Could you explain the origins of the ‘Wellema’ name?
Wellema is our family name. While from the start it was decided to have Wellema Hats incorporated into the company name, we also stumbled upon a book that was published in 1913. This book outlined how to make a hat and set up your company and store in your town. In the first chapter, it said to use your last name for your company. Being fascinated with the early 20th century, this solidified our decision.
When was the company founded and where are you based?
I started the company in 2013 and was making hats a bit before that. We started in Santa Barbara, CA but relocated to north Los Angeles in the town of Altadena in early 2016.
Who owns the company and who designs the products?
My wife & I own the company. Being a bespoke hat company, I’d have to say the design of each hat is truly left to the client. Each of our hats are handmade and unique to the individual wearing it. That being said, each hat is still a collaborated effort between me, the maker, and the client. From the color, style, and detailing, I offer as much advice and professional opinion as I can throughout the design process. But in the end, the designer is the hat wearer themselves.
Where does the inspiration of your hats come from?
The inspiration for our company and our hats come from many different avenues. One of the main inspirations would definitely be the early 20th century. The music, films, fashions, and way of life in the 20th century, has always been something I’ve desired to embody in today’s fast paced world.
It is always a huge inspiration to get more hats on people’s heads every time we see old films or pictures where men and women are constantly dressed in hats. I strive for our company to bring that past to the present, along with the quality and attention to detail that is so commonly lost these days.
Having the opportunity to meet so many creative and unique clients on a daily basis, is always a constant inspiration to me.
How would you describe your brand with just three words?
Honest, Quality & Pride
Why you opened up ? what’s your background?
Ironically, I did not have a huge background in fashion or hats before starting. I started the company because I had a passion and saw a need. Wellema Hat Company was established after combining my appreciation for the early 1900s and seeing hats come back into fashion and trend over the last few years.
I’ve always loved hats since a I was a kid. When I started diving deep into the early 20th century, I began collecting vintage hats that were mostly pre 1950s. That’s when I started to see the void in quality of materials and craftsmanship from, say a 1940s Borsalino, to hats produced today.
I started researching how hats were once made, the trade of hat making, and the materials and tools used. Eventually, this all drove me into forming the company and to start making quality hats.
How many people do you currently employ?
The company is very small and tight-knit with just me and my wife. I handle most everything, while my wife handles all the backend and business side. I also have an apprentice from Japan. He has been with me a little over a year, and will continue to work alongside me and learn the trade of hat making until he moves back to Tokyo in late 2018.
Are you happy with the results you had so far?
I’d have to say so! Of course, we are always looking for ways to keep the business growing and bringing it to the next level.
My wife and I started the company by taking $100 out of our personal savings. With that small initial investment, I purchased my first vintage hat block and a piece of felt. From there, I was able to sell a hat or two to friends and family while reinvesting that money into more tools. Shortly after, I was able to move out of making hats in our studio apartment kitchen, into a workshop/showroom. We were so thrilled to take the next leap by moving the business to Los Angeles to the brick and mortar shop we have now.
It is a great feeling to be able to say that we are $0 in debt, and have a thriving company that grows as each month passes.
What’s your business model looking like today ?
Our business model is fairly simple and ‘old school.’ We rely heavily on word of mouth. Of course, nowadays, social media has become a huge platform to reach clientele around the world without needing to spend excess amount of money on advertisements. However, as business is rapidly picking up, we have begun to work with some wonderful marketing consultants, turned friends, to continue to grow the business.
We mostly operate direct to consumer. Wholesale has always been a bit tricky to navigate with my business model. Because I strive to keep my prices as fair and low as possible, this often doesn’t allow a big enough margin for wholesale prices.
This is a new business model we are currently working on. In the past years, I’ve had to turn down wholesale requests when stores reached out because of ‘wholesale prices.’ The hope is to follow up with business we have been in contact with and start showcasing our hats in their stores around the world.
You do have a great website. I was a bit surprised not to find an e-shop area showing some of your most iconic “ready do wear hats”. Why you’re not offering that right now?
That is a great question. It is actually something we have been talking about recently.
There are two reasons why we do not currently offer an ‘e-shop’ are on our website. The first would simply be the time it takes to accurately create and curate an e-commerce part of the website. The second reason would be the pride I take in the fit of my hats. I strive to have the most comfortable genuine fit possible. Even with our RTW selection at our store, we have the ability to slightly alter hats on the spot for a more precise fit for the client.
We rarely see a person with a true “hat size;” whether that be in general CM ( 59, 60 ect.) or american hat sizes 7 ¼. 7 ½ ect. I’ve also found that hat sizes vary from company to company. For instance, if someone is used to wearing their collection of Borsalino in a 58cm or a Stetson in a 7 ⅝; they may order that same size from our RTW collection, but may not fit exactly the same due to their head shape or other manufactured hat sizes being slightly off.
As of now, we like to keep our ready to wear hats in store, but we are working on a plan to create this e-commerce page as an option for our clients around the world.
How many wholesale accounts are now buying your products?
As mentioned, in the past, wholesale has been a tricky business for us to maneuver. Recently in the last few months, we’ve been pouring more time and focus into working and collaborating with companies who have reached out about wholesale.
