A handmade tale
Take one British-Australian travel photographer and two impressively entrepreneurial Americans, then add the south-west American desert and you have the under-the-radar hat line Tio y Tia. By Zara Wong.
The south-west of America, as the three women behind Tio y Tia tell me, has its own magical power. “It’s hard to explain until you actually get there,” says Nicole Najafi, who is also the founder of jeans retailer Industry Standard. Tio y Tia’s story began with a single vintage hat that Najafi found to shield her from the sun while spending a month in the Mojave Desert. “It was purely functional, but I fell in love with it. I wore it every day and it didn’t matter if you were male, female, old, young, they were asking me about this hat.”
Najafi joined forces with her friends Johanna Peet (who has her own business on the side, plant-based beauty line Peet Rivko) and British-born, Australian-based photographer Lucy Laucht to explore manufacturing the hats. After some research, they tracked down the creator of the vintage hat, who, they discovered, was the oldest hatmaker in America, with clientele that at one time included artist Georgia O’Keeffe.
“They had heard of Industry Standard, so they were very excited,” says Peet, who focuses on the business side of the company. “I had just concluded a six-month van trip with my husband, jumping around the south-west and west, and I thought: ‘I need to be a part of this!’ I fell in love with it out there: it’s so magical.” It took several rounds of designing and sampling to perfect the hats, which are now available at tioytia.com, as well as at Australian online retailer Worn Store. “Because they’re made by hand, it does take a bit longer – we learnt to be patient with it,” adds Laucht, who previously worked in social media for J.Crew in New York. Now living in Melbourne, she travels regularly as a photographer and oversees Tio y Tia’s creative, photography and social media; Najafi is charged with design and marketing.
For each of the women, running Tio y Tia is fuelled by passion. “We love working with each other, and we find a lot of joy and excitement from combining all of our interests,” says Peet. “Having three founders with such complementary skill sets is insanely efficient.” The three also had undertaken a “co-founders’ creative road trip” last November, starting in Utah and then driving south to Arizona. “When the three of us were in the desert, it’s just so slow out there and the ideas poured out of us.”
The first hat they released, the Gambler, is based on a traditional western-style hat worn by men. It was repurposed for women by adding a string cord – “string cords were traditionally worn by women”, explains Najafi. “And it’s cute having a string cord, but also functional, so it doesn’t fly off your head!” Other styles are softened with additions such as a ribbon trim.
Najafi admits that previously she was determinedly not a hat person. “Not until I found the hat – and now I’m obsessed!” she says with a laugh. Laucht demurs that being based in Australia, hat-wearing culture has stayed with her. And as Peet explains, a newfound appreciation for hats through her company has imbued her style with assuredness and flair. “In New York, wearing a hat can be intimidating. I used to be one of those people who would be self-conscious about wearing a hat and now I love it – it gives you so much more confidence. If you’re someone who wears a hat, you’re just really owning it.”
“WEARING A HAT GIVES YOU SO MUCH MORE CONFIDENCE”
A model wearing a Tio y Tia hat, photographed by one of the label’s founders, Lucy Laucht.
Tio y Tia Gambler hat, $290.
Tio y Tia Taos hat, $320.
Tio y Tia Paloma hat, $245.