown into the brim, giving the whole hat a sad, mottled appearance. I was heartbroken! I tried washing it a second time to give the hat a more uniform look (even if the colours were a bit faded), but it didn’t improve.

Flash forward a couple of years and I needed a hat for my youngest son, then 18 months old, at very short notice. I popped into the nearest big brand store and grabbed a navy canvas sun hat covered in little white anchors for $5. It did the job that day, but after a couple more wears – and no washing! – the anchors just started flaking off. The hat looked scruffy and worn in no time at all.

As someone who has sewn clothes and bags on and off since her teens – where study and work commitments would permit, basically – I was really frustrated by this. I began to ponder two things: why are these companies using such poor quality materials? And, could I make hats myself, from fabrics I know are good quality, washable, and fun?

I guess you’re ahead of me on the answer to the second question – with a bit of practice and time spent refining designs, I began making hats to sell in mid 2017, and I’m thrilled to say I’ve just opened my online store at madeit.com.au.

My best guess about the first question relates to cost-saving. Businesses designed to sell high volumes of product with low margins on each item are always looking for ways to cut costs. When it comes to making clothes & accessories, your two major costs are labour (the people sewing the item, and how long they spend doing it), and materials (fabric, thread, embellishments etc). Now with a hat, there’s not a lot you can do to reduce your labour costs; despite being relatively small objects, they have quite a number of seams and sections that need to be assembled, and there’s only so much simplifying of the pattern you can do. This leaves materials, and I think explains my Sad Hat Tales above – manufacturers are choosing cheap, poorly made materials which look okay on the store shelf, but rapidly lose their lustre once the customer has brought them home. Now if you’ve only paid $5 for a hat, that might not be so surprising, but to see the same thing hold true at $35 is so disappointing!

Those old hats might have been disappointments, but they were great teachers too. I wash every fabric I buy, before I make it into a hat – so I know it will stand up to a wash or three at your place! I choose high quality, natural fibres that will stand up to wear and tear. And I let my creativity run wild with colourful designs that make kids and parents smile. But perhaps that’s a topic for another post 😉

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