There is a small building tucked in between a neighborhood grocery store and a barbecue joint on Barton Springs Road. It is in the middle of an area that is jam-packed during the Austin City Limits music festival, busy on hot summer weekends and at a low hum even on a somewhat rainy day in March.
When a customer steps into Aspen Hatter, the shop seems to both fit in with that local Barton Springs Road vibe while also providing a shelter from the storm.
On March 9, Ras Redwine and Heather Welborn were working quietly and carefully on custom-made hats for customers who sometimes provide exact specifications or sometimes just give the look they want.
“People will come in sometimes and have a clear idea of what they want. Other people will say, ‘I want to look like a cowgirl at a Metallica show.’ A woman who has me making a hat said, ‘I just want it to be suitable for all the Ritz-Carltons,’” Welborn said.
“It’s specific for each individual, either their style, the shape of their face, or the purpose of what they want to wear it for,” Redwine added.
Austin native Chris Roberts started the store in Aspen, Colorado, in 2015 when, as Redwine tells it, Roberts was not seeing the style he wanted, so he started making hats himself.
Redwine and Roberts have known each other for 26 years, so when Roberts decided to open an Austin store, Redwine went up to Colorado, learned the trade, and the Austin location of Aspen Hatter opened in 2017.
On this particular Monday, Roberts is on the road. In addition to the hat business, he’s a touring musician playing bars from the Blue Light in Lubbock to the House of FiFi Du Bois in San Angelo to the Saxon Pub in Austin.
His manager, Cory Lashever, is hanging out in the store, chatting with Redwine and Welborn as the room fills with steam—a necessary step in the process to soften the hat.
Aspen Hatter has designed hats for everyone from Pierce Brosnan to Matthew McConaughey, but the energy in the store feels more like a friend's living room than the office of a business. Welborn said that is one of the things she believes customers appreciate.
“They spend 30 minutes here or an hour and a half here; they start coming after work some days; and then next thing you know you’re having dinner [with them],” she said. •