Hatman Jack’s owner Jack Kellogg in Wichita, Kan., may have seen something in Markia Herron when she told him she wanted to apprentice there to learn the trade. He told her, “Whatever you do, don’t make them in Kansas,” Herron told a reporter recently. The “Hatman to the Stars” apparently didn’t want the competition.
Now, Herron, 31, who’s been making hats for the three years since her visit to Hatman Jack’s, is thinking of sending Kellogg one of her fedoras to thank him for what she learned from her four-hour tour (he declined to make her an apprentice) there. When he gets a hat he’ll be in company with soul singer-songwriter Anthony Hamilton, Emmy winner Lena Waithe (“Master of None,” “The Chi”), Carolina Panthers wide receiver and former Razorback Jarius Wright, Cedric the Entertainer and the other admirers of the young hatmaker from Monticello.
So, yeah, Jack Kellogg is a white guy from Wichita. But Herron, an energetic businesswoman who also holds down a fulltime job at UA Little Rock, says her hats are for everyone, black or white, man or woman. (In fact, the fedora was popularized by Sarah Bernhardt in the 1880s and worn by women activists.)
Herron is an instructional designer, a tech job in which she adapts academic courses to online teaching. But unlike her tech work, she is embracing what she calls a dying art by making hats by hand, an age-old process that involves forming rabbit and beaver felt over wooden molds, pressing with a steamer, cutting and sewing. Working out of a small studio in the Gans Building downtown, she customizes hats in various ways: lining the rims with printed fabric, distressing them, using ribbons or bandanas for bands, tucking in feathers or safety pins. Some are splattered with paint; the crowns are open, pork pie or teardrop. She says they’re “quality hats” that will last a lifetime with good care. Which is why they run upward of $400; trims add another $100.
Herron said her business has “gotten real,” taking off midway through 2018 thanks to social media, which is how she advertises, and the support of a lot of local people. With the help of her sister, she makes about 10 hats a month and wants to crank that up to 20. She’s designing a summer line that will include straw hats and working on the fall line, which she hopes will include wool, a material that requires more expensive equipment to fashion. She’s searching for a storefront where she can show her hats; to buy a hat now, she takes orders by email at the contact link on her website, herronhats.com. She also hopes to figure out a way to make hats “for the masses,” coming in around $200.
Recently, someone told Herron that Tyler Perry had been talking about her hats. “I know my hats are major. I know they are a big thing. So that’s why I’m going to keep going with it.”