Ethel Walker opened her millinery shop, The Hat Boutiques, at the Community Loan Fund incubator nearly six years ago. She wanted a place she could create and show her hats to potential clients, and the incubator was so conveniently located and affordable, she just couldn’t pass it up. “The size of the office space gave me an opportunity to have a workspace and a showroom,” she says.
Her new studio also allowed her to increase her online sales, because she could now set up photo shoots of her charming chapeaus.
Walker specializes in hats for church and Saratoga Racetrack, but she also creates simple head coverings for winter and summer.
Walker says her love of hats came from her grandmother, who always wore hats. “She wore hats to church, hats on Saturday. She had a hat she gardened in,” says Walker. Walker’s business started as a church fundraiser, but her hats were so successful that a business grew from there. “I can honestly say I was born with an entrepreneurial spirit,” she says. Owning her own business also allowed her the freedom to pursue other passions including travel and ministry. Walker is very active in the community; she teaches a budgeting class at a local shelter, a spirituality class at the local jail, and a bible study class at UAlbany. She is deeply involved with her church, Kingdom Reigning Worship Center in Albany, led by Pastor P. Levi Avery. You might find her there as a Sunday morning speaker or teaching a youth class.
Walker creates her hats based on her client’s individual tastes. Her millinery business offers a range of styles – from adorable fascinators to grand sunhats brimming with lace. The boutique is outfitted with comfortable seating, mirrors, and hats in every conceivable style so that clients can find their perfect style.
Walker also travels to shows across the country, exhibiting her hats and talking fashion and tradition with customers. Hat teas are another popular event – ladies are invited to wear hats and gloves and enjoy high tea.
Walker has found the incubator to be an important galvanizing element for her business. “The affordable rent and easily accessible location has been great for my business. I have been able to host small gatherings in the conference room, and have a beautiful showroom to invite my clients to,” she says.
Having office space “validates” business owners, she adds. For her, it has helped her model success for other women interested in opening their own businesses, she says. In fact, her hat business has given rise to a coaching and mentoring practice, which is keeping her almost as busy as hat-making!
In the new incubator, Walker will have street-level retail space with big plate glass windows facing Clinton Avenue, one of Albany’s busiest traffic corridors. Walker hopes this will result in more walk-in traffic — and more exposure for her growing business.
Walker has recently rebranded her business; she is changing the name to Hats and Etc. to reflect her growing footprint. Visit her new website www.hatsandetc.com when it launches later this month, or visit her boutique at 255 Orange Street.