Sarah Kjorstad
Crown + Brim

Sarah Kjorstad

Crown + Brim

Sarah is a maker of custom cowboy hats.

Walking up a set of stairs into the Crown + Brim showroom, the first thing I saw was a wall lined with beautiful hats. Not a single one of them was the same, but Sarah's style shown through in all of them. Tucked away behind the showroom is her workshop, filled to the brim with everything from head molds to bands. Sarah herself is soft spoken and kind, her passion for creating is obvious. She lights up as I ask her questions about each step of the hat making process, telling me exactly why she steams the hats and lights them on fire.

Q: Talk me through how all of this came to be. Tell me your story.

Sarah: Growing up on a ranch in Wyoming, I was in 4H and my aunt Marilyn showed me how to sew, crochet and to do crafts with my hands. I loved it! That's how I would say the journey began. 

I've always been a maker of things but I was really never encouraged to pursue creativity or arts as a degree or a career. I was always told you must go to college and you must get a job that's very marketable and doing arts is not an option. But I always felt like there was something in me that was more creative even though I didn't allow myself to consider that that would be my profession. 

I have a masters degree in physical therapy. I went along the very traditional school route and pursued a path that I felt made my family happy and proud. Then I got to a point after practicing physical therapy for a while where I realized I liked the study of it, but I didn't love the practice of it. It just wasn’t fulfilling to me at all. In fact, it made me very sad. I would cry when I went to work. There was something wrong and something off. So after I had my son, I took a break from PT to stay at home with him. I took the time to explore and think about what working as a mom would look like. It was 10 years and it's hard to get back into the workforce after that amount of time, but I didn't want to go back into doing something that I hated.

I had gotten to a point where in my life I allowed myself to really be authentic. I started trying to figure out what I wanted to do. It was a soul searching experience. I was torn between doing something that was going to make everyone proud of me and doing something that I really wanted to do because that was who I was. When I finally got through trying a bunch of random stuff -like I was a clothing rep for a running clothing company, I sold jewelry for home parties for a while. I was just trying to figure out what would work, allow me to be a mom and also fulfill a career need for myself. 

I was beading earrings and bracelets at the time for friends and just giving it away. That's another thing; I was making and then I would just give it away because I felt like nothing I do was going to be of value or no one's going to really want to buy anything that I make. 

Eventually, I decided after living in Jackson that the making of hats was something I wanted to do. I grew up on a ranch in Wyoming. My family has always worn hats and it just seemed like a really cool fit to put together all my creative energy with some of my heritage. Putting it all together was a good cost benefit analysis too. Making earrings wasn’t very profitable for me, not that making money is the ultimate goal, but it's nice if you can make it a profession. I like making things that will actually also contribute a little bit to my family's financial wellbeing.

So, I put it all together and found this guy in Tennessee who will teach you how to make hats. It's actually hard to find people that will teach you. So I found him, went out and I did a couple week sessions with him. He taught me all the secrets and just, and then I decided to go with it. Since, it's just kind of taken on a life of its own.

Q: Did you have a pivotal mentor in terms of how or why you're doing this?

Sarah: That's a good question. I think there’s been a lot of different people throughout my life. 

I guess just the obvious one would be Mike Moore who trained me how to make hats. That would be an obvious one, but I think it's more of a collaboration of different people. 

My grandmother is from Nebraska and when my grandparents moved here, my grandfather was the first orthodontist in the state of Wyoming. They have been a multigenerational Wyoming family. My grandmother was this very hardworking Wyoming lady who lived in Casper and braved the cold winters and the horrible winds. But yet she was always dressed perfectly, she was very stylish. She had this eye for style that is inspiring to me and inspires my brand in general.

In some ways, my brand is the like personification of my grandmother; who was this strong Wyoming woman, until she was 95 she was still out there shoveling the driveway, but she still was put together to the nines every single day. Even if nobody was coming over, she was in her housecoat and her gold Malai shoes. She's a huge inspiration. The inspiration for my brand’s style is trying to bridge the gap between being feminine and being strong and riding that line between being powerful and being authentic, being powerful and strong and still being stylish.

Q: From day one of your business to now, what has changed the most? 

Sarah: Probably my confidence in what I'm doing. Initially, it was such a foreign thing to make hats. Although I have confidence in that when I decide to make things, I feel like I'm pretty good at making. When you start a business, you're out there by yourself. You’re by yourself on this kind of island.

 I remember making my first hat and I was sweating from all the nerves and I was thinking what have I done? I've invested all this money in all this equipment and I’ve totally gone left field with this profession. I was just so nervous, doubting myself, scared and thinking I was doing a horrible job. 

