That Favorite "San Francisco Moment"

Sep 02 at 2pm

For years there have been individuals that I’ve seen around town who captured my imagination. This project, Drawn From the City, became an excuse to find out about their lives through interviews, documenting the cultural life-blood of the city.

Olivia

What is your occupation? I’m an entrepreneur, Co-Owner of Paul’s Hat Works and The Mysterious Rack in the Richmond District.

When did you get interested in hat making? I got interested in making hats in college. I was dedicated to making Buckram hats in my costuming class. A couple years later I stumbled upon a 93-year-old hat shop that was on its last leg, and decided it needed to remain a legacy in San Francisco. Myself and my business partners learned to make hats from the previous owner of the shop – he apprenticed us, and now, five years later, I can say all four of us are accomplished hatters.

How old were you when you took over the shop? I was 22 when I decided to buy Paul's Hat Works with my three business partners. The four of us were living together in a rent controlled flat 10 blocks from the shop. I was in college at the time, and the other three were working various jobs ranging from working at a health food coop, to teaching preschool, to one off design/sewing gigs. We were starting to collaborate on theatrical events and projects, and then the hat shop project appeared. It takes a lot of guts to try and open a business in your twenties, and with three other business partners no less. I was pretty fearless at that age, in fact, though I have learned a lot more in the last five years, and opening another business with three locations, I am still pretty fearless. I think some people are born with the balls and the naive drive to ignore naysayers and go for something other people might think was impossible or untouchable.

I stumbled upon a 93-year-old hat shop that was on its last leg, and decided it needed to remain a legacy in San Francisco. Myself and my business partners learned to make hats from the previous owner of the shop – he apprenticed us.

What does running a hat shop entail? Being a co-owner of Paul's Hat Works involves quite a bit. In 2009 when we bought the business, we truly did not know the scope of what we were getting into. Not only do we manufacture all of our own products in house, but also we have to do the bookkeeping, marketing, brainstorming, customer service, etc. etc. etc. Some days you wake up and wonder if it's worth it, other days you are positive you could never be doing anything else. It can be terrifying to know you have to figure out where the rent for five different landlords is going to come from. Every day though, I am proud of the fact that we rescued an important piece of history that was so close to being scattered into a million pieces.

What is your style inspiration? I am inspired by articles of clothing that seem too bizarre or hideous to actually wear, it's an exciting challenge. Bright colors, wild prints, and mixing and matching what “shouldn’t” be mixed and matched inspire me. Animal print is my black.

What do you love about the city? What I love most about San Francisco is that it can't grow any bigger due to geographical constraints and so the population must figure out how to grow bigger vertically, and do so in a collaborative manner.

What is your favorite “San Francisco” moment? There are so many fantastic San Francisco moments. Some personal favorites include being recognized on buses for being that girl who was riding a bike in a Santa costume on a Tuesday morning, and being asked: "Were you the girl who staged a fake western showdown gunfight on the 38 bus?" Yes I was. Thanks for allowing shenanigans to happen, San Francisco.

How has living in the city changed you? The city has shown me that you can do whatever you want and be whomever you want. It's a small enough city that whatever you set out to do you can surely reach the community, market, or customers that you are looking for. It's an incredible city that attracts amazing people from all over the world who end up either making it as an artist … or not.

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