Interview with Alice Navarin of RAT HAT
Things classified as “iconic'' occupy a myriad of lanes—a person, hairstyle, sound, pattern—all endowed with an inherent marketability that elicits time-transcending demand. Enter Woolrich, the 191-year-old Pennsylvania-based outerwear company so ingrained in the fabric of Americana that it has both supplied Union soldiers with blankets during the Civil War and collaborated with Supreme. Their most recent project is a collection in partnership with Serving the People and upstart Italian brand Rat Hat, a crochet hat producer born during the pandemic with staying power far beyond the turbulent years that have marked the decade thus far. Alice Navarin—with the support of her family across various functions of the business—takes an intentional approach to crafting lighthearted designs.
Crush: Are you crocheting right now?
Alice: Yeah, I went on holiday and there’s so much to catch up on. Making a hat is not that quick. This collection for STP uses thick materials, so it’ll take maybe three or four hours per hat. If the materials are really small, seven or six hours.
Crush: You started doing this at the beginning of the pandemic. The STP team also came to visit you in Italy, right?
Alice: February 2020, during our first lockdown. And yes, they came but not to Padova where I live. I was traveling for work so I met them in the south at a Nike workshop. We picked tomatoes, made salsa, listened to music, and there was a talk. It was all about sustainability, so Nike paying for that was interesting.
Crush: Mia said she really enjoyed it even though she didn't understand anything.
Alice: Yeah, it all was in Italian.
Crush: The south of Italy is an easy place to enjoy even without speaking a word of Italian. Tell me about yourself and how Rat Hat came to be.
Alice: I studied economics at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and work as a model. Before the pandemic I was making money but I didn't have that much time to be creative due to the amount of travel required for my job. At the beginning of lockdown I went to my parents’ place where I stayed with my mom, father, and sister. I didn't know what to do so I started to paint the house. I also bought two books but didn’t finish them.
Crush: What were the books about?
Alice: One concerned anarchy in Europe. It had so many dates and I was like, “No, I need to do something with my hands.” I did some collages. My dad collects art books and I was stealing his magazines—like Arte which he gets monthly—and cutting out images of contemporary art. Then I did a kind of food art—drawing certain dishes I made—but I got pissed because they would get cold and I'd have to put them in the microwave.Crush: In crochet, each stitch is completed before the next one is started. That seems like a relevant analogy for how you bounced from quarantine activity to activity before landing on crochet.
Alice: I began watching YouTube videos of crochet because I had to give a present to my friend and I didn't want to buy something online. In my family no one cares about clothes, so I had no materials. I went to the newsstands and took yarn from what they use to hold papers together since nothing else was open. Then I started to use yarn from things I already had at home. I posted the first hat on my page and a lot of people started to ask for one. Since I had the time and my mom was bored we began making more together. Social media is not my thing so my sister handles all of the sales and replies to clients. My dad does the packages and labels because painting is his hobby.
Crush: How do you meet demand with such a small team?
Alice: I started to teach my friends—a few who lost their jobs because of COVID—and now I have some people helping me out when they can. It’s nice because I have a lot of clients and want to produce new stuff, but I don't always have time to crochet. I want to change my style, so I tried to experiment with materials this year. Banana yarn is really interesting because it's totally vegan and made of dry banana leaf. I kept traveling for modeling after quarantine so I source yarn from everywhere and find a variety of stuff. For the Woolrich hats, I used plastic from the packaging of the jackets and fabric they provided. I normally don't use fabric so I had to cut it into small lines and use it as yarn, and as a result all the hats are really thick and heavy.
Crush: Does working with a heritage brand like Woolrich differ from designing independently in regards to expectations?
Alice: It wasn’t stressful at all. Lucien was a client already, so he understood what I was doing and set up the collaboration. I knew they wanted something fresh. They understood my use of brighter colors which is where the power of my work lies. I started when everyone was sad during lockdown, but I was also happy to spend time with my family. I was showing my feelings with the colors I was using—totally happy colors, not just trippy—and incorporated all these different materials so there wasn’t much consistency. It’s not a perfect thing—it’s a confused happiness and I think that's why people liked it.
