Local high school teacher Stacey Keller remembers one day, a few summers ago, when she and her three young sons were getting ready to go outside.
“As I was saying: ‘wear your hat, everybody put your hat on,’ … one of my sons asked: ‘why aren’t you wearing a hat, mom?’” Keller said.
She admitted it was a good question.
As a self-proclaimed hat-snob with long hair, Keller found it hard to find a hat she liked. She liked the look of a stretch fit, closed-back hat, but didn’t like that these hats required her to wear her hair down. For hats with a ponytail hole, she didn’t like the look of the back of a hat if she did wear her hair down. Either way, Keller couldn’t find one hat that checked all the boxes.
“I had bought a stretch-fit hat, and one day when the boys were napping, I got the sewing machine, I ripped open the back of the hat [and thought to sew in] some overlapping flaps or something,” Keller said.
When that didn’t work, Keller stared perplexed at the hat sitting on her kitchen table. With the seam ripped open from the button on the top to the bottom band, it was almost closing on its own, but needed a little extra help. Keller looked around her house to see what she could fashion. First, she considered velcro or buttons, but then found herself staring at her fridge. That’s when the lightbulb went off: magnets.
Her sons played with magnetic building blocks, so Keller grabbed one, took it apart and got the magnets out. She put the magnets into the seam that she had previously ripped open, and it closed.
“I was like, oh my God! I think this is a thing!” Keller said.
“I had this really huge surge of excitement. I put it on, looked in the mirror, pulled my hair through [the magnetic seam] and I thought: this is it. This is the hat that I want.”
Now, a couple of years later, Keller is the CEO and founder of Ponyback — a fitted fullback hat company with a seam that can be fully opened or closed with the help of magnets. This makes the hat wearable two ways: when your hair is down, it looks like a normal fullback hat and if your hair is up, you can pull through a ponytail or bun anywhere along the magnetic seam. The large opening also makes it easier for people with thick or curly hair to pull their hair through the hole, as well as people who like to wear a high pony.
After building that first prototype at her kitchen table, Keller connected with a lawyer to have the idea patented (it is now patent pending). She then started researching manufacturers that could professionally make the hat in various colours and sizes. Through the LaunchPad program at Wilfrid Laurier University, Keller connected with another entrepreneur who had connections in the hat world. After a series of phone calls and connections, Keller ended up finding a hat manufacturer that she was really excited to work with.
Just this year, Keller has taken a leave of absence from her job as a high school business teacher with Waterloo Region District School Board to pursue Ponyback full-time. The hat is now available in three colours, and Keller runs it all — from social media, to packing orders, to website and e-commerce management.
With the tagline “Your Style Fits Here,” Keller said that it’s important that the hat works for everyone. The hat is available in three sizes, and the back opening works well for a variety of hair types.
“When I was in the product development stage, I remember feeling that I wanted to make sure that I do have a size that’s going to fit everyone and no one is going to be excluded,” she said.
Since launching the hat in June, Keller said that she’s also been made more aware of how important representation and diversity is in her marketing strategy. She actively seeks models and social media influencers with all different hair types to showcase how functional the hat can be for anyone with longer hair, once again enforcing the idea that this hat is for everyone.
Keller is now excited to be offering the hat in children’s sizes before the end of the year. As a mom herself, she’s realized that baseball caps for kids are more frequently marketed to boys — and she sees that as a problem.
“When you’re starting a hat business, you see people wearing, or not wearing, hats everywhere and I just thought, there’s something wrong with this picture. There should be an equal number of kids wearing baseball hats at the playground,” Keller said.
She also hopes to explore sustainable business practices like a hat recycling program, to see the hat in local retailers, and to support initiatives that help women and girls. In such an early stage, the opportunities are there to protect more heads from the sun and save more people from bad hair days — one ponytail at a time.
Beth is the former Editor in Chief of the Community Edition. She held this position from October 2017 - November 2019. When she's not writing, she's usually knocking back too many coffees at Princess Café, searching for new craft beer in the Region or forcing one of her foster cats to love her. Follow her on Twitter @angryelbows.