Meet Kathryn Campbell of Hats Off Handmade Headwear
Article posted: March 10, 2022
A focus on quality and unique designs is at the heart of everything behind Hats Off Handmade Headwear in Camberwell Junction.
Owner and milliner Kathryn Campbell said she feels passionate about bringing back well-crafted fashion items that are designed to last for years.
Ms Campbell began her career as a solicitor before running a business in the architecture space, and eventually finding her way to millinery.
In 2009, she relocated to Singapore with her family to pursue work opportunities and lived there for about 7 years.
It was while she was in Singapore that she discovered her love of millinery. Each year she would join a Melbourne Cup function attended by Australian and New Zealand expats, and one year she couldn’t get back to Melbourne to purchase some headwear for the occasion so she decided to make something herself.
“With what limited supplies I could get over there and using my basic crafting knowledge, I made a headpiece. And surprisingly a lot of people said, ‘where did you get that piece from?’ Come the following year, I had people ringing me up to say, ‘I remember the piece you wore last year, could you make me a piece?’
“So, I started out from there and had 10 customers, and all of a sudden it was just growing. Then I thought I really had better start to hone my skills because I was, for the most part, self-taught.”
In 2016 Ms Campbell and her family moved from Singapore to New York, where she lived for about three years, and her millinery was put on hold during that time.
But as soon as she returned to Australia in 2019, Campbell was determined to either train with a milliner or do a millinery course. She is currently completing her third year in a millinery course at Kangan Institute.
“It has been a good education for me, in terms of the experience and learning lots of new things,” she said.
“I did have a lot of people ask me where I learned millinery, and of course when you say you are self-taught, it doesn’t quite have that finesse that a lot of people want. I wanted to have the qualification to back up my skills.”
Ms Campbell launched Hats Off Handmade Headwear online, mostly via a Facebook page and later through a website, before opening a physical shop in Camberwell Junction.
“I really needed face-to-face interaction with customers and to be able to show off the products. So I moved into the premises in April 2021,” she said.
Ms Campbell offers a range of bespoke headwear for sale, including hats, fascinators, headbands, headwraps, as well as racing and bridal headwear.
She also offers a comprehensive repairs service, following much demand from customers, and has helped bring old hats back to life and even refreshed some fascinators so customers can get more wear out of them.
“A lady came in the other day and I have her straw hat out the back. It went in the water and was totally misshapen, so I’ve shaped it back up and put a new head fit in and jazzed her hat back up. Another guy came in with his leather Akubra that had shrunk so much, it didn’t fit on his head anymore, so I helped with some resizing.
“People also come in with, for instance, an old hat they’ve had for the races years ago. They love it, it fits them and the style is great but the trim needs zhuzhing up. They wanted to make it a little bit more modern.”
Ms Campbell also specialises in making unique, one-off pieces as a way to offer customers an original hat or piece of headwear. Customers often come in to request a hat in a particular style or colour and she helps bring their vision to life.
Bringing back style in the form of headwear
In many ways, Ms Campbell is part of the resurgence of headwear and influencing the appreciation of hats as a stylish fashion item.
“I’ve always found that when I wear a hat, I try to wear one that is stylish. I try to make it look like this a deliberate piece that I’ve put on my head, rather than an afterthought,” she said.
When you step into the store, you are welcomed by an array of bright and colourful hats and headpieces that make for a striking display of Ms Campbell’s handiwork.
“I feel colour is vitally important. I don’t feel colour is necessarily only a summer thing, it’s a winter thing too. If you’re feeling down on a winter’s day, you put on a bright red hat and out you go, and people will say ‘wow, you look great’. I think hats are essential to how people perceive themselves, and how others can perceive them as well,” she said.
Most importantly, Ms Campbell wants to help people become more adventurous with their hats and headwear styling.
“My main focus is to try to get people through the door who want a custom-made hat. They feel like a hat is not just something that is going to sit in the car, it actually forms a part of their daily thinking – much like thinking ‘what top will I wear?’, it’s about thinking ‘what hat will go with this?’ It’s about rethinking where hats fit into our daily routine and our wardrobe.”
A slow fashion approach
Much of Ms Campbell’s ethos behind crafting high-quality, bespoke headwear adopts the slow fashion approach.
“A properly made hat takes days to make. There are staged processes that can’t be hurried. It’s about appreciating the effort that has gone into making a piece, and knowing that the piece is going to stand the test of time, and you can keep bringing it out of the cupboard time and time again,” she said.
Ms Campbell said slow fashion is “all about appreciating the maker” including who has made it, where the skill has come from, and supporting someone who has transferred those skills from a previous generation.
“Slow fashion is about appreciating the effort that has gone into the piece, appreciating the piece in its part and as a whole, and what it will do for you. And it’s knowing that not everything is disposable,” she said.
For customers who come into Hats Off Handmade Headwear, Ms Campbell hopes they will find a piece that is not only unique, but that they’ll appreciate owning something that is hand-crafted and specially tailored.
“Even if they don’t walk away with a hat, I’d like them to be able to feel that they’ve come into a store that is unique, and that they know they can come back and get something really special made.”
As for her next major project, Ms Campbell is launching hat making classes, where people can learn how to make a felt hat either in one-on-one or small class sizes at her shop in Camberwell Junction. All materials and equipment will be provided. Contact the store to find out more.