Hats off to Laura Hall - Phylli Hats

Hats off to Laura Hall - Phylli Hats

WORDS: Alice Moffitt | IMAGES: Stephanie Hunter

This article was first published in OAK Magazine Issue 10 2022

Hat maker Laura Hall and her label Phylli both hit their stride after moving to country NSW, and despite only being in business for two years has attracted an impressive celebrity following including Delta Goodrem and Matt Damon.

Laura says you can tell a lot about a person from their hat.

“It’s the first thing you see when they walk into a room. People often aren’t aware of it but it can give them confidence. It’s like your cape or your red lipstick. How a hat makes a person feel excites me,” says Laura.

Laura and her family lived in Scone in NSW’s Hunter region when she was young, before moving to Melbourne. After school she worked at Mimco for a few years, which she says, “was really special and a dream to be surrounded by sparkles, colour and texture everyday. That’s where I connected with my passion for accessories and design”.

Laura started Phylli in 2016 as a creative outlet while she was working in corporate in Sydney.

“I started out making racing millinery but never intended for it to be a business. When I became disconnected from my career and felt an unauthentic version of myself, I quit, and started nannying. This allowed me to spend time (at the beach) thinking about what was important and the life I wanted to create.”

Laura identified a gap in the market for traditionally masculine hats, made with beautiful, high-quality materials.

“I did a lot of research and still have the sketches I did back then hanging in the studio. I’m totally self-taught and with each hat I learnt how I could improve. It’s ironic that I now work in fashion as I failed textiles at school.

“I’m ambidextrous though and I think you don’t necessarily need to be creative, you just have to have the capacity to use both hands at the same time.”

The name ‘Phylli’ is a ‘play on words’ of Laura’s middle name Phyllis, an old family name.

“‘Filly’ links my hometown being Australia’s horse capital and my love of racing. When I was at Mimco, like a true Melbournian, I entered fashions on the field competitions. I think I had this pre-destined story that I would eventually connect with,” Laura reflects.

“Things have a funny way of working themselves out.”

Over Christmas in 2019 Laura and her dad were watching John Wayne westerns and analysing the actor’s hats.

“I said to Dad, these are what I want to create; hats that people connect with and remind them of an adventure or a loved one. Dad said he had some hats with great stories. He told me about them and what they meant to him. When Dad sadly passed away last year, he passed the hat collection onto me.”

At the same time that Laura’s father was unwell, Phylli experienced a pivotal shift.

“Everything always happens at once. I met with Sportscraft about a collaboration, but put it on hold as Dad was sick, but the universe wasn’t going to let me stop the momentum Phylli was gathering.

“In the same week I reached out to Elsa Pataky (Chris Hemsworth’s wife) who was visiting Scone, she then came to my house with her friends to buy some of my hats, I got confirmation from Google about doing virtual hat parties for their staff for Christmas, then two weeks later the Buy From The Bush platform posted about Phylli.

“My dad and I really connected over my business – he had literally just passed away, so I felt like he was throwing all this magic at Phylli.”

Laura instinctively draws on the Australian landscape for Phylli.

“I spent time living in north Queensland in my 20s and realised our distinctive landscape epitomises for me what it means to be Australian. The flora and fauna, the horizon and the unique Australian colours are what give me a sense of home. When I look at a wall of felt, silks and ribbons, I’m continually drawn to a dusty, rugged, Australiana colour palette.”

Laura sources materials for Phylli from afar.

“I import felt from eastern Europe. As a by-product of their meat industry it’s a sustainable, upcycled material. The silks are off-cuts from sari factories in India that are given to a community of women who re-dye them, rip them into ribbons and sell them to my trimmings supplier in New York.

“I’m proud to say I’ve bootstrapped my business from the start. Every hat has paid for every dollar of felt, silk, rent and wages – and lots of vegemite toast too.”

Her dad’s health and being closer to her step-mum and younger brothers were the main reasons behind Laura’s move to Scone in early 2020.

“COVID was also a nightmare for me financially, so by moving back to Scone I was able to create from my heart, not just an income. Scone was where I hit my sweet spot personally. This was then reflected in my work. I don’t know what took me so long to move, it was way overdue.”

Laura opened her flagship store in Scone in May 2021 out of necessity.

“I desperately needed to get Phylli off my dining table and wanted to create a workspace that employees could connect with. Working from home held my business – and the potential for future staff and scalability – back. My mission for Phylli is to inspire and excite, and the store allows me to do that. It’s also the production studio and an events space. Unfortunately with COVID, we haven’t been able to trade with the doors open everyday.

“I now have four employees and it’s very much a collaborative effort to bring the hats to life. My Scone community is amazing.”

Looking to the future for Phylli, Laura says she would like to pay homage to how it first started.

“I would love to introduce racewear headpieces that are versatile and wearable enough that they lend themselves to any occasion and can be worn many times over, year after year – and create accessories to go with them too. I think there’s so much that you can do with leather, silk, felt, beads and threads, and put it on your head,” she says.

Much like the gradual, unforced path Laura followed to become a hat maker, the hats she creates aren’t mass-produced, ‘fast fashion’ items.

“I don’t pre-make – each hat is made to order. It’s not just about walking in and buying something, I want people to have an experience with Phylli. Because the hats are so individual, I stamp each one with its unique number inside the sweatband.

“I hope people feel excited and inspired when they wear theirs and it becomes part of their life experience”, says Laura.

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Phylli Designs was born from a long-standing generational love affair of both horse racing and fashion, and represents a creative outlet for founder, designer and hat maker Laura Hall. Located at 57 Main Street, Scone NSW. 

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