How a small town Texan created her own hat line
Words by Nicole Letts
In Texas, there’s a saying that goes, “The higher the hair, the closer to God,” but for those familiar with the hat company Sissy Light, the phrase, “The wider the brim, the closer to Him,” might be more apropos.
Uvalde resident and designer Kristin “Sissy” Light launched her eponymous hat brand in the fall of 2021. Being a Texan, and a Round Top Antiques Show enthusiast, where much of day-to-day life is spent outdoors, Light knows that a stylish hat is the finishing part of any wardrobe. It’s not just useful for Texas weather, but it’s a style statement too. “I live in a small farm and ranch community in west Texas, and I grew up passing time on the Texas coast and Frio River where a straw hat is a must. Wearing a hat has essentially always been a part of my makeup,” she says. “My husband ranches and farms, so his lifestyle requires a cowboy hat on a daily basis. He wears his hat out of necessity, and now that I have my own line, I like to think I wear mine for style purposes and, of course, necessity, too.”
Light, who studied at the prestigious Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles, began her company as many young fashion brands do, sourcing chapeaus from wholesale retailers and designers at trade shows. “We flew to New York during the summer of 2016 before the fall show in Round Top and wrote our first orders, but we quickly realized the Texas climate doesn't exactly match with the fashion world schedule,” she says. Light wanted a hat that could hold up to the Texas weather conditions, including extreme heat well into the fall. Ironically, while the rest of the country is enjoying leaf peeping and apple picking, the fall show in Round Top is typically the warmest of the year with temperatures soaring to 100 degrees or more. “Selling a felt hat was out of the question!” she explains.
After some trial and error, Light flew to Ecuador and began her own journey in hat making and designing. “We travel to Ecuador once a year, and we have a library of colors and weaves here in our Texas warehouse where we dream up all of our designs. Then, we source trims like our French grosgrain and leather globally.“
Light and her small team worked diligently for almost two years before landing on a full collection. As she tested her designs, she used the ladies who shopped at Round Top as her focus group. “We would dabble with a handful of styles we were working on, and we would pop them on our hat wall in Round Top amongst all of the other designers’ hats.” Light realized she was onto something when time and time again, clients opted for her own designs over those of other brands. She launched her first collection website in 2021.
Ironically, the humble hat has become a bit of a fashion statement, especially during Round Top’s impressive Antiques Show. “When we first launched in Round Top selling other designers' hats, we were the only game in town, and this was the case for a few years,” says Light. Today, the quintessential Round Top look now almost requires a hat. “If you don't have a hat on, you're not really Round Top-ing,” she jokes.
For her first collection and those that followed, Light emphasized what she has penned “field straps,” or simply, Sissy Light’s version of a traditional cowboy hat chin strap. “Weather conditions in Round Top during the shows can be wild, and hats will literally be flying. Our field strap keeps your hat close.” These styles have also become signatures of their own. “Wearing your hat draped across your back is just as big of a statement now as actually wearing it, and I think we've created this for the Round Top goers,” she says. The brand’s bestsellers are the color blocked French grosgrain combinations as well as The Sissy hat, which has leather field straps. “While I love the shape and statement of a western style hat, I don't prefer to actually wear one. My style is more coastal, so I think our designs definitely reflect a merge of both coastal and west Texas roots.”
Light says that a huge part of her success is her tie to Texas, and more specifically to Round Top. Her hats are sold online as well as at The Frenchie Boutique Hotel gift shop near the historic town center and at her booth at Bader Ranch. “We have a strong relationship with our clients. They want to buy exactly what we are wearing, so we are the models as well as the face of the brand,” she explains. Light says the key is to design what she wants to wear herself. Add that with face-to-face customer engagement, and the brand is quickly rising to the top—no pun intended. “Seeing our friends, acquaintances, and clients in Round Top wearing Sissy Light is the highlight of our year. We have the opportunity to style them personally, which has created a unique foundation for our brand,” she says. Hats off to that.