“There’s a hat for everyone. It’s just whether you want to rock one or not.”
– Cate Leuenberger, Owner of Royal Stag Custom Hats
If you are a creative person, then you will understand that soul-twitching tug; that need that bubbles up within your bones and froths with force until you finally put your hands to work, creating something. You may not even know what you are creating at the start, but in the end you discover your path and purpose through the movement of your hands, through the creation of something tangible from an intangible tug.
This is what drove Cate Leuenberger to hat making. She felt the pull to create, and at first she wasn’t sure what the end goal was, until she saw a lady wearing a hat during a trip to Sante Fe.
“Where did you get that hat?” She asked.
“I made it,” was the woman’s simple response.
Aha! Moments are everywhere and Cate followed that moment with a determination to create her own hats.
“I was always a collector and wearer of hats,” Cate said. “But to discover that I could make my own hats was something that propelled me to learn more.”
Cate is a self-proclaimed “maker” and has always gravitated to handmade items. Her journey to learn this secret hard-to-come-by trade of traditional hat making, lead her down a long, windy road to success.
“I did my homework.”
Cate embarked on a two-year journey of research and study in the lost art of handmade hat making.
“I got lucky and discovered a 2-day workshop with a women’s hat maker, but I still had so much to learn, so I reached out to Trent Johnson, world-renowned western hat maker.”
Trent is a very busy man, but set aside a few precious moments to train and teach Cate all that she needed to become a trade success, and a little over 2 years later, Cate was ready to open the doors of Royal Stag Custom Hats.
Today, Cate and her husband, Jonas, run their small but successful family business making high-quality custom hats that tip their brims to the past, but with a modern twist.
“Jonas does everything that I can’t or don’t have time to do. As a graphic designer, he runs the website and photography operations, allowing me to focus on producing high-quality, custom hats for our clientele.”
Quality is King for Cate. She tailors each hat to the individual client, and her main gauge to success is meticulous excellence.
“There really are no two hats alike. They are all one-of-a-kind, and I use the best, most high-quality elements, such as European hare, beaver felts, leather sweatbands and satin liners. Each hat is made by my hands; I hand-shape the crown over wooden blocks with steam, and hand-sew the sweatbands.”
Classic hats with a modern twist is the Royal Stag style. Each hat is regarded as its own living, breathing entity.
“I am dreaming up new creations all the time. One of my inspirations is western movies, perhaps because my father is an old-school cowboy from Nebraska and he doesn’t go anywhere without his cowboy hat. He is my favorite model because he looks great in all my hats.”
Cate is proud to be one of the pioneers that are bringing back high-quality, handmade items that last a lifetime.
“I think we have pushed the envelope as far as it can go in terms of accepting cheap, factory-made items. I think the US is rebelling; they are primed and ready to make handmade cool again.”
Her advice to others is simple:
Follow your heart and trust your gut.
“There are a lot of growing pains and at times I never thought I would get there, and the learning curve for the business side of the operation was steep, but now we are exactly where we want to be.”
She’s not in a rush.There’s something to be said about being happy exactly where you are. We spend so much of our lives striving for the end goal, but Cate has a certain pride of place and is happy exactly where she is right now.
“I’m not in a rush. I have a daughter, 2 years old, and I want to spend time with my family. I am excited about our future growth and opportunities, but I’m going to allow it to happen organically.”