FAIRMONT — It all started for Sadarryle Stephens with a walk down the streets of New York City during fashion week in 2013.
While she was with friends, she went to a store where she saw a “beautiful” hat.
“It was at the beginning of the trip. I was like ‘If I pay for this hat, I might not be able to eat towards the end of the week,’” she joked about the hat’s price.
Stephens left the hat and promised to come back but never did. Her disappointment is what drove her to make her own.
“I came home and researched on ‘how to make a hat’ and I made my first hat,” she said. “I made my first hat before Thanksgiving that year.”
That hat was a simple bowler felt hat.
“It was a simple hat, but I wore it on my head and told everybody ‘I made it,’” she said.
During that time she made several hats and showed them off on Facebook, and that’s how the buzz began. She got to the point of making and selling so many hats that it was taking over her home.
“I took over the living room at the house and mom was like ‘we need somewhere to go,’” Stephens said. “We had the shop the next summer.”
That shop, Holy Portion, located on 208 S. Main St. in Fairmont, is now where Stephens creates a variety of hats for her business DarraEvette. Her hats have been worn by Rayvon Owen, who finished fourth on American Idol, actor Anthony Hamilton, Musiq Soulchild and Jimmy Fallon.
Stephens, 28, started out making casual hats, such as the fedoras and the derby, and progressed to doing bridal hats in 2016.
“I started to make them fancy because I would get the request of ‘why don’t you do church hats?’” she said.
She never really liked church hats but started doing her own version, which is a more subdued version, Stephens said. What she calls her “wackiest” hat, is a fascinator hat, complete with birds and feathers on it. A fascinator is a small ornamental type of headpiece. Stephens sells hers with a starting price of $50.
Stephens is now working on hats she calls “The Grandad Hat,” which are a vintage, distressed-looking hat that is trending. To distress the hat she “sets it on fire, roles it up and get it dirty,” Stephens said.
“I like to do all of mine unisex,” she said.
Most of her materials come from a company based in New York called Manhatco. To personalize her hats she goes to thrift stores to buy vintage pens and charms. She also experiments with hand embroidery and painting. Her brimmed hats start at $150, but the more details are added the more expensive they get.
To make a hat, Stephens first gets the customer’s measurements and then she uses a hat mold, which is wooden or plastic, to form the hat’s shape. Stephens wet-blocks the material, which usually comes in a deformed cone-like shape, and saturates the hat in boiling water so the material is easy to manipulate onto the mold.
Stephens said it use to take 30 minutes to wet-block a hat, and she would let it sit out in the sun and leave it in the car to dry out. A fellow milliner told her to place the hats in a oven at the lowest setting to dry out.
“It reduced it to four hours, so now I’m able to make a hat in probably about two to two-and-half days as opposed to a week,” she said.
When it’s dry the hat has it’s rounded shape. She hand-works different shapes onto the hats to make them more unique. Once she does that, she uses spray sizing, a starch-like spray that hardens the hat and helps it keep its shape.
Stephens describes here style as “modern, classic and vintage — something you can wear and your momma can wear and it not look weird.”
“I want to make pieces that you can pass it down,” she said. “Timeless.”
Making hats has always been in Stephens’ blood. Her grandmother, great-grandmother and all of her sisters were avid sewers.
“She had a hat with every kind of outfit. If it was a sweatsuit, she had a cap on. If it was her dress clothes she always wore a hat and that was just something that I always loved about her,” Stephens said of her grandmother.
Stephens just recently found out from her mother how her grandmother was a sewer, too.
“My grandmother would go to stores and and see a dress, then go home and get newspaper and make the pattern and then make the dress,” she said.
Stephens is now studying fashion online from the graduate school at The Academy of Art University at San Francisco. She hopes to expand to more than just hat making.
“I want to do a head-to-toe look. You can come into my shop, get your hat, get your outfit and eventually I want to do shoes, too,” she said. “You can come in and get your whole outfit and leave out looking like a different person.”
To look at Stephens’ hats go to her Facebook page DarraEvette. Stephens also repairs and re-purposes hats.
Tomeka Sinclair can be reached at 910-416-5865 or firstname.lastname@example.org