Many consider millinery, or the art of hat-making, to be a lost practice—at least here in the U.S. But 30-year-old designer Satya Twena has been fascinated with the crowning accessory for decades. "I’ve loved hats ever since I was a little kid," she says. "There are photos of me at nine months old wearing turbans! My aunt used to go to Tokyo and Guatemala and bring back all this fabric to make dresses and matching headpieces for me. She’d put these crazy hats on my brother, too."
Years later, Satya met her husband, who happened to have a penchant for bespoke hats—and the obsession continued to grow. "He loves the idea of old world style and having things that are bespoke. Most Americans don’t even know what bespoke means!" she laughs. Fascinated by the old world craft, Satya promptly signed up for a weekly hat-making class at the Fashion Institute of Technology—and when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and began undergoing chemotherapy, she saw a perfect opportunity to put her newly-acquired skills to use. "She began losing her hair and said that her head was cold, so I started making hats for her," Satya tells me. "I was making them out of my oven in my fourth-floor walk-up in the East Village. But it was my way of showing support, of being there for her, even in the smallest of ways."
In 2010, Satya launched her own hat collection at ABC Carpet & Home—and thanks to press placement in various magazines and online, she quickly landed her first wholesale account. At that point, she knew she needed to expand. She landed on the famous Makins factory in midtown Manhattan—one of just two remaining NYC factories that make private label hats—which offered both ample resources and space (5,000 square feet of it, to be precise). But last fall, she learned that the factory would be closing its doors for good. "It was really abrupt," she remembers. "Nobody in the industry saw it coming. And I knew I had to do something about it."
Determined to keep her millinery business afloat, she negotiated a deal with the owners, purchased the entire factory (machinery and materials included)—and in December, she launched a Kickstarter to raise funds for the company and hire back the rest of the factory’s seven original employees (to date, three are back at work). To sweeten the deal, she offered vintage hat pins, hat boxes and even custom hats to her supporters.
Three days ago, the campaign—which initially aimed to raise $75,000—closed with a staggering pledge total of $171,966, raised by 1,379 backers. "The support has been amazing," Satya says. "It’s wild. And it shows that what we’re doing is relevant, and that people still appreciate high-quality, locally-made things."
Just before the holidays, I was invited to step inside Satya’s heritage-steeped factory and see how a hat is made—the bespoke way, of course—from start to finish. Click through above to check it out, and head to SatyaTwena.com to learn more about this fashion entrepreneur and her mission to bring back the art of the hat.