Summer is hat season in Sequim and a local woman is selling them with purpose and principle. Rene Ewbank lives off the power grid in Port Angeles, making a living from her business, Fresh Hats, without the need for electricity.
She makes hats with unique designs and colors in 14 styles, including five crochet styles and nine fabric, reversible/adjustable hats.
Ewbank’s tool of choice is a foot-powered 1940 Singer sewing machine that she uses because it can sew backward and save her time on tasks such as adding an elastic band, which used to take 45 minutes but now takes only 12.
Her environmentally friendly mindset carries into her work as she makes optimum use of all fabrics and leftovers go to friends for other projects. Ewbank calculates less than two cubic feet of fabric goes into a landfill annually from her business. She began making visors, for example, when she noticed she could use scraps from her other hats for the style.
Ewbank said she’s always loved hats and has been sewing since age 12. Her first trade work came in costume shops in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Choosing hats as a business was easy and her business plan for Fresh Hats is simple: “My customers are people with heads,” she said.
Pieces of hats are cut in quantity, but when the hats are pieced together each is unique.
“It takes me 40 years to make a hat because that’s how long it’s taken me to get this experience and make a living,” she said.
Fresh Hats range in price from $10 for beanies to $80 for a hat with a five-inch brim.
No particular style sells best, she said. “The more I have, the more I sell.”
Each year most of her hats are sold, with up to 90 percent of production going to customers.
One of her biggest sources of income is attending the weekly Sequim Open Aire Market, where she started selling in 2006.
“Fellow vendors are cool,” she said. “I love, love my market and look forward to going every week.”
Lavender Weekend is one of the largest parts of her income. Ewbank said half of her annual income comes from sales at the Sequim Lavender Festival and Arts in Action in Port Angeles. This year, she’ll be at Lavender in the Park in Carrie Blake Park July 15-17 for the Sequim Lavender Farm Faire.
In 2008, Ewbank made 580 hats, 537 in 2009, 455 in 2010, and 259 so far in 2011.
One size fits most people, Ewbank said, and her hats are adjustable because she wants to suit those with larger heads, or as she delicately put it, “advanced cranial capacity.”
Fresh Hats are unisex because Ewbank prefers not to assign gender. Recently a man tried to convince his wife to buy a bright hat for herself, but she didn’t want to, so he bought it for himself and wore it away from the market booth.
Ewbank doesn’t do special orders but encourages people to revisit her booth because she makes new styles consistently.
A “K.C.” hat, similar to a fedora, is named after a friend with whom she went rock climbing one day. He leaned back and lost his hat. He cursed as they watched it spinning and spinning until it was just a speck. Ewbank later created the “K.C.” hat in his honor.
Ewbank moved to Washington later in life because she liked the green spaces and rain following a bad drought back home.
“I don’t know anybody else like me,” Ewbank said. “Very few have the same paradigm I do. I don’t know anyone else without any carbon footprint.”
Much of her time is spent making hats or working on a project of some sort.
“It’s not easy doing this, especially when you are alone,” Ewbank said.
In her time in Port Angeles, she hasn’t met any other women who have gone off the grid alone. She strives to make a difference, for example by not wasting water. Her sink doesn’t have a drain because, she said, when you have to haul it, you learn to manage it.
Ewbank also has a solar panel to power a fan on a hot day or a reading light at night.
She travels twice a week to Sequim for the Sequim Open Aire Market and to Port Angeles for business such as buying materials from Jo-Ann Fabrics. Traveling to markets and special events out of county no longer happens because Ewbank did the math and found she was spending more on gas than she was earning. In 2010, she used 179 gallons of fuel for travel.
“I don’t like using my money toward fuel that supports big oil conglomerates,” Ewbank said.
Out of market season, Ewbank typically saves and pays bills ahead of schedule while working on more hats.
“I don’t like doing things that guzzle a lot of resources,” she said. “I live in paradise. I like the quiet of the birds. I can’t think of anything else I would do. I like what I do and where I live.”
Ewbank and her Fresh Hats appear 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays at the Sequim Open Aire Market on Cedar Street. For more information, visit http://sequimmarket.com.
Reach Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.