11 Oct My #realfreelancelife True Story: Bryn Cuzick
“I always had a love for hats. But it was on a trip to Malibu that my heart dropped…”
As a Northern California native and custom hatmaker, Bryn Cuzick describes her style as “laid-back California casual with a dash of global flair.” While visiting her home and new studio space for Taj Hat Company recently, I couldn’t help but notice her and her husband’s enthusiasm for new adventures mixed with this calm demeanor of understanding the importance of stopping to enjoy it all.
Bryn not only owns her own hat company, where every single hat is made by hand, she also does HR and business management for her husband’s construction company. I was honored to sit down with Bryn a few weeks ago and learn more about her journey and her plans for the future, she is a beautiful soul, read on!
Mandy: Let’s get right to it! How long have you had your business, Taj Hat Company?
Bryn: The business will officially be one year old in December. We launched during the pandemic, which I was kind of nervous about because no one’s going out, is anyone going to buy a hat? But when things started opening up a bit more, business started picking up too.
The first three months were an ebb and flow. People had to find me, and then I’d take orders and put in the work. I’m starting to figure out my pace. A couple of times, someone has asked for something and I’m like, “Oh, I can for sure have that done in this amount of time,” and then I realize, “Oh, that wasn’t correct,” or “I could’ve said so much sooner than that.” So I’m still figuring that out, but I’m getting there! Business has been good
M: What did you do before Taj Hat Co.?
B: My degree is in business management, and before we moved here, I worked in contract management in California for a company that builds rockets. My parents were in the Air Force, so I kind of grew up in that world. It was nice because there’s benefits, your salary, the 9 / 80, where you work 9 hours a day and get in 80 hours within 9 days instead of 10. So every other weekend you get a 3-day weekend.
I loved that. It was great because we were newlyweds and we were taking 3-day trips up and down the coast, going to Seattle, Portland, Southern California. It was the perfect kind of schedule for newlywed life, I guess. But I was commuting an hour each day, so a 9-hour day was actually an 11-hour day.
M: And now you’re full-time freelance, right? How do you like the freelance life?
Bryn: Yeah, I do all the payroll and paperwork and HR tasks for my husband’s construction company…and I also run Taj Hat Co., with my own shop, fashion shows, workshops, and more.
I love the flexibility and the freedom, but on the other end, if this doesn’t work, it’s all on me. It kind of scares me a little bit, because now that I am my own boss, it’s terrifying, but it’s also addicting. I don’t think I could go back to a 9-5.
M: How did you get into hat-making?
B: I grew up wearing hats. From a little girl, I was always in hats and my parents always put me in hats. Then when I got older, I always picked them out for myself.
I always had a love for hats. But it was on a trip to Malibu that I first knew you could make them yourself. That was about 2 ½ years ago. This is going to sound super dramatic, but as soon as I saw the hats, my heart dropped.
It’s not something you can explain…it’s just that thing in your life that you suddenly know is significant. At first, I just felt like, “I’m supposed to buy one of these because they’re so cool.” But the one that I wanted was like $800, so I was like, ”Maybe that’s not what I’m feeling!” Then I went to the next store, and it was a different style because it was a different hat maker, and then I went to the next store and it was a different style because it was a different hat maker. And I was just so inspired. It was one of our winter trips, so we were staying at an RV park, and I spent every spare minute we were hanging in the camper YouTubing, researching, sketching hats, and dreaming about what I would do if I ever designed them.
At that point, my husband and I were already living in the Cincinnati area (he’s from here) and I was working full-time for his construction company. We already knew I was going to transition into something else, but we didn’t have a plan yet.
M: What’s been the hardest part of starting your business?
B: The whole investment of it. If I’m honest, that’s been the most discouraging thing, just how much you have to invest just to start. I have to tell myself “good” is if I break even and cover my hours and materials cost. But that still is disappointing. Pricing has also been so interesting to try and figure out.
I’ve had a lot of orders from California, just because that’s where I’m from and still have a network of people who know me or follow me. But that was also the thing—when I first saw those hats, and obviously I wanted to buy one, starting one with nothing on it was $700. But that was in California.
Here my hats starting with nothing on them were $250, I just raised it to $500. It’s still not where it should be technically, but that’s where I’m at for now.
M: It’s good that you’re at least paying yourself for the hours.
B: I’ve at least learned that much. I’ve had a couple of people reach out to me about wholesale, and with that, you have to re-evaluate your pricing all over again. Typical rule of thumb for wholesale is half of the retail price.
M: So you actually have a shop here now, right? Do people come here to shop or for consultations?
B: Not yet, but I hope to officially open up soon and offer in-person fittings, or people could come by and see what I have in stock. That’s where I’d like to be in the next couple of months.
