Emma Cheape’s fancy for hat making was born out of shopper’s frustration. She was living in London at the time and couldn’t find anything stylish and compact for quick summer getaways to Europe.
“I wanted to find something I felt great in and that was easy to stash in my carry-on. There was only cheap or super high-end stuff costing a few hundred pounds, nothing in the middle,” says Emma.
The Wellingtonian studied fashion design in Christchurch and then worked as a pattern cutter and design assistant in Auckland before jetting off to London. Emma started crafting all kinds of hat designs late into the night and on weekends in a small rented studio while working at a made-to-measure dress boutique.
She says her instinct to make her own clothing came about from a love of op-shopping while studying for a Bachelor of Arts. “I didn’t sew when I was growing up. The idea to study fashion came when I got into vintage and second-hand stores. I started to have all these ideas about changing things and fixing them up.”
After four years overseas, Emma returned home with her boyfriend (a New Zealander she met over there) to continue to run her business, The Brim Label.
The range now includes straw visors, headbands and floral printed caps for summer, merino beanies and berets for winter, plus styles for men and children.
Emma works solely with fabrics found in secondhand stores, fairs and on Trade Me. She says the overall style is fun and wearable. “Hats can be a bit daunting for people, so I wanted mine to be unique but not intimidating. You can still wear them with any outfit.”
Most sales are local and in Australia, and summer is unsurprisingly the biggest season. “The hats suit the New Zealand summertime vibe more so than England. With the intensity of our sun, a hat really is a prerequisite,” she says.
“New Zealand is also really supportive of small businesses which has helped the label grow.”
The Brim Label is now made in Hawke’s Bay, where Emma and her partner moved this year. The sewing room is only a couple of steps from their new house. “It’s a dream. I don’t have to wait for a bus or find a park. It’s such an inspiring space to work too. When the weather’s good I open the door and let the sunshine stream in,” she says.
Emma is putting the final touches to a new collection and hopes that the popularity of Brim Label designs will continue to grow. “I would love to grow my reach internationally. Being online, my hats can be shipped anywhere.”
MY FAVOURITE THINGS
I got these ceramic mugs from a fellow stallholder when I took part in Australian craft market Finders Keepers in Melbourne. I always have my morning coffee in one.
My two favourite pieces of jewellery, which I wear every day, were given to me by my parents. The ring, given for my 21st birthday, has a family crest on it from my father's side, and a number of family members wear the identical ring, which I think is pretty special. The necklace was made for me for my 30th birthday. It's a topaz stone, which was on an old brooch owned by my maternal grandmother.
The brooch was sitting in a drawer not being worn, so my mum and I took it to a jeweller and they used the stone to make a pendant. I love that this topaz has been modernised and given a new lease on life.
3. FRUIT BOWL
My boyfriend and I were recently in Oaxaca, Mexico, where there are amazing artisans making beautiful things. I fell for this woven fruit bowl, as well as a big woven lightshade. They were not the most practical items to lug around for three weeks while travelling but I'm glad I got them. They add colour to the kitchen and remind me of our wonderful trip.
This print was a birthday present from my sister a few years ago. I really like it for its cute, whimsical vibe.
5. SEWING MACHINE
I would be lost without my amazing industrial sewing machine. I use it every day and make every hat on it. I've had it for three years and it's served me very well. It's secondhand and I often wonder how many others have spent hours working away at the same machine.