Custom Hatmaker Claire West on why you should never speak out of anger

Leadership lesson #1 — Never speak from anger. All I can say is that most of the mistakes that I have made in business and life came from when I spoke from initial emotion without stopping to think or analyze the situation. Always take a breath and think about problems from all sides. Write the pros and […]

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Leadership lesson #1 — Never speak from anger. All I can say is that most of the mistakes that I have made in business and life came from when I spoke from initial emotion without stopping to think or analyze the situation. Always take a breath and think about problems from all sides. Write the pros and cons and don’t respond until you can with a heart that is open and willing to listen to others.

I had the pleasure of interviewing custom luxury hatmaker Claire West, Founder & CEO of Claire West Design

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

After 30 plus years in the music industry, I have been blessed and thankful to work with some of the most iconic artists of all time and to have traveled the world with them promoting and helping to break their music. However, I was feeling like it was time to shake up my world. I had hit a point where my own creative DNA was pushing to have its own path. My love of hats across my whole life and a chance (or not so chance) meeting in a restaurant in Las Vegas put me on the path to this incredible journey to design and resurrect the old craft of hatmaking.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I would have to say, having the famously talented and absolutely dynamic Hollywood stylist June Ambrose find me. A friend and great musician, was driving for Uber, picked her up when she had come to Nashville for two days for the stadium show with her longtime clients Jay-Z and Beyoncé, and directed her to come to my showroom to look at hats. When she contacted me on Instagram I didn’t even put two and two together, I just thought she was a nice woman in town looking for hats. I invited her over to my showroom and two hours later, a mutual admiration emerged. She instantly talked about me, encouraged me and led me to some incredible opportunities. Which include a recent trip to Copenhagen to design a custom hat collection for a fabulous designer, Rabens Saloner, for their flagship store in Denmark. Truly, her intersection has had dozens of blessings for me, it’s so fascinating to watch unfold. I am so thankful!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Do we EVER stop learning or making mistakes? As I think about it, it’s probably that one of the first custom hats I made was for a friend, I had worked for days and hours and hours to create my “masterpiece” for this person. I was thrilled that they had supported me and believed I could do it. The hat was just fine, but in my excitement to finish it, I hadn’t checked the front and back of the hat and I completely sewed everything on backwards. When my friend came to get the hat, she politely and calmly pointed out that everything was backwards. I was mortified, then couldn’t stop laughing. I redid it, but it was pretty amusing at the time. I certainly haven’t done that again!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

There are wonderful hatmakers all over the US and the globe, I follow so many. I think it’s a beautiful lost art and craft. That said, we all have our own perspectives and signatures. As I evolve as a designer and hatmaker, my stand out is that I want to own my journey and experiences. I have weathered decades of personal challenges; work success, cancer, raising my amazing son, travel, tragedy, personal success, divorce and I believe that my life has led me to appreciate things that are unusual and unique. My hats are very intentional. The trim, ribbon and totems that I use correspond to me being something of a “biographer” in what I hope to bring to my craft. I am here to help tell the special story of each person who comes to have their custom hat made. I want to know all about them, I want their whole backstory. I bless each hat (as I was taught by my mentor, a Lakota trained medicine man) and I seek to really have them leave my studio with something that gives them confidence, covering, and attracts people to them to know more about their journeys. I make something that hopes to leave the clues of the special characteristics about them.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am absolutely thrilled to be working on collections for two amazing stores in Copenhagen, Denmark, and in Amsterdam. This came about due to June Ambrose and her reach as a public personality and respected voice in the fashion industry. Literally, all of this came about due to Instagram. The reach of photos and knowledge across the globe. Within a week of me having an inquiry from them, I was on a plane to stand in their flagship store in Copenhagen, Rabens Saloner, a brand I knew from Vogue and other publications. I cannot wait to bring these special collections to life for these stores.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Be patient, persistent and relentlessly positive. Take criticism. Accept your strengths and weaknesses…be open to everything that can come down the line. Ask for help, as you’ll be shocked how generous and kind people can be when you express your need for their wisdom. Pick mentors and use their advice and oversight. It’s invaluable. Know that you will fail as you grow and see the wisdom and blessings of those lessons, without believing that those lessons hurt or held you back. Trust the process. Never take no for an answer. I joke that I am a “stalker,” but it’s true. When I want something I never stop until I get to the people or place that can take me to my dream, I recommend that highly!

