Any day we get to drive up to Santa Barbara is a good day. This trip was exceptional because we spent time with Cody Wellema of Wellema Hat Company – a quant one-man shop tucked down an alley behind a little tavern downtown. Once you walk in, it’s evident that he is all about his craft - tokens of inspiration line the walls, including antique furnishings, hat-making materials and a hand drawing of his trademark penguin.
Cody was born in Littleton, Colorado, grew up in Orange, California, but it wasn’t until recently that him and his wife moved to Santa Barbara, CA. While working for a well-known hat company, which branded itself as American-made, Wellema discovered that not only were most of the hats not made in the States, but the company didn’t make them themselves anymore. Disheartened by this, his affection for hats grew which would steer him in the direction of crafting his own. Cody was intrigued by how hats were made in the late 1800’s – he reached out to seasoned hatters, but found that personal techniques are privileged and never afforded easily. Realizing that he was on his own, Cody took to a rare hat-making book he’d found, published in 1913. Purchasing hats of different eras, he would disassemble them to study the construction of that time period. The rest has been trial and error. Working out of his kitchen in their one bedroom apartment, orders were more and space was less, which lead to the need for an outside space, which is now Wellema Hat Company - turn of the century style with a modern twist.
Hat making is a bygone craft that Cody Wellema is set on preserving. He’d like his one-of-a-kind hats to be passed down through generations; all while enhancing its natural air with it’s daily wear. Being 90% self-taught he is continually learning, but maintains his technique of hand sewing each piece. When you walk into his studio, you will not find one sewing machine. He believes that sewing by hand gives him more control. Looking back, Cody tells of an old hat-maker that he met – he saw his passion for the craft and taught him the technique of hiding stitching when sewing. An art not many use nowadays.
Cody only uses high quality materials for his hats. Clients can select pure beaver, European hare or a 50/50 blend. He walks you through the entire process to ensure the result is exactly what you envision. From color to fit, every aspect is meticulous. Offering a conforming service establishes a precise size and shape, which is then made into your personal hat block. With his conforming service, he’s also able to take an existing hat and size it to fit you (within reason, of course).
With his client list growing and expanding the globe, I would suggest getting in to see him as soon as you can. Even if you are over seas, Cody can accommodate you. For more information, visit his website at www.wellemahatco.com