In her small dormitory, Sidney Tillotson sat on a carpeted floor surrounded by colorful felt and hot glue guns. Wanting to start a side business, Mr. Tillotson set out to sell his collection of personal cowboy hats.
Tillotson's cowboy hat business, Custom Clown Hats, grew out of his freshman dorm room.
Tillotson, a business freshman, created a custom crown hat on her Closet Cleaning Instagram account in May 2023. Tillotson buys plain cowboy hats from wholesalers and customizes them based on customer requests.
“I love hats. Even before I started making hats, I probably had about five cowgirl hats,” Tillotson said. “I'm really from the countryside.”
Since he started driving at age 16, Tillotson has been frequenting vintage shops and informally began collecting old Stetson hats. I repurposed it, decorated it, and sold it online to a friend for his $45. In May 2023, Tillotson received a comment on Instagram that changed everything.
“Someone commented, 'You should start a business with this, this is so good,' and that sparked my interest,” Tillotson said.
Tillotson contacted wholesalers to source supplies. Her first company required her to buy $1,000 worth of stock. She said she ordered a large quantity of felt and silk from Amazon along with the Heritage Her Forge branding iron.
“I spent a lot of my savings and at that point I didn't know if I was going to get it back,” Tillotson said. “It was a risk.”
Initially, Tillotson said making to order made it easier to make hats in her dorm room because she could control her inventory.
“After I got mine, my roommate got it too,” said Anne Blanche Peacock, a customer of Custom Crown Hats. “And many of my friends have decided they want to consider purchasing.”
Custom Crown Hats primarily serves college students and sells products to customers across six states.
“We weren't trying to make it into a business. It just happened and we just kept taking the next step,” Tillotson said. “I didn't set any goals. …My goal was just to keep chasing. I had a lot of orders to fill.”
Tillotson said she used to take orders through direct messages, but the process became longer and more dependent on customer response times. Last month, she worked on creating her website, which features a “build your own” button that allows customers to order online.
“Decorating was really fun. I first entered the color and style of hat I wanted and then she ordered it,” said Libby Tate, a textile and apparel freshman. “When it came to styling, we had to choose from a variety of branded options, including ribbons and feathers.”
Tillotson took coding classes in high school to learn how to run analytical tests and use different domains on her website. Through these analytical tools, her business took off, her following grew, and her website was launched.
“I loved the fun financial freedom that comes with owning my own business,” Tillotson said. “I've always wanted to earn my own money. I want to work. I've always had that drive.”