Then just through repetition and practice and making more and more, I think I've become more confident in making and more trusting of my creative process. Doubting yourself is part of the process, but being okay that doubt is normal and that you just gotta keep persevering and keep showing up and keep working through it.

Q: What’s your favorite part about being your own boss?

Sarah: There's not a favorite part. It's all good. The fact that you can come and go as you please, you can have creative license to do whatever you want, you are setting your own schedule. It means freedom to have time with my family. I want to work more because it's my own business, I am my own boss and I'm doing exactly what I want to do and I'm doing what I love. It’s doing what I want to do and spending my time exactly where I want to.

Q: What's the most challenging part of running your own business? 

Sarah: Oh, I suck at the business part. I have no business background at all. That the worst part is the accounting part. Hands down.

Q: Let’s talk about the risks of starting and running your own business. How have you dealt with being in a risky situation?

Sarah: I am generally not a risk taker. I very much like to play it safe in life choices. That may have been more of trying to please other people. I thought more about, what am I going to do to make my family proud? I was more living up to other people's expectations.

When I decided to finally be authentic to myself, that was a big risk just to do something completely outside the box. I just never have done that before. So it was really, really uncomfortable. But there was just something inside me that was like this is right

I knew that it was going to work and so that was it. But at first I also needed a friend to help and believe in me. I had a friend who was a great cheerleader - my really good friend Jen was like, I believe in you. You need to do this. I wasn’t sure at the time, and I didn't know if I wanted to do it by myself. 

And she was like, I believe in you. You need to do this and if I do it with you, will you do it? It doesn't scare me. 

And I was like, really? Okay, well if you're that confident, maybe if you'll do it with me, then I'll do it. She gave me that little bit of confidence to take the risk. I needed her to coach me, I needed a really good friend and someone that was my cheerleader, that was in my corner. She just basically told me, you can do this and you don't need me once I decided to take the leap. 

Then once committed to start, it was exciting and things started falling into place. I'm very risk averse usually but this time because somebody was behind me and believing in me, I decided to go ahead and take the leap and it worked out. 

That was the risk in the beginning, but then there are risks on a daily basis that you take. Just being in the creative process, the risk of putting my work out there is kind of like bearing my soul. This is my creation, my thoughts, my heart in my soul and I'm putting it out into the world. That's a huge risk and I have a huge fear of rejection, you know? Putting out something that I love that is part of me, that is my heart and exposing it to the world and saying, what do you think? Luckily it’s been received well.

Q: What’s your favorite part of your process?

Sarah: My favorite part of my process is probably when somebody comes in and they have a vision and want me to do something really custom and totally different. It's super fun. 

Right now I'm working on a couple different custom things. One in particular is this guy from New York who wants the New York skyline silhouetted against a white background on his band. He's super into it, the color and the style, and I'm sending pictures back and forth and I love that interaction with the client. Especially if they really know what they want. It’s a collaborative, creative process. And it's super fun. 

Q: If you could have potential clients know one thing about you or your business before potentially working with you, what would it be?

Sarah: It’s awesome when people have a vision, knowing at least sort of what you want to create is helpful.

About me or in my process is more just keeping an open mind and don’t be afraid to be creative. Just don't be afraid to do something a little bit daring ‘cause you do look good in a hat no matter what you think. People are always like, I don't look good in a hat. The truth is, you just have to find the right hat. Creatively, just letting the process happen. It's exciting when you just let the creative process happen and you come up with something really amazing.

Q: Talk to me about work/life balance.

Sarah: It's tricky especially because I've never owned my own business before. It's been good but it’s hard. I was a stay at home mom for 10 years and my family has been very reliant on me. So, it's been really great for me to have the work part of a work/life balance. Before, I didn't have a balance. I only had a family/life job. It's been so great for me to have this business. 

I have a son, he's 10 and it’s been great to show him that it’s possible to do what you really want to do and be authentic to yourself. That you don’t need to do something that makes other people happy, you can do what you really want to do. Having him watch me fight for this and overcome all these hurdles and really just stick with doing what I’m passionate about I think has been one of the biggest gifts of this whole process. Having that example for him has been great. 

It’s been great watching my husband and my son find ways to be a little less dependent on me. For my son, especially just being able to have more independence and do things on his own. 

For me, it's been great to have my own identity and have something that is outside of just being a mom and housewife.So the work- life balance has been, I mean, it's more of a balance. I was unbalanced before, and so now I actually have a great balance.

Q: If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice on day one, what would it be?

Sarah: Probably just to trust and believe in myself. It sounds super cheesy, believe that it's gonna work and be brave.

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