Q: How did you end up in this profession?
A: I was working for Qwest, and they downsized in 2003. They gave us retraining dollars. I was taking a desktop computer class and started a project [an imaginary hat company], building a website, brochures, fliers. And it took on a life of its own. I went to different websites and found these beautiful hats. I loved hats, so I bought a line of hats to sell, but then I decided, “I don’t want to sell hats. I want to make hats.”
Q: How did you train?
A: I found a master milliner teacher in Wilmington, N.C. I went to her house from 7 to 3 every day and then came back to my hotel and tried to duplicate what she had shown me. It was tough. I was clueless, but I was tenacious. I kept trying and trying and working at it, and then one day some real hats showed up.
Q: Does it take special skills?
A: Attention to detail, knowing your customer, what shape fits them. Really just listening to the customer. A lot of time you might have an idea for them, but you go with what they say. … I’ve always been very organized, very disciplined, very methodical about how to do things. The balance [of elements in the hat] has to be there, the proportion. I have to like it.
Q: Are there sacrifices?
A: Since I started this, I have felt driven, truly inspired, and it was like nothing or nobody was going to get in my way. I was dating someone at the time, and I would say, “No, I need to do one more thing; I need to get this right.” And it was like I didn’t have time for him. I was thinking, “Men will come and go, but I’ve got to get this right.”
Q: What’s the best part?
A: When the customer is thrilled. When they put that hat on and then there’s a big smile.
Q: The worst part?
A: I do get burned. I get steamed. Some of the straw, it scratches me. The wire, I almost get poked in the eye.