When I arrived at Bri's house to photograph her sewing, a huge fluffy dog and Bri welcomed me in. She immediately asked me if I wanted tea and we started talking about running small businesses, about New Maps. All of a sudden an hour had passed before we even started shooting or recording an interview. Something about Bri's excitement, genuine personality, kindness and ability to connect with people makes you start to believe in yourself a little bit extra just being by around her. She lights up as she talks about how proud she is of all of her friends who are also creators and about how much the people in her life mean to her.
She's an extremely talented creator, her hats are all made with immense love. Her shop sells out frequently as she uploads new designs. She excitedly shows me some new releases she's launching this year and at the end of our shoot, sends me home with a beautiful gold beanie.
Q: I know “how did you get started?” Is a really typical question, but I’d love to know about your creative journey. When did you start creating & when did you decide this was the career path for you?
Bri: I had always been exposed to crafting and sewing. My mom had a sewing machine and she liked to draw. When she would leave me a little note, it always had a drawing on it. And my aunt really as well. My aunt Verlene, she sews, still sews a bunch today. She sews bags, she knits, she's done quilts and so I always had a lot of respect for that too. Then when I was going to school, for a while I wasn't sure what I wanted to do and I ended up getting a degree in family and consumer sciences, which is basically the re-innovated version of home economics.
Home-ec is like this super outdated, pretty sexist class that used to be taught in school. The old textbooks are pretty funny. At the college where I went to -- Montana State -- there's old textbooks from the 50s that were home-ec and they were like, greet your husband at the door with his favorite drink when he gets home from work, have the meal ready on the stove- so terrible. So all of that was scrapped and they completely redid the field. Now it’s really progressive in its purpose which is now based on wellbeing. It incorporates all aspects of wellbeing, like mental health, physical health, nutrition, personal and family finance. There's still a sewing and textiles portion. So in college I took some sewing classes.
In my free time, I was hand stitching on things just for fun for myself. I made myself the first ever hat with a mountain landscape on it like five or six years ago. I just bought a blank hat online and thought it would be cool to stitch on it. Then over the last five years before I started the business, I made some here and there for friends or I traded them. People would hit me up and say like, oh, will you sew me a hat with mountains on it and I'll give you a knit hat in exchange. So I made six or seven hats before I ever launched a website. Then it was really my friend Rachel, who got me to start my own website. She was like, people will love these. What you're creating is really cool and it's unique and the world will receive it well. So she was a big motivating force. And then I went for it. It was almost exactly two years ago today.
Q: Talk to me about what goes into each hat -- what's your process beginning to end?
Bri: So it really starts with the hat itself being of good enough quality. I've gotten hats from so many different sources. I still take hats on donation all the time. I probably have like 50 or 60 hats that were donated to me that currently have other brands or other logos on them. I'm going to repurpose them and launch a repurposed hat line, which will be really cool. Other than that, I love corduroy hats. I think they're unique. And I like hats that have like a stiff front panel -- it's a great canvas for me to embroider on.
In the beginning, I would draw a different mountain silhouette for every single hat. I never repeated a single design and sometimes they'd be really lopsided or look kind of crazy. I would try and like position the sun to off balance it and make it work. Then as the years went by, I started to use just a couple templates that are drawn free hand, and sort of like ambiguous mountain landscapes that I know like look balanced and are the right size on the hat. Then I started adding waterfalls or I’ll do a moon or trees instead. I was really conscious about trying to make all of the hats have a really distinct theme too. I wanted them to be recognizable as like, Oh, that's like a hat from Bri - rather than have them be all over the place right out the gate.
Now that I'm sewing full time, I'm realizing that just for my own creative process, I need to expand and have more designs and more things that I'm excited about to offer. So that's where I'm at.
Shannon: Are all of these hand sewn or do you also do any machine sewing?