M: What’s your favorite part of making the hats?
B: I think it’s probably the shaping. Because they all start with this blank open material, and shaping is the first step in the creation of the hat. It sets the tone and is where the fun begins for me. When you first start designing a hat, you have this vision and you know it’s going to take a while. The shaping is so fast, it’s like instant gratification.
M: I totally get that, that’s one of the reasons I liked graphic design over animation when I was in school…the instant gratification haha. How did you learn to make hats?
B: It was kind of nerve-wracking because I mostly taught myself. I did tons of research, watched lots of YouTube videos, read lots of articles. I also joined this one chatroom called The Fedora Lounge that was so great! It was all these retired guys who made hats by themselves, and they would share their tips, like what techniques you’re allowed to use and which felt was better than the other.
I was really nervous the first couple of times I made a hat because I spent all this money on the tools and the felt. And it was like, “If I mess this up, or I can’t get this…or I don’t like it, then I’m out all this money.” I didn’t really start small and scale up; in fact, my first purchase was buying ALL the blocks, which are different hat sizes.
M: Were there other people who helped you learn the trade?
B: Most well-known hat-makers are pretty hush-hush with their techniques, but I’ve found that suppliers and felt sellers are often really helpful. A lot of them make hats as well. I can ask them things like, “I’m getting this result, what do you think that is?” And they’ll say, “Well, you probably used the wrong sandpaper or ironed too much or something like that.” So that’s really helpful to have those people I can turn to. It’s kind of funny, but I’m actually finding now that I have more people reaching out to me asking me for help and for tips.
M: Is that community growing? People starting to make hats?
B: Yeah, it’s definitely on the rise. Even the people I originally bought my hat blocks from are progressively more and more busy. I think I got into it at the right time.
There’s a fellow hatmaker that’s reached out a few times so we’ve messaged a couple times. We’ll share techniques and ideas. And then a girl in Canada found me recently and asked if I could FaceTime with her to help her with something. And I’m more than happy to because I wish someone would have given me help. I’ve started to learn that everyone’s style is so different that we’re not really in competition.
If someone likes your style, then they should go to you because it’s going to take more work from me to make something that’s not my natural style.
M: That’s so great that you are so open and collaborative with what you’ve learned. I’m sure people appreciate that!
B: I’ve always been a firm believer that what you do comes back around, and I would have appreciated it so much if people were more open about it.
I also think that helping others helps me to break out of the scarcity mindset. In the moments where I feel like I have imposter syndrome, or like all these people are doing it so much better than me, I remind myself that I do have help to give. Most people are shocked when you offer it so freely, but it also builds community and relationships with people.
M: What does a day in your life look like?
B: I’m actually a night owl. My whole life, I’ve wanted to operate that way but I don’t operate that way. My whole family, they’re all night owls. But typically, I’ll go to bed at midnight. I’ll wake up at like 8 or 9, and then I’ll try to be consistent in the morning, like read or journal and then drink some tea. I’m not a big breakfast person.
After that, I’ll be on my computer. I’ll work from like 10 or 11 till like 6:30 or 7. When my husband gets home from work, I’ll stop working and we’ll eat dinner and hang out for a bit. If we’re going to be on the couch, I’ll do more computer work while he’s watching TV. Or like last night, I sewed sweat bands while we watched TV because it’s kind of like a mindless task.
M: What do you wish people knew about wearing hats?
B: People are always like, “I wish I could pull that off,” or “I wish I was a hat person.” And I just want to say, “You are! You can be!” There are very few people who can’t pull off wearing a hat, it’s just finding the right style and the way of wearing it that’s comfortable for you. A lot of people don’t know how to wear a hat, so I’ll show people how to wear it in different ways, like the halo effect or more traditional styles.
That’s the cool part about meeting with people. Most of the custom orders I get aren’t local, so I’ll schedule a consultation over Zoom or FaceTime, and we’ll talk through their face shape and stuff.
Another big thing is people see the fun colors I have, and they’re just drawn to it, like I love it!
Mandy: You have so many cool colors that I’ve never seen anywhere else! And the custom adornments are so unique! I can’t wait for mine!
Bryn: They are a great accent piece. I dress very simply, so it’s easy to throw something that’s kind of wild in like shoes or a fun hat.
Some people want a hat that’s for everyday that will go with everything all the time. And some people want their hat to be an accent. Or both! And I love helping them figure out what’s right for them.
M: Yeah…I want both too haha. You’re so good at creating and curating the style of the hats you create and IMO, an aesthetic eye is something you’re either born with or you’re not…and you got it! Thank you so much for sitting down with us today, Bryn! Loved getting to know you better!