Amid the almost completed renovations on the new downtown space that will house Cajun Hatter, we sat down with founder Colby Hebert to discuss his return to Acadiana. We spoke about Colby’s passion for Cajun preservation, the impact he hopes to have on south Louisiana culture, and why Acadiana is truly home.
How did Cajun Hatter come to be?
We started in New Iberia in 2016, which is where I am from. It was a one-room shack, so most of it was workshop space making our consultations appointment only. After a year we moved to Magazine St. in New Orleans, which was more conducive to foot traffic. A location like Magazine is where Cajun Hatter is intended to be, a busy place where we can share our story with all sorts of people.
What brought you back to Acadiana?
During our time in New Orleans my wife and I had a baby, which was the primary motivation to coming back to Acadiana. Having the baby made us think about what we really wanted. We wanted a more slow-paced life, vegetable gardens, visiting family, like the way we grew up. When we looked at the business aspect of it, Acadiana made sense. Our time in Nola was phenomenal because it gave us exposure and allowed us to amass a following, but as an advocate of Cajun preservation, coming back here is, in essence, protecting and promoting the culture by being a part of it. And being a part of the efforts to making downtown Lafayette a destination spot, bringing people to southern Louisiana, now makes Jefferson St. the perfect home for Cajun Hatter.
Tell me about Cajun preservation.
Preserving the culture is making sure it isn’t forgotten. My own way of contributing to this is learning how to cook, learning the language - we speak to my son in French-, I am learning to play the accordion. I am also a traiteur, a Cajun folk healer. It’s the practice of “lying on of the hands” and Catholic prayer. It’s a part of the culture that is dying out, so I am trying to network with other traiteurs to create a database to make folk healing more accessible.
How has your style and career evolved?
In the beginning I was always thinking of becoming a big named brand, starting with hats, and evolving into a huge fashion house. But over the years I became more attune to the way I like to work, so becoming a household name isn’t my goal anymore. I desire to be more of an individual and drawing people to me and my culture, not a huge brand.
So, why hats?
I’ve always liked hats. They are my favorite accessory. I worked in the film industry as a costumer where I perceived fashion as someone who creates and takes part of the process. One thing led to another, which led to designing hats.
Where do you get your inspiration?
With custom hats, my inspiration is the person who I am making the hat for, how I interpret the person upon meeting them and getting to know them. My hat collections are inspired by southern Louisiana culture and geography.
What do you think is your biggest accomplishment or success?
The freedom that I have been able to create and being able to carve out my own destiny. Being able to tell my story and connect with other people. My hats have given me the opportunity to start a dialogue about Cajun and Creole culture. Moving back here has allowed me to impact the Acadiana economy and be a part of the cultural atmosphere.
Besides opening the doors to your retail and workshop space, what else are you working on right now?
I am working on my Shades of the Swamp Collection, which is a custom dye collection. We start with white nutria fur felt hats and I collect botanical dyes from the Atchafalaya to create a color palette that is unique to me. And speaking of nutria fur, that is another thing I helped bring into the industry. Decades ago, hats were made of nutria fur, but it was rare. So, I am working with another hat maker to bring back nutria fur. Not only is nutria fur locally thematic to my brand, but it is durable and sustainable as well.
Cajun culture is very important to you. What exactly does it mean to you?
Cajun culture reflects the history of the people who started it. It is their spirit, their resilience, the ingenuity, innovativeness, and joy and love for life they have despite hardship. For me it is the spirit that has made a lasting impact here. We can have a rough day, but at the end, we can get together, eat, play music, dance, and just really see the joy in life.
Check out Colby Hebert, the Cajun Hatter on 547 Jefferson St. and follow him @colbyhebert. Schedule a consultation at 337-703-4736