Bri: At the moment all hand-sewn. Last winter I was selling what I called Snoid Hoods and those were sewn on machine. They're made out of fleece and they're hoods with a neck warmer attached. So yeah, a neck gaiter with a hood. I’m planning to do those again real soon. And then sometimes I’ll use my sewing machine to sew together strips, create quilt squares, and then stitch those onto hats too. That way I can do like five or six different fabrics all in one design.
I just had to buy a new sewing machine. Sadly my one from last winter broke, I think it was because I was sewing with so much fleece. I was doing like 10 hour days sewing and I would take the machine apart like three times a day to clear the fleece fuzzies out of it. And I think it just got so clogged into the machine that it was just done.
Q: Has anyone been a pivotal mentor in terms of how or why you create?
Bri: Honestly, I feel like I have all kinds of relationships and friendships that have helped and inspired me. I feel like I've found my people and almost all of them are creators of some kind or another. Like if I think about all of my best friends, they are super creative people -- like my friend Kayla makes the best handmade cards that I've ever seen. Or my other good friend Rachel is an incredible painter, she’s been a huge influence. She was the one who was like, you can totally sell your art. Your art has a place in this world. Share it. People will be receptive. My other friend Sam is a creative movement healer through applied kinesiology. I have friends that are bakers. Literally everyone that I could think of in my life -- including my boyfriend who is a cinematographer. And so many of our good friends are photographers. Collectively all of them have inspired me and supported and believed in this path. We all work non-traditionally. We’re avoiding a 9 to 5 at all costs, even if it means being broke at times and living with so much uncertainty, but it's all been so rewarding for all of us. And we all support each other! By doing things like trading hats for photos or artwork.
Q: What inspires your work?
Bri: At this point in my life, my sense of what gives purpose and meaning to my life is definitely my time spent in the outdoors, doing the sports I love, with friends that I love. Any time that I'm doing that, I'm generally wearing a hat. And so it just made sense to start making hats. If I already had this creative outlet of loving to hand stitch, why not hand stitch mountain landscapes onto hats that can be worn on mountain adventures?
Q: Do you encounter creative blocks? If so, how do you work through them?
Bri: Normally when I have a creative block, I just more or less force myself to keep sewing. I'm like, okay, maybe I’m feeling uninspired in this moment. That's when I will go back to old photos and look a hat that I made six months ago that I only ever made one of and I really liked it. Why don't I do something inspired by that? Even though it's not new and innovative, it's okay. There was only one of them ever made, I can make one similar. I had to break out of feeling like I could never ever repeat the same design. It's okay if I repeat something multiple times, because if it does sell out and someone else loves those two fabrics together with those colors, I want to be able to offer that to them too. And honestly it's hard to even think about creative blocks because I have like a thousand ideas that I wish could come into fruition right now in this moment. And I'm having to stagger and time them out one at a time. Meanwhile, I'm just sitting on all these ideas that I can't wait to have the time to create and share with the world.
Q: What’s the most difficult part of working for yourself?
Bri: I would say one of the hardest things is that I'm really social. I'm just a social being. I do need my time alone, but a whole week straight of not leaving the house and just sewing is really bad for me. I'm a whole new and better person after I go for a bike ride or for a run or do yoga, or soon ski. So I don't ever allow myself to just sit and be inside all week.
If I don't recharge with some girlfriend time or even just going out into the community, then I struggle. I'm trying to work that into my routines in a way that makes sense. I still need to be productive, but also feed that part of my being because I need it. I was just talking to my friend Franny about trying to do one day a week where we go over to Jackson and we go to our friend Sam's yoga class. And before that we work in a coffee shop just to get out of the house. I could do my website posting and plan my social media for the coming week on that day. Most of the time I want to be at home because that's where all my supplies are. Although I can take the hat factory with me and be on the go it’s getting harder to do with all this expanding. I'm trying to offer so many different things in different styles. So it's nice to be at my house and have access to all of my supplies.
Q: Do you encounter off seasons? If so, how do you prepare for them?
