Hats Off!

A visit Down Under was the inspiration for Boulder’s Wallaroo Hat Company, which makes beautiful chapeaux that also provide great sun protection.

wallaroo-hats

Courtesy Wallaroo Hat Company

“Everybody looks good in a Wallaroo hat.” So says Stephanie Carter, CEO of Boulder’s Wallaroo Hat Company, which launched in 1999. “My favorite thing to do is help someone who comes up to one of our booths at a trade show saying, ‘I look horrible in hats!’ I say, ‘Just wait. Just wait. Let’s try a hat on.’ You get the right hat on somebody, one that matches the shape of their face, the length of their hair, their stature, and they look in the mirror and get this little smile, and realize they actually look good.” Carter, who last year bought out friend and founding partner Lenya Shore to become sole owner of the business, is proud to say that today, Wallaroo sells on Amazon, Shopify, and its own website, but also in places as diverse as hardware stores, nurseries, farmers markets, and Four Seasons resorts. “I love going to trade shows and hearing customers’ feedback—‘Oh, I love your hats. I have five of my own, and I bought one for my mother and one for my sister, and all my kids have them,’ ” she says. “But I also love seeing the same people who have worked with us for 15 or 17 years; knowing that they have had continued success with the brand makes me feel good, like we’re doing something right.” 

How did the business get started?
“I’m married to an Australian, and in 1998 we visited his parents in Australia. I’d always been an avid hat wearer, but at the time I was working as an attorney. One day, I noticed my mother-in-law out in the garden wearing this very pretty periwinkle-colored hat, and it caught my eye. So I brought a bunch of these hats back to the States, and any time I’d wear one while hiking or around town someone would comment on it.”

And that inspired the business?
“Yes. My father-in-law contacted the Australian Cancer Council, which was supplying the hats in the Australian market, and put me in touch with the designer. We’ve been great friends ever since, now close to 20 years. Within a couple of weeks, we started working together—we’re separate companies but we collaborate on design. Lenya Shore and I started the company in a very small home office on my back porch and her garage in north Boulder. We came up with the name Wallaroo, which is the road in Australia where my husband grew up. What put us on the map was our first Outdoor Retailer trade show, where Eastern Mountain Sports placed an order for $75,000. We were so excited.”
 
What made the hats unique?
“We really focused on the fact that these colorful, packable hats were UPF 50+, an ultraviolet protection-rated product, and I’d never seen anything like that in the U.S. We were on the cusp of that movement in this country; now it’s on bikinis, on rash guards, on pants—everything. But not then. And that is really important, because skin cancer is the fastest-growing cancer in the U.S.”
 
And how did you grow the company?
“The product speaks for itself. It’s very high quality, it has fun colors, it has the sun protection factor. And it helped that we were a women-owned company. Every year, we went to more trade shows, and before we knew it, the company had taken on a life of its own. Three years ago, we bought a 14,000-square-foot warehouse in Boulder. Our hats are manufactured in China and we have a staff here of 14. We became a B corporation four years ago, so we are very involved in environmental practices—making sure we recycle the cardboard from China, not putting dyes in rivers, and starting a composting program.”
 
And do you think that more and more people are wearing hats?
“Yes, I think the category is certainly growing. We’re transitioning back into the idea of people wearing hats, the way they did in the 1920s. And we make a point of never copying anybody. Our designs are unique and individual to our brand. Now, everywhere we travel in the world, we see people in Wallaroo hats, and that is amazing.”
 
WALLAROO HAT COMPANY 
A Boulder maker of colorful SPF-rated sun hats. 

, , , ,