“I think everybody has the dream of doing something artistic, we all do. We all have artistic components in our lives, and they just come out in different ways,” says Susan Jordan, local milliner (hat maker) and owner of her own business, Mariposa Hats.
Jordan has been in the Valley for over 20 years, originally living in Tahoe, California, before moving to Carbondale for her husband’s job at Colorado Rocky Mountain School. She went to massage school back in California, and carried that skill with her when they moved in 2000. She first worked at Sopris Chiropractic then opened her own massage practice.
“Having your own business allows you the freedom to facilitate whatever it is you want in your life,” she relates. When COVID hit, it was around the same time Jordan had to stop doing massage due to health. “I had already seen the writing on the wall and knew that I needed to do something else.” However, she knew she wanted to continue having her own business. “It’s hard to go back and work for somebody else after you’ve worked for yourself.” So, Jordan began a search for her creative calling.
“I was drawn to hats. I didn’t know that I was drawn to making them.” She began to notice more and more milliners on social media, and even read an inspiring article or two about women with their own hat-making businesses. She wanted to continue working with her hands, something she’d done her whole life. “It’s a very well kept secret,” Jordan admits about the hat-making craft. “You have to find your path and find the way to learn it. There’s a lot of hard work and research.”
One person Jordan found to be helpful was Christy Sing, owner of Sing Hat Co., in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. ”She was one of my biggest inspirations when I first learned about this,” Jordan says. Sing even invited her up to Wyoming to work with her. This was a big step forward, and she learned a lot from Sing.
How she found the name for her business, Mariposa Hats, is a little less conventional. She was at the “Cowboy Poetry” reading in Elko, Nevada, with a friend. That night, one woman mentioned the word “Mariposa” in her poem and for Jordan, it was an ah-ha moment. Since then, she has worked under the name. However, there’s more to it than just a pretty sound. “I mean, we know that Mariposa means butterfly. But ‘butterfly’ has so much meaning as well … new beginnings and coming out of your shell and fresh starts.”
So, how do you make a Mariposa hat? First, you must have your hat base, which is made from the felted fur of a beaver, or a mix of beaver and rabbit, depending on how stiff you want it to be. In some cases, these are made from Nutria, a relative of the beaver, which is labeled as an invasive species. This is a more expensive, but more ethically sustainable option.
Jordan buys her hat bases from a manufacturing company called Winchester, one of the few places to get them. Next, she measures your head to find how big your hat should be, and steams it to fit. She sands the hat to make it smooth, and sews in a sweatband with her logo on it.
Then, she cuts the brim, and adds all of her decorations, or trim, as they call it: leather, feathers, beads, lace, etc. Finally, she steams a shape onto the very top of the hat. She isn’t really able to buy any of her decorating supplies in bulk, so most of it is purchased on Etsy, or from local creators.
Every step of the way, she’s customizing the hat for her client, letting them select the colors, the trim, the shape. It’s something a local, community-based business can offer: a personal product handmade by someone you know.
“What you’re looking for in a well-made, homemade hat are the little smudges and fingerprints. You know, people just love those because they have that homemade look.” She adds, “So they [the customer] get to come in, they get this experience and they get to work with me. We go through the fitting part, and they get to touch and feel things.”
Jordan has a website (www.mariposahats.com) and also does pop-ups here and there, including Carbondale’s farmers’ market on Wednesdays beginning in June. There she will have hats on display, swatches of felt types and colors and everything you need to know to start your hat journey.
Additionally, she offers “Hat Parties,” where “you book a party with interested friends, maybe for a special occasion. I come to you with all the goodies to take orders, do the fittings and we have a fun time trying on hats and making the decisions.”
Finally, Jordan relates, “It’s just amazing to be part of this community.” She loves the landscape and harmony between the mountains, and especially the western and the agricultural lifestyles.
You might see Jordan getting coffee at Craft, wearing one of her hats or walking downtown with her dog, Mesa.