Sustainable Style: Meet Elena Pérez of The Hip Hat

Sustainable Style: Meet Elena Pérez of The Hip Hat
Credit: Javier Hernandez. Provided courtesy of The Hip Hat.

Latina Elena Pérez founded The Hip Hat, a line of sustainable, handcrafted hats and fashion accessories inspired by her homeland, Ecuador’s rich culture and natural beauty. The Hip Hat blends style, quality and social responsibility, proving that fashion can be a force for good. Elena shares more about her company and artisan partners in Ecuador in her interview.

What are the origins of your artisan business?

Growing up in Ecuador was like being immersed in a living work of art. I was surrounded by the breathtaking snow-capped Andes mountains and patchwork landscapes, lush forests, unique ancestral architecture, colorful crops, flavors and smells capable of awakening all the senses. These natural wonders instilled in me a deep appreciation for the environment and a sense of responsibility to protect it.

My upbringing also introduced me to the incredible artisans of Ecuador, whose skill and craftsmanship are unparalleled. These talented individuals work magic with their hands and with natural and renewable materials, creating fashion accessories that are not only beautiful but also sustainable.

Fast forward to my life in Alpharetta, Georgia, where I now live with my husband and our two perfect boys. Juggling the roles of motherhood and the desire to return to a fulfilling professional career, I found myself yearning for a path that would allow me to blend these aspects seamlessly.

Enter The Hip Hat—a vibrant fusion of my love for Ecuador and my passion for a prime artisan-driven business. It was born from the idea that fashion can be a force for good, supporting both artisans and the environment.

Credit: Javier Hernandez. Provided courtesy of The Hip Hat.

At what point did you realize that you could start a business?

Turning my appreciation for exquisite artisanal craftsmanship into a business endeavor was a journey that began with a deep admiration for the talent and dedication of artisans in Ecuador. The moment I realized I could transform this admiration into a sustainable business venture was quite profound.

The artwork pieces sold by The Hip Hat, such as our handcrafted hats and tagua nut jewelry, are not created by me personally but rather by a team of extraordinary artisans in Ecuador. The beauty and intricacy of their work have always been awe-inspiring. I saw in their creations a unique opportunity to blend fashion, artistry and sustainability.

It was through my personal and deep connection to my birth country, Ecuador, that I truly recognized the potential to turn this appreciation into a business. Witnessing the skill, passion, and dedication of these artisans and the exceptional quality of the handmade products they produce sparked an idea. I realized that by creating a platform to showcase and celebrate the talents of these Ecuadorian artisans, I could bring their remarkable work to a global audience.

By curating and offering their handcrafted hats and tagua nut jewelry, I aim to promote their work and contribute to the greater good through fashion. The Hip Hat is not just a business; it’s a means to promote sustainability, celebrate artistry and support talented artisans and their communities. It’s a journey that constantly reminds me of the beauty that can be found at the intersection of art, fashion and social responsibility.

Chunky Layer Tagua Nut Necklace. Credit: The Hip Hat.

How do you define success for The Hip Hat?

Success for The Hip Hat is defined by several key factors that reflect our core values and mission. Firstly, we measure success by the overwhelming acceptance our sustainably handcrafted hats and fashion accessories have received in the highly competitive market. This acceptance is a testament to the quality, uniqueness, and appeal of our products.

We are thrilled to see that our customers not only love our products but also understand and appreciate the power of sustainability and the value of artistry behind handcrafted items. When our customers choose The Hip Hat, they are not only making a fashion statement but also supporting a greater cause.

Success, to us, is about building a community of individuals who want to be a part of our journey. It’s about fostering a deeper connection between our brand and our customers, who share our passion for sustainable and handcrafted products. It’s about making a positive impact, making a difference, and leaving a lasting mark both in the fashion industry and in the lives of the artisans we collaborate with.

Tagua Colorful Stacking Bracelets. Credit: The Hip Hat.

Where do you find inspiration?

Inspiration for The Hip Hat is a multi-faceted journey, but it all begins in the heart of Ecuador. The beauty and uniqueness of this remarkable and breathtaking nature provide an endless source of creative inspiration for us. From the lush Amazon rainforest to the majestic Andes Mountains and the uniqueness of the Galapagos Islands, the diversity of Ecuador’s nature never ceases to amaze. The colors, textures, and patterns found in these landscapes often find their way into our designs as we aim to capture and reflect the splendor of this environment in our handcrafted products.

Equally important is the inspiration we draw from the American market and its wonderful people. This country is a treasure of captivating stimuli that have a direct influence on our design choices, from color palettes to styles, aiming to encapsulate the essence of our customers in our creations.

What’s one piece of advice you wish someone had given you when you started your business?

If you allow me, I would like to highlight two pieces of advice.

