There are three main threads to the Red Hat Factory story: A wool-indoctrinated Norwegian child, a crew of red hat donning Americans, and finally, a widow in an attic, teaching a five year old girl to knit.
These three threads came together in 2016, and Red Hat Factory was born.
Mr. Chester & the Red Hat Crew
Let’s start in 2012. I had just moved to Stockholm, where I was introduced to a wild bunch of red hat wearing Americans. Some of them would end up as close friends, and one would even marry into my family. But I knew none of that when I first saw them.
What I saw first, was that they wore red hats faithfully — cult-like one might say, though with the tongue firmly planted in the cheek. The red hats were inspired by a bunch of mashed up culture, of course, but towering among the inspirations stood Life Aquatic and Steve Zissou — something I’d soon be introduced to.
I thought it was cool, but it wasn’t my thing. I was a Norwegian child, raised to wear wool, hide out in the mountains and not engage in blatant displays of fashion sense. (I still have no fashion sense ’til this day.)
One morning, though, on my birthday, I belive it was number 24, Billy Chester — my room mate at the time — slapped a red hat on my table as I was sipping my morning coffee. I was faced with a choice. Would I go hard or go home? I did not go home — at least not at once.
Threads Being Knit Together
When I came around, it was a full one-eighty. I adopted the hat with fierceness. I understand everyone who teased me for wearing a beanie under the African midday sun, but I had become too much of a fan to leave it at home. This man of slow changes had fallen in love with a new piece of apparel — and he was not ashamed to proclaim his love from the mountaintops.
Somewhere between the cold winter streets of Stockholm, Sweden, the hills of Mbeya, Tanzania, and the lakes of Nævisdal, Norway, an idea began emerging.
As often happens in your twenties, I began reminiscing about my childhood more often. And somewhere in all of this — much thanks to my American friends’ interest in the wool sweaters I often wore — I began realizing that my mom’s knitting was not just the obvious baseline mother-skill I grew up thinking it was. It was a craft honed by years of practice, interwoven in a cultural pattern that wound its way backwards into Norwegian history.
I talked to my mom, and the chase for a hand knit wool hat to replace the Chester Hat began.
1932 — A Widow in the Attic
Much later, in May 2021, I sat down with my grandma, Kjellfrid, and asked her when she had started knitting. She has an amazingly accurate memory, so, quite unsurprisingly, she had a precise answer. The surprise was rather in the nature of the answer.
It was 1932. She was five years old, and their family was renting a space in a larger household. In the attic of said household, a widow in her fifties, named Bibbi, rented a room. This woman, of course, became a sage to my grandmother, and being that she knit all the time, my grandma got curious. One day, she asked her to teach her to knit. One lady around fifty, the other around five, one taught the other an age old craft — echoing centuries of Norwegian knitting history.
My grandma told me the first thing she knit was a scarf for her doll. And by the time she reached the end of the scarf, the loops were so tight they could barely get the needles out. By the time she was 12 years old, she had knit her first complex piece — a golf jacket.
This is how knitting was introduced to our oldest Red Hat Factory co-founder, and thus when we began knitting. Since then, the skill was passed down, and my mother would take up the needles.
A Basement Full of Yarn
I remember December 2014 as if it was yesterday. We went down into my mother’s basement, where rows upon rows of yarn is stored for reselling, and began looking for two things: The perfect blend of yarn, and the perfect shade of red.
With me trailing her, listening to her expertise, she went through the shelves and explained the pros and cons of different types of yarn. When she held up one particular recommendation, I marked the name. It sounded very near to Zissou — so being the poetic soul that I am, I was quick to make the choice, and a period of developing the perfect beanie model began.
Somewhere in all of this, the idea of not only replacing the Chester Hat, but also making a product we could sell was emerging, but I don’t know quite when it coalesced.
Things take time, as we always say in Norway. With no name or brand, my mom began knitting, sending packages to Sweden, and we discussed each model and each feature over the phone. A five pointed star seam att the top became a simple x. The varied patterns on the rim and the body became one single pattern all the way.
The more we designed, the simpler it became. And if there’s one thing we’ve learned from this, it is that simplicity equals longevity.
After months of trying, we decided on the first original model — now called the Southlander, then just “the Rounded” — and I tested it for a year or more through the heat of Burundi (too hot), the cold of the forests of Norway and the streets of Stockholm, Sweden.
A Norwegian Dream
Belive me or not — I don’t really care — but the name Red Hat Factory came to me in a dream. I was so into all these hat-plans that my mind churned non-stop, and I dreamed that we started the business and called it Red Hat Factory, and that we launched a website with some brick-wall design in the background. So I followed my dreams — literally (though I’ve removed the brick image by now).
Some time in 2016, I sketched a little logo — quick and dirty, because I wanted it to look home made — and we launched our first website before the year was over.
Me having a background in graphic design and web development was an integral part of why the Chester Hat replacement became a full blown brand. I simply desired to craft a brand where I could tell stories about Norway, handcraft and adventures. And this was the shape it took.
The Beginning’s End
When my brother-in-law Ben (I told you one of the red hat Americans would marry into the family) said he wanted to sell the hats at MacLaren Barbers, his couple of years old barbershop, I felt backed up and inspired to push this thing further. Have an adventure or die trying.
My brother Ben was a huge inspiration in all of this, having just quit his job and launched his own successful brand. So there we were, in Stockholm city, having a Norwegian hand knit product in our hands, and ready to tell the world the tale.
We had crafted something that felt like our roots. No brand tag, just the wool and the loops — just like I used to receive a mom-made piece right off the needles when I grew up. A simple fold-it-yourself approach, to give people freedom to shape it, and a simple ridged pattern to let the texture of wool speak for itself. The beginning had ended, and the next chapter began.
Now it’s your turn. Get one and go on your own adventure.