Armando Gomez is the talented milliner who handcrafts each of the Miha hats! He is a third generation hatter who has dedicated his life to perfecting his trade and we are fortunate to be able to collaborate with him. The design process begins with us bringing ideas for new hat designs and Armando tempers the proposed designs to ensure better functionality. He creates samples, which we review together to discuss changes and adjustments, before selecting colors of the wool and beginning production.
As Armando is instrumental in the design process, he has full rights to sell the new hat styles in his market stall in Oaxaca, whereas the production for Miha is sold exclusively in the US. In this way, we enjoy a mutually beneficial partnership where we create fresh designs together, both lending a unique perspective or skill, and then sell them in distinct markets.
We had the pleasure of joining Armando in his workshop to talk through the process of making a hat and to learn more about him as a person. The following is a brief description of the steps involved, followed by an interview.
The interview has been translated from Spanish. Both Armando's words and image have been shared with his consent.
Armando starts the process with cutting felted wool into large circles, which he then forms in bell shapes that mimics the form the hat will eventually take. Each different style of hat requires a different mold to give it its unique shape. Certain hats require a metal mold and a hot press, other models are shaped by hand using an iron. After the hat has been shaped, he sews an elastic band on the inside, adds a suede band on the outside, and the hat is complete! He says it takes about 2 hours to complete a hat, from start to finish.
Armando shows the wool prior to shaping it, and all the different molds he uses to give the hats their form.
This heated press is used with a metal mold for sharping certain styles of hats.
Other hats are hand-formed with an iron using wooden molds.
Armando sews in the inner elastic band.
The last step is adding the suede outer band and listo! The final product.
Miha: Do you enjoy your work?
Armando: I love the work that I do. Apart from it being part of my heritage, it gives me satisfaction to make all the different models that people ask me for, both using the machine and by hand.
Miha: How did you learn to make hats?
Armando: From my father, and my grandfather. I have been making hats for almost 50 years; I started learning when I was 10.
Miha: Can you share more about your family?
Armando: My wife and I have two sons, and they all work with me. My wife make hats too, she operates the press and everything. But she doesn’t like to be photographed. My sons know the business as well, but they are both studying right now. One is 19 and the other is 20, one is studying veterinary medicine, and the other is going to study medicine. So we don’t know who will continue on with the family business. This work is challenging because it’s very physical. Maybe it’s better for them to just study and get a job.
Miha: How are you feeling about your business in light of the current situation, with the markets closed because of Covid?
Armando: There isn’t any business, for three months now. We are worried, we need to sell. The virus is going to continue, but I don’t think we can stop business altogether … people need to eat.
Miha: How do you feel about our collaboration? Do you like creating new models or does it feel like a lot of work?
Armando: I like to innovate. Different people want this or that, different hat models, and because of that I can do more extensive work. I don’t say no to requests from people to do custom models, I just get to work and together we make it happen.
Thanks to Armando for allowing us to share his story!