Cate Havstad believes in signs.
While a student at University of California-Santa Cruz, she was struggling with whether formal education was the right path for her. A friend, musician Willy Tea Taylor, invited her to join on a road trip and film project—and to sweeten the deal, he offered her a vintage cowboy hat.
"That first hat was pretty darn important," explains Havstad. She remembers it as a whiskey brown, with a "telescope top"—and, most keenly, that it spoke to something about her personality and her dreams, and gave her a confidence to hit the open road.
She loved that hat, and it served as a trigger. She traveled, and was introduced to musicians, and farmers, eventually settling down in Vancouver, B.C.
But like any good cowgirl, eventually she started to become restless once again—and that's when she returned to her car one day to discover another sign, that this favorite and first hat of hers had been chewed up by her puppy.
It was a sign to move along, she explains as we talk at Lone Pine Coffee Roasters on Monday afternoon. She is dressed in dark denim jeans, a denim shirt and a flat brim hat that she says was inspired by Brigitte Bardot. Her blond hair rolls out from under the brim. Havstad is her own best advertisement for her hats.
"The way I dress and present myself," she says, "is a sense of identity."
About two years ago, Havstad ended up in Sisters. She was looking for a place to ride horses, but also reached out to local and famed cowboy hat-maker Gene Baldwin and, for a year or so, started showing up at his shop three or so times a week, learning the tricks of hat making.
"I'm authentically in love with this trade," she says. "If these skills don't get passed on, those traditions will just fade."
Havstad says that she greatly admires Baldwin's work—"the perfect lines, the symmetry"—but after a year mentoring with him, she was looking to "play and get a bit funkier" with her own style and last May, she launched her own company.
Although Havstad says that she is still living "hat to hat," her products are quickly gaining popularity, and inroads, with musicians like Shakey Graves wearing her styles. She also has begun to increasingly draw inspiration from her immediate physical surroundings. While the bulk of felt for cowboy hats is imported from Tennessee, Havstad has begun to experiment with dying the fabric with rabbit brush and Oregon grape as part of her "hues of the High Desert."
"Style," she says, "is totally regionally influenced."