New Mexico Maker with a Mission: Jessi Lloyd of Grey Hat Collective
I cannot remember a time in my life where I was not creating something. I have very vivid memories of drawing and painting as a child. I can remember the excitement of getting my first needle and thread, and sewing a tiny patch pillow when I was 8 years old. To this day I always have some kind of art or sewing project that I am working on. My journey with hats began when my husband was in search of a high quality hat to cover his scar from having brain surgery. Everything he was drawn to was exponentially out of our price range. But the thing about my husband is that along with ridiculously expensive taste in head wear, he also has an absurd amount of confidence in my abilities as a maker. He really truly believes I can do anything. Because I was a seamstress for years, the idea of making a hat translated in his mind as something I could just do. And in turn, his confidence in me gave me the crazy idea to go for it. So I did a little research and bought all the wrong tools and supplies, and made one of the worst hats around! But, bless my husband, he still wore it. Even though the hat I made was awful, I fell in love with the process. So I did as much research as I could, and taught myself to properly make hats.
Through all of this I had been searching for something to help my husband through his brain cancer journey. I felt the need to do something, to help in some way, but couldn’t think of anything. Then one day, while I was working on a hat, it kind of just hit me. I could use my skills as a maker, more specifically, a hat maker to help fund the research needed to find a cure for brain cancer. That is when Grey Collective was created.
I am a traditional hat maker. I use tools that have been used for hundreds of years to handcraft fur-felt hats. I start with a hat blank, which is the felt in a hat-like shape. I steam the felt until it is soft enough to pull over my wooden hat blocks. Hat blocks are what we call the wooden head forms that are sized to different hat sizes.
Once pulled over the block, it is ready to start the process of becoming a wearable hat. This involves sanding, ironing, cutting, steaming, hand shaping, and lighting it on fire. Then it is finished with a leather sweatband, and adorned with a hand made outer band. This part is especially fun. You can keep it very simple, or as elaborate as you would like. No two hats will ever be the same. Even when replicating a hat, there will be slight differences.
A huge part of my company is that I donate 20% of my profits to brain cancer research. The Grey Collective was formed purely as a way to help further the funding needed to find a cure for brain cancer.
SO many things inspire me. I am an easily inspired person. The inspiration for Grey Collective is my husband. His fight with brain cancer is the reason I started this company, but I would also say what really gets my creative gears going is nature. More specifically, the colors in nature. Growing up, I moved around quite a bit, but always seemed to end back in New Mexico. On one of my moves I spent sometime in the pacific north west, and that is when I first started truly appreciating the beauty of the outdoors. Those vivid greens all around, and the way the water reflects every color around it, those things make my soul happy. When I came back to New Mexico it took me a while to really see the beauty of the desert. Circling back to my husband, he really has a love of our beautiful state. He takes me on these adventures to the most beautiful places that I could never have imagined exist in the desert. The more subtle coloring of the plains, and the many shades of red in the rocks. When I get the chance to spend time in nature, I find myself full of renewed inspiration. I think this translates in my color palette, and use of natural stones and feathers. A lot of the pieces I use to decorate my hats are found right here in NM.
What role does history play in your work?
History plays a huge role in my work. The techniques that I use are for the most part, the same that hatters over 100 years ago used. The tools are mostly the same as well. Although I have a very modern take in my designs, the core of my work is true to the milliners of the past.
Do you consider yourself a craftsperson or an artist? Is there a difference?
That is a tricky one. I find myself using those two interchangeably. Personally, I do not think there is a difference. I consider myself both. I think that a wood worker, and a painter have a lot of things in common. They both can have a passion for what they do, and they both can create stunning pieces that bring joy to other people. They both can possess a creative spirit. I believe that they are both craftsperson and artist in one.
Why is hand craftsmanship important in today's day and age?
I feel like we live in a world that is bombarded with disposable mass produced everything. We, as a society, have mostly lost our pride in high quality items that stand the test of time. We have come accustomed to the pattern: consume, throw away, repeat. Hand craftsmanship is so important in today’s day and age not only because we are killing our world with all of our waste, but we are also killing ourselves mentally and financially trying to keep up with trends and the system that is set up to make us believe that our worth is in what designer brand is attached to our physical belongings and whether it is in season or not. I would love to raise my kids in a world where we see the beauty in handcrafted goods. Where we appreciate the beautiful imperfections that come with handmade, not generic mass produced items. I feel like hand craftsmen inspire a slower more intentional way of living. It is also so important for people to see that it is possible for a person to create something with their own two hands. That not everything needs to be machine made. Craftsmen can inspire a whole new generation of makers.
You can find Jessi's work at greycollectivehats.com and on instagram @greycollectivehats.