Hat maker with a passion
Rhonda Mowat has "always worn hats" and before learning traditional block-making in 1994 from milliner Di Powell in Lyttleton, she had her own eclectic collection of over 40 hats.
Fabrics, textures and colour combinations have always fascinated her, and she loves playing with these combinations when constructing each individual hat, always mindful of the balance and overall visual.
She is also a self-confessed hoarder of fabrics and bric-a-brac, which is perfect for a hat maker requiring a huge variety of fabrics for summer and winter styles.
The main reason she wanted to make hats was the thought that she could make an income from doing something she loves.
She started making hats fulltime in 1996 while living at Little River, then started selling at the Riccarton markets in Christchurch and remembers the buzz on the first day when she sold five hats.
From then on, hat making has been in her life, allowing her the freedom to work from home, to travel and to legitimately continue hoarding.
Rhonda came to Nelson in 2005 and studied at the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology, graduating with a Bachelor of Visual Art and Design. She says she wanted to gain some validity as an artist and learned a lot during this time of study, but that it is a very individual thing and not for everyone, as we all have a different path.
Rhonda says learning business skills, like marketing and bookkeeping, has been important for running a business on her own. She doesn't use a website for sales because she feels that hats are so personal they need to be touched and tried on.
For this reason she sticks to markets, fetes and fairs, and also has hat parties. Sometimes the biggest hurdle for people buying a hat is the fear of "standing out"; something Rhonda feels is very New Zealand. However, people are wearing hats more now for practical reasons, such as sun protection and to keep warm in winter. They are also mindful of buying locally made goods, which Rhonda regards as becoming more and more important in the current economic climate. She says people are also much more into recycling, with an interest in "retro" and articles made by hand.
One of the most unique aspects of Rhonda's hat making is that she sews everything on an old Singer treadle-sewing machine; no electricity means it is quiet enough that she can work in her lounge and watch television or listen to music while sewing.
Rhonda has always loved travelling and still enjoys the adventure of sales trips to various parts of the country, including the Wanaka A&P Show, Culverden Christmas Country Fete, Martinborough Fair, and Thorndon Fair.
It suits her nature to be able to get up and go and she says it is one of the perks of working for one's self.
Rhonda started supplementing her income over the past few years, having upgraded her nursing registration, and now works part-time in aged care. This gives her the luxury of having the occasional weekend off at the Nelson Market, but she always returns with more hats, different designs and her absolute passion for hats.
RHONDA'S TIP To make a living as an artisan, you need to be passionate, love what you do and respond to the market.
- © Fairfax NZ News