Cate Havstad is full of bright, contagious and committed energy to her craft as a custom hat maker. She lives on a small farm outside of Bend, OR and draws inspiration from her surroundings and her supportive community of creatives.
We had a few days to spend with Cate as she worked on filling a tall stack of custom hat orders, helped out with the local Organic potato harvest, attended the farmer’s market and talked about her path.
What is your first memory of wearing a cowboy hat?
My first western hat came to me when I was 21 years old. I was thinking about dropping out of school for a while to go on tour with songwriter Willy Tea Taylor and help film a music documentary he was working on. I was nervous about the decision and perhaps knowing this or just out of kindness Willy Tea showed up one day with a flat brimmed vaquero style hat for me. When he gave it to me he told me it was my “movie making hat” and encouraged me to follow the inspiration that way to be found on the road. I decided to go on the trip and I wore that hat every day, it became a piece of a new and evolving identity. It was the beginning of my journey of finding that which truly inspired me.
What do you think is the biggest challenge about being a woman hat maker?
My little fingers keep me from making nice creases… NOT! I once had an older male hatter tell me this is why women hatter’s aren’t as good, not even kidding. You should have seen my face. The biggest challenge for a female hatter is hearing misogynistic comments like the above, unfortunately some our society is still stuck in the dark ages when it comes to equality and respect. Luckily, I don’t have to interact with these types often but they are out there. Other than that, I don’t feel like there are any challenges I face that a male hatter doesn’t face.
What do the “X’s” mean in the hat band?
The X felt grading system is not standardized so it means different things for different hatters. I adopted the felt grading system of one of my first teachers in which 10x is a European Hare fur felt, 50x is a Beaver/ Hare fur blend, roughly 50/50, and 100x is 100% Beaver fur felt. As of this year I am only working with the 50x Beaver Blend and 100x Premium Beaver fur felts as they are the qualities I believe are truly lifetime quality, and I only want to build lifetime quality hats.
How do the felts get dyed?
Some of my felts come dyed from the manufacturer, and for the last couple of years I’ve also been working on a Naturally dyed hat collection. By using High Desert plants that are wildcrafted, a dye bath is created with the plants and the felts are dyed with this plant dye. The resulting hues are a really amazing soft desert palate that I’m in love with. When I am working on those hats, the steam unlocks the smell of the plants in the felt and it fills my workshop with the smell of sage or rabbitbrush or juniper.
What boots do you have and why did you pick those?
I have the Clara boot in the Oro legacy leather. I’m so in love with these boots because they embody a feminine grit that is exactly my style. The boots have a slender mock toe for that classic Red Wing look but with a moderate heel adding a femininity to the boots profile. While I’m certainly a feminine woman I also am utilitarian in what I wear because I’m either on my feet all day working in my hat workshop or I’m helping out around the farm I work on, often transitioning from one to the other and having a functional boot that can play hard and look good is key.
Where is your shop?
Currently my workshop is parked at the farm I live on, Juniper Jungle Farm. Last year I bought a 32 ft airstream, gutted it and built it back up as my hat workshop. I took the airstream workshop around the country last fall, logging about 8,000 miles in 6 weeks. Since that hat-tour I have had my workshop in town parked next to a couple of local businesses but I found that I prefer a more private, quiet work environment which is why I’m now working from the farm.
Where do you find some of your most powerful inspiration?
My most powerful inspiration comes from the landscapes I’m surrounded by, the regional styles that are so distinct from one another, and my customers are very powerful inspirations to me.
Each hat is custom made and built to suit a particular person. In this way, the stature, style, family history or a new life endeavor that the customer happens to share with me might inspire a new hat style that I have never done until that person inspired it. Right now I’m interested in working more with my Hues of the High Desert hats that are naturally dyed, the plant hues are so unique and very inspiring.
Was there one defining moment when you realized that you were going to commit to making hats?
After I had decided to leave my first teacher’s workshop and strikeout to start my own workshop, I had a lot of self-doubt. The start-up period is so difficult for so many reasons, but one of the biggest transitions after leaving an apprenticeship is learning to do it on your own with no teacher to turn to when you hit a wall. The first public forum I sold hats at was at Bandit Town in California. All hail Bandit Town! Frankly, I was such a fresh baby hatter, that first collection I took to sell was terrible. I mean, it was terrible in retrospect but it was my first solo effort as a hatter, we all have to start somewhere and in those first years the key was make, make, make, I learned so much through just spending countless hours in my workshop with lots of trial and error.
That first day at Bandit Town before the vendors area was officially open I had two women walk up to my booth and each bought a hat off the wall and each ordered a custom hat as well. That moment was it, I can’t even describe the feeling I had. One of my best friends from childhood was helping me that day at the booth and at the end of the day he looked at me and said, “Cate, you’re doing it, I’m so proud of you” and I remember sitting there so exhausted after a hectic day of sales, I took a breath and thought, here we go. There was no going back after that first day of public sales, and my hunger to improve and dedicate myself to the mastery of this trade has been insatiable ever since.