Crush: I read that you heard from a girl who said it brought her joy, and that made it all worth it for you.
Alice: Exactly. I was so happy when I heard that. It's a piece of me traveling and extremely satisfying. The colors and designs are my mind and soul so it’s really personal. I started working because I was feeling inspired, but a lot of people started to copy my designs and now crochet is a trend. I'm really emotional and self-critical. When I see everyone doing what I do, I don't want to do it anymore, I want to do something different. I used to always do things for free because I didn’t believe in myself, but this is the first project where I feel other people understand—everyone from 80-year-olds to crazy kids buy my stuff, so I don’t exactly have a target. This made me realize I can do something else.
Crush: Where would you pivot if you decided to move on from hats?
Alice: I’d focus on furniture or small sculpture.
Crush: Do you have a favorite piece of furniture?
Crush: A sofa with your colors and patterns would be wild.
Alice: That's my dream—maybe I’ll just make one for myself.
Crush: I saw you've also been teasing bags, shoelaces, and swimwear. What’s the most fun thing you’ve made so far?
Alice: The bags with animals. I did the bunny one and I want to do a pig bag, but it's a bit hard because I don't draw it—I just freestyle and what comes out comes out. With crochet you have to count points but I'm not mathematical at all. I speak with images and it's a nightmare if I have to count all the time.
Crush: Do you have consistent points of reference?
Alice: Paintings and images in general. I never think about design, I think about a combination of colors that I want to see together. Everything is made of images in my mind and I try to make it as real as I can.
Crush: Was there any moment in particular that ignited your inclination to be creative?
Alice. No. I went to an artistic school where I was doing architecture and sculpture but I was always doing other things like drawing and painting, too. School is cool because you learn from the people around you and everything you see. I also listen to all kinds of music and prefer to travel to different places.
Crush: What do you typically listen to?
Alice: I fell in love with Jamaican music after visiting. Also classical music—they’re totally opposite and not connected, but I'm the connection because I like them both.
Crush: What's your favorite place to travel?
Alice: Brazil. It’s one of my favorite countries in the world, along with Indonesia. I’ve also traveled in Africa, America, and Asia extensively. I love tropical areas where it's warm, sunny, and the people are really happy. I’m interested in the opposite, too—I’d love to travel to Iceland.
Crush: What’s the origin of the name Rat Hat?
Alice: I didn’t try to make a brand, but Vogue Paris asked me for a name when they ran an article. My nickname and Instagram handle from 2012 was Ratigan, after the Disney cartoon. The sound of the name and character were funny to me so I went with Rat Hat. I made that decision quickly—if I had to think about a brand name I may have been more paranoid. Also, if I stop making hats it’s even cooler.
Crush: And it’s got a good ring to it. Is there anybody that you consider a mentor?
Alice: My mom or dad. I'm really emotional and I get that from my mom. I wanted to give up on this so many times and she encouraged me to keep going. My dad is a painter and when I was a kid he always took me to galleries and exhibitions. I got my creativity from him, but we have really different styles—he doesn’t use much color. I remember painting my shoes when I was in primary school because he was spray painting at the time. I was totally free to express myself. My sister is the opposite—she's really classy and I always felt like the weird one in the family—but they let me be who I wanted. It was normal for me to feel different from the other kids. I wanted to show what I thought was cool, but at the same time I don't always feel the need to share things. People I’ve known for a while say they understand that I’ve always been creative, but that I didn’t show it much until now.
Crush: How do you see this project evolving long-term?
Alice: I don't want to make fashion items—that’s not my plan. Fashion is superficial and honestly kind of bullshit to me. I want to make something that’s not gonna change your day, but rather your point of view.