In honor of Women’s History Month, UA Little Rock is featuring stories about the “Outstanding Women of UA Little Rock,” faculty, staff, students, and alumni who are serving as leaders and making a difference for the university and their communities.
Markia Herron, instructional designer at UA Little Rock and owner ofHerron Hats, learned the lost art of hatmaking while working in Liberal, a remote town in southwest Kansas whose claim to fame is being the hometown of Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz.”
“If you want to get away from someone, move to Liberal, Kansas. It is in the middle of nowhere,” Herron laughed.
Since Herron moved to a small town without knowing anyone, she found herself with a lot of free time and turned her attention toward hats.
“I think it was God’s intention that I ended up in Liberal,” she said. “I think I ended up in Liberal, Kansas, to make hats. I didn’t have any friends. Literally, I went to work, and I went home. God put hats on my mind.”
Hats became one of Herron’s staple fashion pieces during hers 20s when she was going to graduate school and living life.
“I had longer dreadlocks at the time, and I couldn’t find proper hat sizes,” she said. “I didn’t understand that there were quality hat sizes out there. I didn’t realize that a quality hat should cost you more than $20. I legitimately started looking at hats and realized that a good quality hat might cost you over $200 for a manufactured hat, while a handmade hat can cost $400 to $800.”
Herron became obsessive about finding the secrets to hatmaking, but few seemed to be willing to share their secrets.
“I have never researched as much as I have with hatmaking, not even when I was in graduate school or now as an instructional designer,” she said. “I visited a hat shop in Wichita, Kansas, and I asked for an apprenticeship. That was a no. It’s a secret trade, and hatmakers often don’t share those secrets. It’s a lost art, and I had to figure out how to make them by hand.”
Herron’s hats are usually made from beaver and rabbit fur, but she is also creating a more affordable line of wool hats for people who prefer hats not made from fur. Herron believes she is the only female hatmaker in Arkansas.
“It’s kind of lonely,” she lamented. “If there are any more, I would love to meet them.”
When she is not making hats and running her own business, Herron works with the Scholarly Technology and Resources Instructional Design Team at UA Little Rock to develop and build online courses and teach faculty members about the best practices in teaching with technology.
“I think that higher education gives you the flexibility to build and create in the environment you are in,” she said. “You are connected to students and have a purpose. With instructional design, we are able to still teach courses. I love higher education because we are really able to grow into our fields.”
For a hatmaker from Arkansas, Herron’s hats have been drawing a lot of attention in recent years. Her hats, which run from $450-600, have been worn by celebrities like actress Danielle Brooks of “Orange Is the New Black,” comedian Cedric The Entertainer, singer Anthony Hamilton, and Lena Waithe, an actress, writer, and producer.
“There are some major people speaking my name,” she said. “Tyler Perry knows about my hats. A lot of entertainers and people in the fashion business really like the hats because they are funky and it’s something they haven’t seen before. I am inspired that, being from Arkansas, you can do anything that your heart desires no matter where you are from.”
Herron, who usually makes 5-10 hats a month, relies on word of mouth, fashion shows, and charity events to build her business.
“Your people drive your business more than celebrities. I have a good relationship and word of mouth with the local Arkansas community. I have found so much inspiration in family since I am from the South. I have always relied on support from family and friends. I find a lot of inspiration in people who like funky hats. I get so many encouraging words that it makes me want to push forward. Building my brand around people.”
For any woman who is considering starting a business, Herron would advise them to follow their passion.
“For any women who want to start a business or go back to business, we always say that there are so many things that hold us back because of our responsibilities,” she said. “You are going to have to sacrifice something. I believe the best advice I can give a woman is to do it for yourself and not for anyone else. Don’t let someone talk you out of it because you have kids, or you are going to school, or because you are the only person in your family working. Not trying is the worst thing a person can do.”
Herron will present her spring/summer line,“Black with a Vengeance,” at the Argenta Gallery on April 5 as well as the Designers Choice Fashion Preview Show on April 6 in Little Rock.