Amid increasing concerns over fast fashion’s tendency toward environmental pollution, low monthly wages, and unsafe factories, it should come as no surprise that demand for the one-of-a-kind is reviving. Chris Roberts, who as the Aspen Hatter designs and manufactures all styles of custom lids, brings a deep strain of authenticity to the trend. His motto? “Life is better with a hat on.”
Roberts’s love for hats flourished when he was a young boy visiting ranches with his family. “The first thing we’d do was put on a hat,” he recalls. “If I’m not wearing a hat, I feel nekkid,” he adds with an endearing Southern twang.
The Austin, Texas native started designing hats and jewelry for himself about a decade ago. With friends (and even strangers) often asking for his styling assistance, Roberts more recently turned his passion into a profession. He also just launched a nonprofit, Peace of Love, through which he will donate 20 percent of the profits from the hats he sells to a select group of charities.
Even though the Aspen Hatter prefers to fly under the radar, there’s already a substantial waiting list for his hats, based entirely on word of mouth. And it’s no wonder: he won’t let a hat go until he’s fully satisfied—even if the client already is.
Using centuries-old hat-making techniques, Roberts first blocks the beaver (or beaver blend) fur he uses into a hat shape. After that, the fun begins. Each hat is trimmed, sculpted, embellished, and distressed exactly to the client’s liking. On average, a hat takes two weeks to make.
When he’s not busy working his magic on hats, Roberts is decorating his open studio space on North Mill Street. His aim is to create a comfortable, communal environment where people can “come to shoot the shit,” says Roberts, even if placing an order isn’t their intent. Drop-ins are welcome to grab a Bud out of the vintage Frigidaire, strum one of the many Gibsons on hand, and watch the Aspen Hatter—literally and figuratively—set a hat on fire.