I was able to work closely with Brycelands in Tokyo, a store that I admire and respect greatly, to have Wellema Hats showcased for the launch of their new Hong Kong store. Brycelands Hong Kong is currently the only store in the world that carries Wellema Hats. Their Tokyo store will soon carry a selection as well.
What are the most important markets for you right now?
Traditional and classic menswear are very important markets for me, as I see a great need for quality hats. I often see men investing in bespoke suits and clothing, but then seeing a mass-produced hat on their head. I believe quality should be from head to toe.
That being said, I love what I do, because each client that walks through my door is as unique as the next, but each still recognizing the beauty in a quality design. My clients range from high end men’s fashion editors, to the local grade school teachers from down the street. While I personally enjoy a certain market or fashion, I love that my hats are universal and personalized to the wearer.
What is your approach in regards to social media platforms? Do you use any to promote your business?
Social media has become a huge platform to reach clientele around the world without needing to spend excess amount of money on advertisements. I try and keep my social media platforms as clean and professional as possible. I believe the photos and language should mimic and compliment my product.
Instagram specifically has allowed us to showcase product and our everyday shop lifestyle to thousands. I’m proud to say that we have organically gained such an amazing following from around the world, without spending a dime to gain publicity or ‘followers’.
Our social media accounts, website, and emails are currently run by myself. As the maker of the product, I prefer to run my business where the client is able to have direct contact with me. I believe this creates a more personal and tailored experience.
How good you rate your corporate website ? do you track the visits ? and do you interact with your clients there?
Our website is self built and maintained by my wife and I. I wanted to create a clean, simple, yet sophisticated look. I want the viewer to be able to easily browse my website and get a clear vision of our product and the lifestyle of our shop.
Interaction through the website is mainly handled through direct email with me. I have also had great response and feedback from clients who have viewed our shop video and gallery of hat photos displayed on the site.
How would you describe your strategy in regards to “communication”? do you invest in print magazines ? do you prefer to go thru a digital communication approach?
This is a great question. As of now, I have not invested into print or digital advertisements. We have been privileged to have had editorial opportunities come our way in the past, opening doors to new markets of communication. It’s always an honor to be involved.
I recently had some company illustrations done by the highly talented artist, Adam Rogers. The intention is to find the right opportunity to showcase these illustrations in print advertisements.
Otherwise, trunk shows and trade shows are where we are focusing a lot of our marketing and communication as of now. I believe this allows me to still have the one-on-one communication with the client while offering a high-end bespoke experience.
What is your approach when it comes to Influencers/Ambassadors?
We have never “gifted” hats to ‘influencers’, even though we have been approached. We are not necessarily opposed to it, but I prefer to gift hats to people that I see having a strong passion towards something, not just using the hat as a ‘cool’ fashion piece.
I love making hats for people I know that will wear the hat with pride and purpose, making it a part of who they are and what they do. To me, that is what Wellema Hats is all about.
Where do you manufacture your products? Has it been difficult to find the right production companies?
Each Wellema Hat is 100% handmade by myself, in our humble shop in Los Angeles. We source all of our materials in America, making sure our high standard of quality is met with each hat.
Where do you see your company/brand in three years?
I love this question as we are always dreaming and thinking of new ways to grow the business.
In three years time, I would like to have solidified strong company relationships with various stores around the world, where we have regular fittings and consultations with clients. I have been in talks with a handful of stores in major world cities, whom I hope to establish a deeper partnership and begin doing trunk shows and private fittings.
I also see myself taking on another apprentice or two in the future. Not only to help with the making process as we grow, but to also keep the hat making trade alive.
What’s the biggest mistake you have done lately?
Being that our hats are all handmade, there is always the potential for mistakes. Just the other day, I had to completely remake a hat for a client, after the felt got ruined in one of the final steps of the process. No matter how many hats I’ve made, I’m not immune to mistakes. But above all, I find pride in taking the extra time to focus on the details of each custom hat.
What are you mostly proud of?
I am proud of what one little dream and a lot of tenacity and faith has built. Every day I get to walk into work and love what I do.
What’s your approach towards seasonal collections/ discount policy?
With all the effort and work that goes into each individual hat, we do not offer discounts or sales. Once in a blue moon, we will offer a limited time discount on our shop ‘ready-to-wear hats.’
Which other products / brands / you like to see next to yours?
There are so many companies that I admire. Being a bespoke hat maker, in the world of accessories, there are many different stores, brands, and marketplaces that I can see our company partnering with locally and around the world.
More specifically, brands such as, Lady White Co., Ring Jacket, Stoffa, Ambrosi, Drakes, Old-Town, Ascari, Scott Fraser Collection, and Atelier Saman Amel to name a few.
Being able custom make all kinds of different hats gives us an opportunity to expand our market and clientele to many various brands.
What’s your 3 favorite specialty stores in the world (where you would like to possibly sell your products to)
Again, I would love to see our hats around the world in many different types of stores. Drakes & The Armoury would be great to work with. Others like Trunk Clothiers and Private White VC in London.
I would also love to work with more boutique stores around the world such as Fortela in Milan or The Space in Brooklyn New York.
Also, partnerships with bespoke tailors on Savile Row has always been a big dream of mine.
The conversation was made via a Skype call and exchange of a couple of emails. Many thanks to Mr Cody Wellema!
article by Alessandro Agazzi
photography by Ethan Wong @ethanmwong