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Behind the scenes at Smithbilt Hats

Click to play video: 'Smithbilt Hats built on tradition'
Smithbilt Hats built on tradition
Throughout Calgary Stampede, Norma Reid is going behind the scenes of some of the most popular attractions. She kicks things off with a key, age-old Stampede fashion staple. – Jul 5, 2023

Not much has changed in all the years Smithbilt Hats has been in operation in Calgary and that’s a good thing.

Global News was invited for a behind the scenes tour of the facility that’s been creating hats since 1919.

“This is called a finger blocker. This machine is over 150 years old,” beams Mike Cole, an apprentice hatter. “It’s safe to say every Smithbilt hat we’ve ever made has gone through this machine.”

Funny enough, he’s not kidding. The age-old techniques of making hats by hand is what makes Smithbilt standout.

Beyond the finger blocker — which uses steam to stretch the felt to perfection — there is an air press, a hot plate press, a brim-trimmer station and a unique sander that allows the hatter to spray the hats down with rubbing alcohol and light them on fire.

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Why do they do that? To burn off lint of course.

Click to play video: 'Closeout sale at movie prop company helps Calgarians create ‘new kind of Stampede’'
Closeout sale at movie prop company helps Calgarians create ‘new kind of Stampede’

And that’s just the downstairs. The main floor of its Inglewood facility features a shaping bar where customers belly-up and order their custom brim shape.

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Don’t see what you want? Easy. Just bring in a photo of your favourite John Wayne look and they can do it.

“We’ve got ourselves a cowboy hat,” smiles Cole, who finessed and folded a hat over steam in mere seconds.

But that’s not the finish line. Over in the corner is where GM Holly Allen creates the personality.

She wears a lot of hats, professionally speaking, but is a milliner through and through.

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At her embellishment station, customers order bands, feathers, even brands to make it as unique as possible.

Click to play video: 'Tourism Calgary gearing up for Stampede season'
Tourism Calgary gearing up for Stampede season

“We call this the burnt marshmallow,” Allen chuckles.

And soon, it’s clear why. She’s using a torch on a cream hat with a cream band to give it some “character.”

Allen uses a brush to even out the scorch marks and adds two finger marks on the inside so real fingerprints won’t leave a mark.

This particular hat is to be auctioned off for charity and Allen’s creation is sure to raise a lot of bids.

Character is something Smithbilt definitely has a lot of.

Some of the most famous faces in country music and western films grace its walls, as well as royalty. From Kevin Costner to Tom Selleck, Robert Duvall to William and Kate — you can count them all as fans.

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That’s why the facility expanded to include spaces to host special private events, a growing trend, proving that even though it’s rooted in tradition, Smithbilt has adapted to changing consumer tastes.

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