Two happy hatters fit in Fairplay
Fairplay – Sometimes, if you don’t love your work, the work you love finds you. That is the case for Fairplay’s custom hatmakers, Cherie Slaven and husband Robert “Smitty” Smith.”We had been in the restaurant business in Colorado Springs for many years,” Slaven said, “and came up to Park and Summit counties to play. One day in January of 1996, when it was time to go back, I turned to Smitty and said, ‘That’s it, I can’t do it anymore.'”When Smitty asked her what they were going to do, she told him, “We’re going to make hats.” The couple had been interested in the art of hatmaking for some time, and latched onto a turn-of-the-century hatmaking tool that measures a person’s head for a perfect fit. “We got a book on hatmaking and got started,” said Slaven, as she brought over the device, called a “conformater” from its resting place in their Colorado Mountain Hat Company display window in Fairplay. After collecting antique hat-making tools from all over the country, Smitty and Cherie set up shop and began making custom hats full time in July 1996. They now make as many as 1,200 a year, many for members of single shot shooting clubs who demand hats in the style of the Old West that just can’t be found on the shelves anymore.”We have hats in every state in the U.S. and in seventeen countries,” said Smitty, a handsome silver-haired man who looks younger than his claimed fifty-something years. They began their business in Breckenridge, but soon moved over to Fairplay in a historic building that has seen its share of miners, cowboys and prosperous businessmen come and go for many years. The couple often travels to gatherings of the Single Action Shooting Society, leaving the store in the hands of Vera Phillips, for whom the hatmaking business has presented an epiphany. “I used to be a dancer, and now I find that I was born to fit hats,” said Phillips, with her signature laugh. While the three are full of bright smiles and cheerful chatter with their customers, when it comes to explaining the quality of their product, Smitty becomes serious. “There are about 12 steps to making a hat,” he said and reached for an unshaped felt form ready to become someone’s personal chapeau. “We only use three kinds of felt that we get from Winchester Hats, a family business in Tennessee. We use rabbit, a blend of rabbit and beaver, or pure beaver.” The special barbs in the hair of the beaver make the full beaver hat virtually waterproof, he explained. After a customer picks a style, the conformater is placed on his or her head to duplicate the exact shape for maximum comfort. Once the proper proportions have been established, the image is duplicated by punched holes in a piece of paper. Then the dimensions are transferred to another device that fits on the inside of the hat form and the hatter begins steaming the felt material into the proper shape.”It usually takes about 10 to 12 weeks to make a custom hat, so folks shouldn’t think they can come into the shop and walk out with a hat the same day,” said Smitty.He suggests customers call ahead of time to be sure they are in town and invites folks to check out their Web site at http://www.cmhats.com, to see if one of the styles shown there looks appealing.Prices for Colorado Mountain Hat Company custom hats range from about $165 to $385, but the customer can further personalize the hat by purchasing just the right hatband. Last spring, after customer Webb Bernhardt selected his favorite style of hat, Vera pointed out a number of finely crafted bands hanging on the wall. “Here are snakeskin, handmade beaded ones, braided horsehair, leather – just about anything you can think of.”
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