We live in a world of constant change and developing technology, a world where everything moves so fast. Sometimes this is a brilliant whirlwind to get caught up in, but sometimes this fast-paced world means certain time-honored traditions may fall behind.
So it nearly was with Makins, one of the last remaining millinery factories in New York City’s Garment District. They had been in the city for “forty years, making hats for Frank Sinatra, Brad Pitt, Kim Kardashian, the works.” Our friend, hat designer Satya Twena, had been using their factory for her own collection for a few years, when suddenly everything changed.
“One day we got a call saying, “We closed, come pick up your stuff before we sell it off,” and I ran over here, met with the owner…and literally we needed to come up with money within two weeks. So we raised money pretty quickly to acquire the factory.”
Satya and her cousin Malka made the decision to purchase the factory in order to save not only all the American-made equipment or the hand-carved hat blocks, but to save the employees who worked there, the small business suppliers and the history of millineries in Manhattan. While they were able to make the first major purchase to save the factory, now they’re raising funds in order to continue the tradition of hand-made hat making.
“We’ve raised the money to buy this place, but we don’t necessarily have the funds to run it month to month…we’ve started a Kickstarter to help support it, and also get awareness out there of the fact that an American-made hat is something that would be lost forever unless we do something about it.”
All of the money raised on Kickstarter is going to the preservation of the factory, hiring back the employees, and getting the factory up and running again.
We spent an afternoon in this historic place, making our own custom-made hats with Satya, which you of course can buy through their Kickstarter, or just take a glimpse at what it looks like to go through the generations-old process of creating a hat…
A lifetime’s worth of sourcing and materials…
Satya explained to us that these blocks for shaping the hats are all hand carved; some are from Paris, some from London, and having them all together is extremely rare. If she had not bought all the factory’s equipment, the pieces would have been sold off to individuals, and this library of incredible, beautiful history would have been separated forever…
The first decision…which fabric should we use for my hat?
In order to make the shape of the hat, the fabric must be steamed and placed on the block. Louis, one of the re-hired employees at Makins, uses rope to get all the beautiful shapes and lines of each hat.
Satya told us that each crown has an interesting detail…so when you block it, you actually see these pieces.
My hat is snow white fur felt velour (luxury). The ribbon is a cotton grosgrain ribbon with a basic man’s bow finished on the left hand side. Usually that would indicate it’s a man’s hat, but I did it on purpose. It used to be a man’s hat, just like it used to be a man’s world…but not anymore!
Now for Kevin…first, the measuring!
Satya explains, “These machines…you can’t buy these. These aren’t things they make now…they’re industrial, American-made machines.”
“Every hat has a life of its own, and you get to actually see the process of a tastemaker like you guys coming in and making it, and what goes into the decision aspects of making a hat.”
Kevin’s hat is a Panama straw that was woven in Ecuador. Both our hats have the same crown, which, as Satya says, is trés romantique! The trim is a vintage millinery trim with taupe and black, and it’s a grosgrain cotton band.
Watching the process of creating a hat, and realizing it’s a process that hasn’t changed for generations, was beautiful. This was an amazing experience, and both Kevin and I are so honored to have been part of it. Thank you to Satya and Malka for not only inviting us to join them, but also for saving an important piece of New York City history!
Don’t forget, you can help them and design your own hat (or buy ours!) over at their Kickstarter campaign…