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

I have had varying degrees of success and failure in that area over years of running large teams. The times I have done it well were when I had real patience and positive vision for my team, along with each of their personal gifts and personalities. Be a person who leads by ethics and example. Show appreciation but be transparent about criticism. Realize that your vision and dream is your own, don’t expect everyone on your team to share all of your needs and desires. Leave room for your team’s individual ideas and concepts to be discussed and included. Don’t ever speak from anger or frustration. Wait to make certain your voice is one that is steady and fair. I, of course say it, but it took a lot for me to learn those lessons.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have to share the story of Willee Roberts, the young hatmaker I happened to meet in a restaurant in Las Vegas. I was there for a special event and I was having dinner with music people. I was absolutely transfixed with the table across the room of young, great looking people wearing amazing hats. I had to meet them. I just had to. So, I went across the room and asked them who they were. One of those people started to speak to me. To speak to me like I had known him forever. He looked at me, looked at my hat, asked me what I was doing, and basically said “you are a hatmaker.” The real story is basically some kind of movie…. but Willee Roberts waved his magical wand over me, told me I was destined to be a hatmaker, and became the first person to mentor and apprentice me. I honestly owe this whole shift to this special young man. His spiritual depth, kindness and his ability to put a finger on the need I had, and where I could go. He helped me to visualize and find my own path. All I can say is, he was my angel from God and I wouldn’t’ have begun this whole journey without him.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Over the years of working in music and now in fashion, I have always wanted to align with charitable causes that I have a passion for. Over the years that has been City of Hope in Duarte, California with my cancer background. It’s been working with veterans and many causes that benefit wounded warriors. It’s been food banks and Children’s Cancer Charities. I always need to have something happening in my life that is completely about the needs of others and takes me away from my own world. That’s the balance I seek to find always.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each)

Leadership lesson #1 — Never speak from anger. All I can say is that most of the mistakes that I have made in business and life came from when I spoke from initial emotion without stopping to think or analyze the situation. Always take a breath and think about problems from all sides. Write the pros and cons and don’t respond until you can with a heart that is open and willing to listen to others.

Leadership Lesson #2 — Write down your steps and keep records. In a world of digital haze, it’s important to leave a roadmap. We learn so much so fast now, and we have the tendency to believe we can find anything we need anytime. I think that is dangerous. When you’re learning early on and as you grow, keep records of the important skills and moments that shape your knowledge. You’ll find you go back to these later at crucial times to help you move ahead.

Leadership Lesson #3 — Have a sense of humor. Life can be truly hilarious. Even when the chips are down or you think you have something bigger than you can manage, have humor. I don’t mean at the expense of others. I simply mean that most situations have a lighter side, it’s important to remember that nothing is insurmountable. Often humor keeps us from taking bumps in the road too seriously or from taking ourselves too seriously.

Leadership Lesson #4 — Get educated. Over the course of my career, I was often thrown into negotiations and business settings with new companies or technologies I didn’t have a background with. I learned to sit down and do my homework. Respect comes with knowledge and when I entered boardrooms with senior executives, I found that the way they treated me was in direct correlation to the homework I had done, and how much initiative I had taken to learn about their worlds and businesses before opening my mouth to speak.

Leadership lesson # 5 — Listen. We are often taught to speak up. I think that’s valuable but what I think is even more valuable is learning to listen first. A good leader isn’t thinking about what to say when their business partners and team are speaking. A good leader is fully invested in listening to their team and their partners, then taking time to speak and formulate a logical and well-crafted response. Even in the creative worlds I work in, logic, patience and listening are skills that are needed in every part of every business deal.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Tolerance. I think the world we live in is full of advice and stories that set off emotions and our need to assert our opinions. I would start a movement that is more focused on understanding and education. I love that our country allows us the freedom to disagree, but I fear we are moving into a world that believes that justice and perspective is right just because we “believe” something to be true. We need to be a nation and world of people who ask questions, get education and dive deep into learning. Then speak with patience, love and positivity. I am lucky to have mentors and elders in this profession who have spared their time to teach me. I have learned a whole lot of patience and depth from this process and I have learned to slow down and try to be far more tolerant and less “opinionated” than my days in the music business. There’s always more than one way to achieve one’s goals.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My father taught me a funny one. It’s sort of kidding but not really. He said “keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times” — kidding about those amusement park announcements when we were children. It’s an amusing one but I live by it. You find as you get older that you just don’t need or want to be around people who are negative, chaotic, or who hold you back. You benefit by focusing on the positives of your own path and goals. Let go of those negative people with love and light but let them move on down the road to their own destiny. Keep your eye on your own goals, focus on the things you need to learn, and don’t get caught up in other people’s worlds or allow jealousy or envy to darken your door. Make sure you are working to become a better person in all things, it will positively manifest in every corner of your life. Business and personal.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

Ralph Lauren. He’s a hero to me in the design world. I have loved and watched his appreciation for the American West over the course of my life, and even now, his influence comes over me. His beautiful aesthetic for textiles and the quality of what he has created with his massive reach. I don’t really aspire to be everywhere, my goals are smaller and more focused in scope, but when I think of the quality and timeless beauty I want to impart on my work, he is always top of mind. It would be a dream to spend a breakfast or lunch with him and to hear about the marvelous evolution of his work. And if I could bring someone back to spend time with it would have been Frank Lloyd Wright and Georgia O’Keefe.

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