When Recaps founder Anneka Herndon finally wore out her beloved pair of Carhartts after working summer landscaping jobs, she couldn’t bring herself to just throw them out. Using her artistic and creative sewing skills, she preserved those memories by salvaging enough material to make a simple, cadet-style hat.
Soon, friends were requesting hats made from their own wornout clothing. “Like a little seed planted, it grew,” Anneka recalled.
“I remember the day I crunched the simple math; if I sold X hats at Y dollars, I would make Z. Then, I calculated how much I was making digging endless holes in rich people’s landscapes!”
The math was in her favor. “It seemed like it might be crazy enough to work!” She remembers the moment she decided to go for it. “I’ll never forget driving to Indian Creek for a climbing trip, saying different (brand) names out loud and scribbling them down as I cruised along.”
As she dropped into her favorite climbing area, she settled on the name Recaps and remembers getting goose bumps when she said it aloud.
That’s when the fun began.
“I had this crazy idea to fly to Thailand.” Having spent a few months there on climbing trips, Anneka had seen first-hand all the sewing shops that claimed they could create just about anything.
“My idea was to get 300 hats made from my own pattern. And, that’s what I did.”
But, she was committed to crafting each of these 300 hats from old clothes. “It took me a week in a cheap, hot, sweaty hotel room to cut all the clothing into flat useable pieces,” she said. She delivered the material and patterns to the shop, and took off for four weeks of climbing.
Sadly, only 100 hats were finished by the time she had to fly home.
Once back in the states, the remaining order did eventually arrive. But, “they were made by someone else and were all TINY!” she laughed. “I could only sell them as kids’ hats!” The brand now calls this line of tiny hats “WeeCaps”.
Suffice it to say, Anneka’s first lessons in production were learned. “I decided to keep all production in-house after that!”
Initially, Recaps set up shop in an attic in Silverton, CO. “It was so sooty from the coal burning stove, I still remember fearing my first orders would smell like coal and have coal dust on each hat!” she laughed.
Mustering up the courage to put her product out into the world was one of the most challenging parts of launching her brand. “It’s my art work, my hand-crafted designs, and I was just so nervous to put that out for all to critique.”
Many studio spaces later, Recaps now calls the small Central Washington town, Cashmere, home. The brand’s work space is full of colors, piles of hats and loads of fabric.
It’s the fabric that sets Recaps apart from the rest. All of Anneka’s original, hand-carved block prints are stamped on recycled and reclaimed materials, making no two hats the same. She religiously hunts for the fabric at thrift stores. “I am really picky about color and print, as well as what the fabric is made of, so it takes some real shopping to find my fabric printing pallet.”
Anneka modestly admits to always being an artist. Growing up with a lot of creative mentors, she loved her art classes the most. She studied printmaking and sustainable design in college. Along with a plethora of self-described “non-shiny” jobs like landscaping, waitressing, and roof shoveling, Anneka is a Patagonia product tester and former Clif Bar Ambassador. “I guess Recaps is an accumulation of all those pursuits.”
After ten years in business, Recaps has evolved a bit. Anneka’s early hat designs were more of a cadet style hat. Wanting to add a trucker hat design, but still stand out among the rest, she reshaped the hat’s brim and created her own signature style.
As luck would have it, she wore her first prototype out to dinner that night and caught the eye of a popular kayak company’s sales rep. When he asked if Anneka would make him 100 hats printed with their custom logo, Anneka enthusiastically said “yes!”
“I had no freaking idea how to fill the order!” she laughed.
But, after a few days of experimenting with her block printing technique, using the right ink with the right fabric, she finally got it.
“That’s how the seed started and the demand for those trucker hats just took off,” she said. “And that‘s still where I am today.” Eventually, she has a goal of crafting the base trucker hats from 100% recycled materials.
This artistic outlet allows her to create to whatever extent she wants to. “I am very active in my outdoor pursuits, and having the time and flexibility to continue to get out in the mountains is incredibly valuable to me. That’s where I get my inspiration, so it’s really just part of the job!”
For Anneka, owning and operating the brand as a one-woman show is anything but boring. “If it ever feels that way, I know I’m doing something wrong!” she laughed. “At the end of the day, Recaps is an expression of me, I don’t know how to not keep doing it!”