It was back in 2009. I was 25 years old working landscaping in the summers, odd jobs in the shoulder seasons, and went into full-time ski bum mode in the winters. I had an interesting smorgasbord of design education, mostly that I had designed myself, not believing in the way education had been presented to me. I was not sold on the concept of investing in my future by going tens of thousands of dollars into debt for something I did not even know if I wanted to do. So, I began to sample the world. I traveled, a lot. I spent months on end rock climbing in Thailand, China, and Mexico. I skied in Chile and Argentina and explored the expanse of mountains in France and Italy. I learned to fly paragliders in Nepal. I adventured, I searched and I learned slowly to widen my view of what the world looked like and how I wanted to fit into it.
I knew that I love to create, to craft things, to make ideas come to life from a very young age. I learned to sew as a kid who grew up between the plateaus of a tiny ranch town, and the mountains of a ski town in Southwest Colorado. I took an extracurricular outdoor clothing sewing class, in high school, and that fueled my interest in creating something that could be used on the outdoor pursuits I found myself craving more and more. When it was time to go to college, which seemed like what I had to do at the time, I attended Western Washington Universtiy in Bellingham, WA. I spent a year in art school with a focus on printmaking. I enjoyed it however, after my first year on my own dime, I thought that living a life of travel and adventure seems more applicable to my attention span at the time. Between trips, I knew I still wanted skills, I wanted to be a designer in some capacity, and I really did love learning and school, I just knew now what I wanted out of it. I found a small program called the Ecosa Insitute and graduated with a certificate in sustainable design. It brought the two disciplines that were of most interest and importance to me together; design and sustainablity. Though it did not present me with occupation at the time, it set me on a path.
I still was not sure exactly what I was going to do with this nugget of educaiton, and found myself with more odd jobs, including being a mountain town ambassador for Clif Bar and a product tester for Patagonia. I felt I was getting closer to where I wanted to be, but I could not shake the idea of starting something of my own, and could not see my free-spirited self in a corporate world. I was still making things, bags, skirts, backpacks, etc. The item that changed everything, however, was a cadet style hat I had made out of my 10-year-old very loved Carhartts. I got a few compliments, then people began to ask if I would make them a hat out of their favorite old shirt, pants, or jacket. I did, and the joy that was brought to these people by remaking their loved clothing into a new hat was remarkably rewarding for me. I light turned on in my head and the idea for Recaps grew with every hole I dug in the dirt at my current landscaping job that summer. I used those hours of manual labor to scheme, punch numbers, thinking of designs, and plan how to start. I was 25 and had nothing to lose. Literally. So I took a risk and began.
I remembered seeing small tailor shops in the streets of Bangkok on my Thailand travels. I remember their advertisements for making custom clothing. Why couldn’t they make my hats? Why couldn’t I go on another climbing trip to Thailand AND get my hats made? I booked a plane ticket, made patterns for my hats, came up with a name, and a logo. I kicked off on a new adventure to launch Recaps with no real business skills, in a foreign country that I did not speak the language with very very little cash. Though I did not know it at the time, the most powerful tool that I had, was the willingness to try.
In between the hectic street of Chang Mai Thailand I found a market full of used clothes, and a small tailor shop who agreed to make my hats. I spent a day wading through the piles of clothing picking out patterns, colors, and fabrics I liked. I spent the next week in a hot sweating hotel room cutting up piles and piles of clothing to take to the small hole-in-the-wall tailor that had agreed to make the hats for me. She would make 300 hats from my patterns and the used clothing over the next month. I found a place to make my Recaps labels, as well as print, hangtags, and business cards. After a month of rock climbing in southern Thailand, I returned to Chang Mai to pick up 1/2 the order of hats and return to the States. Lessons in international trade and import tax were learned that hard way and when I returned home, I thought the hard part was over. Though I had a product to sell, I soon learned that the hard part had just begun. I went to shops and slowly people began to buy my hats. It was 2009, and the timing of starting a business could not have been worse. However, when you have nothing to lose, you have everything to gain. An order for $200 was like hitting the jackpot, so it was easy to stick with it. It grew gradually but began to support me full time and I found joy and satisfaction out of creating. The first few years were slow and while my foray with international manufacturing was a fantastic way to start, Recaps was not brought into an economy that could sustain international manufacturing. So I got behind the sewing machine and for years, I single handly cranked out each and every order.
Recaps found its stride when the mini brim Trucker hat launched. I wanted to create a that was a trucker style but with a brim shape from my original cadet style of hat. I wanted to continue with my 100% upcycled theme, so I found old trucker hats at thrift stores and cut the brims down to the shape I wanted them. Then I would find cool graphics from old shirts and sew them onto the hat. I had just finished my first prototype and found myself at dinner with a Rep from a well-known kayak company. He saw the hat and asked if I could make a custom run for Liquid Logic, his company. He ordered 100 on the spot. I said yes, having no idea how to do that. After days of trying to come up with how to get his logo onto my hats, my distant printmaking skills whispered a solution. Lino block printing. It worked perfectly and to this day, I still carve images and logos into lino blocks, print on reclaimed materials, and sew them onto my custom-designed hats. (which are not thrift store hats anymore, cause let’s face it, nobody wants to wear someone else’s sweaty hat).
Recaps has grown with me over the past 12 years. It has gone through growing pains, morphing and changing shapes. It has been my shadow, always there and always a reflection of my life’s motions. Recaps is a product of my lifestyle; free, colorful, and unconventional. It is a unique business style and by staying close to living a lifestyle true to myself, I am able to keep my product authentic and original.