Story By Hannah Goldfinger
Photos Contributed By Haley Waller
Haley Waller has lived in Opelika her entire life, but only recently started her own business, Hats By Haley, making and selling artistic hats.
Five months ago, Waller and her grandmother, Shirley Ratliff, were out antiquing when her life changed forever.
“So me and my grandmother like to junk and [visit] antique places,” she said. “… So me and her were walking through Timeless and we see this hat. And it was a hard hat but it was painted these neon colors. And she picked it up and it was $30 and I’ll never forget, I couldn’t believe she would pay $30 for something in there, as many times as I’ve heard her say, ‘I’m not paying that for that,’ … but she loved the hat so much that she ended up buying the hat. And I looked at her on the way home and I was like, ‘You know what, I could do that.’ … To this day, that was a total God moment.”
Hats aren’t the only way Waller expresses her creativity — she’s also done paintings.
“I’ve always been very artsy,” she said.
Waller, who suffers from bipolar manic disorder, said that moment in the antique store, and making the hats, has really pulled her from a depressive episode.
“Truly, I feel like, I was at the right place at the right time and that hat was literally a gift from God showing me that, ‘you know, that’s something you can do,’” Waller said. From that day forward, Waller had a new business.
“My grandmother handed me a hat when we got back to her house and she was like, ‘Paint something on this hat.’”
Her grandmother liked the hat and wore it out to the lake. Just by having the hat out in public, there were requests from new customers for hats.
“I made my grandmothers’ for free and then all of her friends were like, ‘Oh my gosh I want one.’ So me and my grandmother sat down and she priced everything for me.”
The hats cost $40 a pop if you supply the hat and $60 if Waller does.
“[My grandmother] has truly been by my side this whole time, helping me, inspiring me,” Waller said.
Ratliff even came up with Waller’s brand, using gold playing cards tagged with the Hats By Haley name.
The brand has taken off. Outside of individual orders, Waller was able to participate in the Opelika High School bazaar on Oct. 14.
“These hats are more than just me wanting to make somebody feel beautiful and love the hat; every time I make one, it truly saves my life, because it gives me that purpose I feel like I’ve been looking for my whole life,” Waller said. “I feel worthy of something, I feel like I am worthy.”
One of Waller’s most popular hats is a Tiger Face hat, which isn’t surprising given her proximity to Auburn University.
Waller said the time it takes to fulfill an order varies; while it may only take her half a day to paint one, if there is a waiting list, orders can take a while to be delivered. Plus, she works another job.
“When I’m not at work, which I work about 45 hours a week, when I’m not at work, I literally stay up way too late painting hats … and I literally spend my whole weekend doing it but I don’t mind it because it just makes me so happy.”
She did say she hoped that one day it could be a full-time business.
“These hats are more than just a hobby for me, they truly save my life when I’m in my downer sides of my mental disorder,” Waller said.