Sep 19, 2019 11:47PM
● By Stephanie Wilson
In the shadow of mile high stadium, on the top floor of that iconic round building topped with the neon “Turntable Studios” sign, two former college athletes are hard at work, elevating Denver’s sartorial game one custom fitting appointment at a time.
If that sounds grand, wait until you see their hats. Serious hats, made by artisans and designers, rendered in a rich or off-kilter color, with a solid wide brim. Custom fit, then customized with subtle accents or bold flair. Hats made with integrity, that put out a message that the people wearing them invest in quality, care about style. A dichotomy of classic and cutting-edge, these aren’t cowboy hats, and they are certainly not beanies.
They are statement-making and sophisticated accessories coveted by fashion-forward set in Colorado and far beyond. By the people who DGAF what you think but want to be noticed, the types who elevate street style to haute topic. Men and women alike. The Style-setters, rule breakers, the effortlessly cool crowd. If you can’t picture the type, spend a minute scrolling through the @encounterhatco Insta and you’ll get it. The people you want to know, people you want to be. Aspirational, unpretentious, effortless, classic: all that and more.
Those are the types of hats these two young guys are making in the Mile High. Designers, artisans, college athletes turned-millners-and-courtiers, Kyle Theret and Parker Orms run Encounter Hat Co., a brand brimming with promise and on the rise. Get to know them now so once they make it big you can say you knew them back when.
First, there’s Theret, a 30 year old former defensive back for the University of Minnesota. After graduating, he moved into arena football and played for an international league in Novi Sad, Serbia. Then, there’s Orms, a Colorado native two years younger than his business partner he’s 28, if you’re bad at math. He went to high school in Wheat Ridge, college in Boulder, where he took the field as a defensive back for the University of Colorado. After his Buffs career ended, Orms, like Theret, followed his passion for the game overseas, landing in Italy to play for the Rhinos in Milan one of the world’s most celebrated capitals of high fashion.
“Being in Europe and traveling to places that are known for their fashion scenes was a huge influence on what we wanted to do,” says Theret. Back in the US, he met Orms through a mutual friend who owns a street-wear store, and the two bonded over their stylistic interest. Both wanted to start a fashion-forward clothing brand, and Encounter was born.
Orms is a third-generation hat creaser; both his father and grandfather worked in western wear, custom-fitting a hat’s shape and size to its wearer’s head. The process involves starting with an unmolded hat body; after steaming it, the clothier molds it into the style the customer wants.
The final looks can vary in how the brim is rounded or cut and how the crown is creased, with peaks and curves sculpted by hand, using steam to make the felt malleable.
Orms and Theret got training from senior family milliners in a variety of skills. “It’s kind of like arts and crafts,” says Theret. “A project looks a lot easier than it is until you try it. When you first start you make a lot of mistakes. A couple of years later, you’re still learning new techniques.”
The duo started their training by reshaping old cowboy style toppers. “A hat is like a blank canvas,” says Theret. “Everyone has their own style of how they work that evolves over time. Everyone has a different hand.”
In the world of western wear, a high standard of quality is expected of the garment. For a cowboy or rancher, their headgear is more than just a style or status statement piece; it’s work wear, expected to protect the head and face during the day’s activities, look good (there’s a reason the Marlboro Man was an icon), and last for decades. A beloved piece may be passed down through generations, if not for practical use then for sentimental value Which explains the hefty prices garnered by high end western-wear brands, which can run into the thousands of dollars. Take, for example, Stetson’s Diamente Premier Cowboy style, which lists for $5,005. In some circles, hats are serious business.
There are even hat-wearing etiquette guides peppered across the internet, talking not only about the personal nature of having an investment piece that such hats are, but the rules of usage. Advice includes everything from the obvious (remove the hat during the national anthem) to the superstitious (when placing a hat upside down, do so on the crown, not the brim, or luck will pour out of it).
While some of these points don’t necessarily translate to the #ootd-worthy pieces Encounter Hat Co. is producing, the quality factor does. “For a lot of our customers, our hats are their most prized piece of clothing,” says Theret. “We want to bring a certain class and style back.” Having learned from experts in the field, there’s no doubt that their hats have the quality and classic look to last and be passed down through families. Their hats follow some standard western wear shapes, which involve molding either the crown of the hat, the brim, or both. Several of their hats make use of an unmolded crown, letting the felt color, brim width, hat band and flair speak to the style. Other shapes they can use that cross over from western wear are the Teardrop, Cattleman, Brick and Hole.
Encounter’s hat forms are just a jumping off point, though. “It really depends on what the customer wants,” says Theret. “If someone wants a fedora style, we can go that direction. The hats are 100 percent unique to the client.” What they do well is draw on a long tradition of quality hat making, when every town had a quality hat maker, cobbler, tailor, and jeweler as important cornerstones of everyday life. The brand uses high-quality felts: wool, rabbit, beaver, or a rabbit-beaver blend. And unlike its western wear counterparts, which tend to rely on a traditional spectrum of neutral and brown colors, Encounter’s got a hat in every hue including the burnt-orange color of the now, obviously and a range of accouterment, addons, and feathery fl air that allow for personalization and overt expression of style. For a price, of course. The most basic style starts at about $170, but most of the pieces in the current collection runs for about $400 and up.
Most of the materials they use are American made, sourced through the designers’ network of hat blockers, leather workers, and satin producers from across the country, though they have imported from Italy. The custom fitting process is done in person, taking around an hour from start to finish. Because the hats are personalized, it’s a more engaging experience than something purchased off the rack with a more enriching end result that’s producing a legion of fans and followers. The brand is drawing customers across the board whether at pop-ups, private parties, the National Western Stock Show (any western event, really), cannabis conferences, or any other time they get the styles in front of Denver’s fashion-forward millennials.
When it got its start about four years ago, Encounter had its hat-making lab at Bellwether, a coffee and whiskey bar that is home to a barbershop, social club, and retail space located on East Colfax. “I’m only 30 and Parker is only 28, so people are always surprised when they hear our age and learn that we already have been successful and have a pretty established brand,” says Theret. “They think it’s great that we’re two former athletes turned fashionistas.”
For concrete evidence of that success, look to 38th Avenue and York Street, where they’re building out a 2,000 square foot retail shop, set to open this fall. Along with Encounter’s current lines, Theret and Orms plan to bring in other brands that will complement the Encounter vibe and help customers complete a full look. The plans for the space include a designated hat-making studio, where they’ll hold events like a date night with wine and custom fitting. Neighboring businesses in the center include a range of local fashion brands, cafés, and art studios.
Encounter Hat Co. counts celebs, pro athletes, and people on almost every continent as part of its fan base, having done pop-ups around the globe that ricochet around social media. Their fans don’t fit a certain mold, rather.
“They’re between 25 and 65, men and women it’s a range,” says Theret. “It’s a situation where they’re looking to add a sophisticated piece to their wardrobe. Typically, the thing our customers have in common is that they’re savvy world travelers with a sense of adventure.”
In September, Encounter Hat Co. heads to Paris Fashion Week to collaborate with fashion designer C.R. Lee in her solo show. They’ll be fitting models with black and white hats to complement the runway designs. Catch them in the Mile High during Denver Fashion Week in early November. “Denver has become that perfect blend between western wear, where people wear hats often, and high-fashion influences coming in,” says Theret. “We want to introduce the high quality seen in western style hats to the urban market.”