Bri: Well, right now is more or less an off season [late September]. My life more or less revolves around the sports that I do. I love to ski and I love to run. I love to mountain bike and I am learning to kayak -- I love being on rivers. My identity and my life are basically tied to those sports. So for me, the mud season, the fall -- it's the biggest off season for the sports I do -- it’s the hardest time to get outside.
So for my business, my sports off season has become my biggest work season. I call it sewing season! With the gift giving season coming up, this is a really important time for me to be sewing a bunch. It's the time of year where you're like looking for something to buy for your loved ones. So I'm focused on making sure I have an inventory all fall and kind of stacking up an inventory going into winter so that I can allow myself to ski.
Q: Talk to me about a time that gave you a “wow is this real?” feeling, where you’re given an opportunity and you're like, hold up this is real life?
Bri: Oh man. A lot of things that are coming to mind are indirectly related to my business. Basically, I have been able to say yes to some opportunities in my life because I run my own business and because I wasn’t tied to a traditional job. I’ve been able to travel to Central and South America recently and become scuba dive certified. Tried spear fishing. And I went down the Grand Canyon last year, which is such an incredible trip. You're gone for multiple weeks and you're basically not attached to the rest of the world. It's magical. In every sense you can imagine it’s the most amazing trip. I wish I could know that I was going to do it every year. That’s kind of been my goal moving forward. I don't want to ever be in a position in life where I can't say yes to the Grand Canyon if I were to be invited. So ideally I'm still working for myself, working really hard and I'm working a lot of hours, but I could say yes to something like the Grand Canyon. I think that’s good work life balance.
And also there'll be plenty of days this winter where I don't ski because I'm running a business and I take it seriously. The sacrifice is still really real. And setting your own boundaries is maybe the hardest thing. Especially when you’re saying to friends, “No, I can't do that with you because I have to work today.” When they know that you make your own schedule, it can get tricky. But I've had to really learn to be rigid in that. It takes a special person to make your own schedule and work your own hours. But, I'm SO determined to be that person and make it work - and it's starting to happen! I’m benefiting from having a routine and having structure. Sure, I'm the one who made it up, but I'm sticking to it as if it were a ‘real’ job and as if people are relying on me to be there.
Q: Talk to me about social media.
Bri: Oh man. So, I’ve had a long battle with my relationship with social media. It’s very much love/hate. At times, I've really had to pull away from it because there's been times where I feel like I've really focused on the negative -- like that it is just like this comparison platform and I'm a big believer that comparison is the thief of all happiness. If we are constantly focusing on everyone else's lives, how are we filling our own cup? And I really think about it from my work with teens -- I can't imagine having social media through that part of my life. That part where you're really grappling with identity and finding your way. I think it's probably super unhealthy for a lot of kids.
Anyways, I’ve had my reservations for sure and have arrived to a place more recently where I feel like I can focus on the positive, I can focus on people who are sharing art, people who are dedicating their time to causes that I think are important. If you follow the right people and if you look for the good, there's a lot of good in social media too. You don’t have to wrap your whole identity and your worthiness to it. You can build a community more or less. But your in-person -- face to face -- community should always come first. I do think it’s an amazing communication platform -- but it's not a platform for true connection unless you go beyond it and you actually meet people. Like you and I! We maybe met through social media, but the real connection happened now that we’re actually face to face, and that’s what I place value on. It is cool to see who buys my hats and who follows me. So many of them are badass girls who love the outdoors. I've made awesome real life connections through Instagram that have been incredible in my life and have made this business 100% possible. So for that I have to give social media some gratitude.
However, in my daily life, I have to stay aware and mindful in order to keep a balance with it, where I can maintain a positive attitude towards it. I have rules like I don't go on it first thing in the morning or at the end of the day. So never on my phone in bed. And I know that if I’m already feeling kind of down or just feeling off in my own life in some way, I'm not going to fill my brain with social media because I just know it doesn't benefit me. I need to look within instead.