Friday Interview: Endless Hats February 18, 2011 11:46

Happy Friday, readers! It's a gorgeous Friday here in Downtown Providence, wow! The sound of snow melting is a beautiful thing. This week I'd like to introduce you to Emily Weisgerber from Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. Her beautifully crafted hats and handbags, are for sale here at Craftland. Her creative use of fabrics and impeccable sewing skills make her pieces an excellent addition to anyone's closet. Read on to learn more about Emily, and get some great advice on being your own boss.

When did you start your handmade business?
Endless Hats was born in January 2008, when my husband, Nick, and I relocated from New York to Bloomsburg, PA. We had lived in New York for almost 3 years and simultaneously reached the point where we wanted to become self-employed. Nick worked for a record label and I worked for a hat designer/ manufacturer. Our original goal was to open a record store, where I would operate Endless Hats peripherally. Due to a number of factors, we ended up working from home, which gave me the opportunity to turn Endless Hats into my full-time occupation, selling at craft fairs, on Etsy, and wholesale/ consignment. Just this past spring we finally found a space to rent, so Endless Hats has a permanent home as well as being a touring shop during fair season.

Describe your studio for us.
That would be "studios," plural! My original studio, at home, is an approximately 90 square foot sun room, with two walls of windows looking out on the Main Street of Bloomsburg. Besides being a well-lit room, it's a great roost from which to keep an eye on the goings on in town. When you work inside all day, it's important to still feel connected to the world, and this is the perfect room for that! I still use this studio for storing fabric, and doing all my cutting and other business-y stuff. It's also where I draft all my patterns.

My second studio is inside my store, which is inside an old Moose lodge being converted by a non-profit into a community arts center. Our store is about 200 square feet, and I have about a third of it to make and display hats. I set up my sewing machine in front of an old mop closet, and put an ironing board over the sink, so I have a perfect little cubby to work in. It's way more fun making hats right in front of people, especially children, who usually have never seen anyone sewing a garment before. People always say, when they walk in and see me working, "Do you MAKE all these hats???" I would also like to mention that I make everything on a Singer sewing machine from 1951, which only does a straight stitch. I've had other machines, but this one is definitely my favorite. I found it in a Salvation Army about 6 years ago for $23, and it's perfect.

Explain to us what the other side of your business is, Endless Records, and how it works with Endless Hats.
As I started explaining earlier, Endless Records was the original impetus for Nick and I to start our own business. Nick has always been an avid record collector, and we both really love music. In 2007, Nick's favorite record store growing up, Mugsy's, closed. We were lamenting the fact that Bloomsburg would have no record store, and sort of realized that we had no good reason not to move to town and open one ourselves. In fact, we got really excited about opening an even cooler record store where we could also have bands play and sell new music. We envisioned making Bloomsburg a cooler place by bringing some new momentum to the retail in the town. Now that we have actually opened our store, we've found that our dreams are coming true. I don't know why, but hats definitely appeal to musicians and music lovers, and people who buy vinyl records are often also into the handmade, DIY scene.


Describe for us your design process for designing and producing a new style of hat.
Well, design starts with inspiration. I love the hats laborers wore during the industrial revolution, for example, though other hats inspire me, too. I'm always looking at pictures for ideas. Next come my principles. I put a lot of work into designing hats which are well-proportioned and classic looking. People don't buy too many hats, and I would prefer my customers buy one hat from me and wear it everyday for years, rather than buy a lot of hats that they wear once and decide they don't like, or that it doesn't feel comfortable. Also, I try not to make things that I can't personally afford. So, with shape and specifications in mind I draft a pattern, which is a trial and error process and sort of difficult to explain to someone who's never done it. I guess it's a matter of spacial skills. I really didn't know how to make patterns until I worked for a dress maker in Los Angeles. My boss was really clever at making patterns, and I would make all our custom orders from scratch including altering the patterns, something most people would find tedious, but I personally loved, and learned a lot from. Sometimes, however, I also design things based on the goal of recycling a certain material. A perfect example of this is the Visor Scarf, which was designed around using a silk scarf to make a tie on visor. 

How does living in a small college town in Pennsylvania influence your work?
I don't think that my location has much influence on my work, except to keep me mindful of price point and quality. I have a lot of friends and acquaintances as customers, and they give me a lot of honest feedback, which is good. Also, since I sell the same hats in this semi-rural area, as well as in metropolitan areas at craft shows, I get to see how people react differently to my various styles. Around here, people tend to respond to the function of a hat, whereas in urban areas, people choose them more often for stylish purposes. I really like that my hats can suit both needs.

What advice would you offer to someone who is looking to take their craft from hobby to business?
I'm not sure I'll answer this very well since making hats was never a hobby for me-- I previously only made hats for other businesses. So, I'll give some advice on how to successfully transition from working for other people to being self-employed. First, you're going to have to get used to living on limited income, and being very good at budgeting. There's a certain amount of stress in living hand-to-mouth, and saving money when you can is a must. Also, you have to be really self-motivated. If you consider what you're doing "work," you'll probably put it off, and eventually hate it. My husband and I like to say that we haven't had a "job" in 3 years, which is how it feels because we both love what we do. Last, get good at doing your taxes. Tons of stuff is deductible, and it really pays off to know how to do your taxes.

How did you first become involved with Craftland?
I first found out about Craftland in 2008, and it was probably because I was searching for holiday craft shows or checking out where other companies I liked had vended the year before. I can't remember which anymore.

Guilty Pleasure?
When I'm sewing I have a lot of time to listen to stuff, usually audiobooks, but sometimes I need mindless entertainment, such as hip-hop, the Ricky Gervais Show, and Janet Evanovich books.