  1. Follow Darwinism and adapt. Be open to adaptation and change. One road to fulfill your mission may take unexpected turns. Don’t be afraid to shift and pivot. For me, it was shifting from exclusively working with Toquilla Straw Hats, also known as Panama Hats (this subject alone deserves an interview by itself!) into Merino Wool Hats. I discovered a pressing need in the market for the latter as well. I embraced this shift as an opportunity and kept going.
  2. Embrace mistakes, for they will be your best learning tool. Mistakes are inevitable, but if you allow them to teach you, they will reveal valuable business insights and foster resilience in the pursuit of your mission.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start selling their art or creative product?

What first comes to my mind is at the core of starting a creative business. Find something that you are passionate about; it can be more than one thing. Try to blend them and come up with something unique. For me, it was a blend of the love and connection I have with Ecuador, my home country, its people, and its art, with the true belief that sustainable fashion needs to be widely accessible, fun, and approachable.

What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?

Something that might surprise your readers is that I hold a degree in law and a master’s degree in the same field. However, I’ve now ventured into something entirely different by founding The Hip Hat, a brand focused on sustainably handcrafted fashion. And to add a touch of whimsy, I’ve also dabbled in writing children’s stories inspired by my two wonderful boys!

As creatives, we can continuously refine our art. How do you handle perfectionism?

Perfectionism is something we approach with a unique perspective at The Hip Hat. Our team of artisans takes great care to craft the most beautiful hats using sustainable and natural materials. However, we embrace the idea that there are intricate imperfections to handcrafted products, and that’s what makes them truly beautiful. Each item we create is unique in its own way, celebrating the artistry of the human touch.

Western Merino Wool Hat. Credit: The Hip Hat.

What’s something that surprised you about running a creative business?

Running a creative business has been a delightful surprise in many ways. On the positive side, what’s truly amazing is the incredible versatility that design allows. There are no right or wrong ways to create styles, combine colors, and bring unique ideas to life. It’s a world of endless possibilities and artistic freedom.

However, on a not-so-positive note, what can be more frustrating than surprising is when some customers fixate solely on price rather than appreciating the real value behind each handcrafted product. It’s a challenge to convey the dedication, sustainability, and artistry that goes into every piece, but we’re determined to continue sharing the story behind our creations.

What advice would you give to someone about handling the highs and lows of running a business?

A broad answer comes to my mind when answering this question because handling the highs and lows of running a business is a journey that comes with its fair share of challenges. Entrepreneurship is no smooth ride, and it’s essential to have realistic expectations about the outcomes. Patience, resilience and hard work are your best allies in this adventure. With these qualities, the possibilities of succeeding will be greatly in your favor, no matter what highs and lows may come your way.

Has someone ever criticized your work? How did you handle it?

Absolutely! When it comes to criticism of our work, it’s a part of the territory. Fortunately, most of our customers are incredibly supportive, love our products, and continue to return for more and place even larger orders. It’s been a rewarding journey to see their businesses flourish as well, which brings us immense joy.

However, not all customers fully understand the value of our work and the unique nature of the materials involved in the entire process. Despite our transparent disclosures regarding product expectations, sometimes there is a disconnect, and this can lead to criticism. In these situations, we approach it with a business mindset, striving to improve wherever we can without compromising our core values and mission. We take this feedback as an opportunity to refine our communication and better educate our customers about the exceptional quality and sustainability behind our products. It’s a chance for growth and learning, and we’re committed to continuously improving our product and customer experience while staying true to our principles.

The Heart-Shaped Tagua Nut Bracelet. Credit: The Hip Hat.

What’s a cause you are passionate about and why?

To answer this question, I’ll tell you a short story that is very close to my heart. Gladys is one of the amazing artisans we work with. She is a remarkable, hard-working artisan—she’s a mother, a daughter, and a housewife who creates exquisite tagua nut jewelry. Gladys and I have built a strong working relationship over the years, and when she candidly shared her deeply personal story about her 13-year-old daughter, who had been living with autism but had never received any treatment or therapy due to financial, social, and overall societal circumstances, my heart was moved. She was not asking for help; she was just sharing her story.

I knew that The Hip Hat had the potential to make a real difference in this young girl’s life, her family’s life and the lives of others facing similar challenges. It was a moment of realization that our purpose-driven approach wasn’t just about creating beautiful accessories; it was about transforming lives and making a meaningful impact in the world.

Knowing that Gladys’s daughter now receives the much-needed therapy she deserves serves as a daily reminder of the tangible difference we can make in people’s lives. Hopefully, in the future, we will be able to dedicate even more profits from our tagua nut jewelry collection to Fundación Camina Conmigo in Ecuador to fund therapy for children on the autism spectrum, particularly those from families who may struggle to afford it.

What brings you joy?

What brings me joy? It’s the simple yet most important things in life—my children and husband, my family, my peace of mind, my health and above all, love.

Thanks, Elena! You can learn more about The Hip Hat at

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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