Back when Willee Reed was a little kid, he would rummage through his parents' closet in search of his great grandfather's hats. He liked the feel of them and felt a certain connection to his ancestry—and the hats themselves.
"I'd find a hat and just touch it. It was an item that pulled me," Reed said.
That connection stuck with Reed as he grew older, ultimately leading him to become a professional milliner, or hat-maker. And since November 1st, Reed has run a small pop-up in the back of Divisadero sundries shop The Perish Trust, where he feels he's living the dream.
For Reed, Hampui Medicine Hats is about much more than making snazzy cranial accoutrements. His hats are extensions of the soul and embodiments of each client's personality.
"You want the crown of the hat to reflect the face over the brim, a horizon so that the hat becomes a continuation of the face," Reed explains. "It's taking that idea of balance in the physical plane and extending that into the mental, emotional and spiritual realms to create a hat that brings balance to the whole being."
Originally from Berkeley, Reed says he's encountered many spiritual guides throughout his life. Two of the most notable figures in his life: a Lakota Sun Dance chief and a Q'ero elder from Peru.
Reed met both during his years at UC Davis, where he studied indigenous agriculture policy and Native American studies, and they've helped deepened his sense for the importance of ceremony.
Beyond the classroom, Reed says he's spent a great deal of time traveling in the Peruvian Andes—and it was there, during a ceremony, that he had his epiphany to start his hat business.
"I started finding synergies between the process of the ceremonies I'd been learning and hat-making," he said. "Everything about how I make my hats has to do with ceremony, from the color pins I use, to the process of saging everything, burning the scraps afterwards...there's a lot."
'Hampui' is in fact a Quechua (the language of the Q'ero along with several other Andean indigenous peoples) term that translates to "soul of mine return to me."
Each hat purchased from Hampui Medicine Hats is custom made. Reed has a number of fabricated shapes but can also make entire hats from scratch using raw materials.
Finishing each hat is then a matter of incorporating "medicine" elements that people either bring in themselves or choose from Reed's collection, which includes woven bands and vintage grosgrains.
Reed first sits with each client to create a prayer and discuss the intention the wearer wishes to set for their new hat. After that, he gets to work, and— depending on the complexity of the job—he can make the hat while the client waits.
Pre-fabricated hats range from $140 to $250, and come either in wool or a blend of nutria and rabbit fur. Building a hat from scratch is a bit pricier: $400 for European hare, $500 for a hare/beaver fur mix and $600 for 100 percent beaver.
When asked about the challenges his business has faced, Reed's reply was wholly positivity. "It's been pretty cool. When work like this is rooted in prayer and the spirit world, setbacks can immediately transform into blessings."
"A medicine hat is a tool to aid in self-healing and transformation," he continued. "The hat itself doesn't heal you, and I certainly don't heal you, but I've seen these hats help people help themselves unlock their potential for them to be their own best medicine."
Curious? Perhaps it's time to pay Willee Reed a visit.
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