One call at the end of December 2019 changed everything. “Slovenia is practically a neighborhood, it’s now or never”, I thought to myself after I found out that there was a sale of hat-making materials and tools at the factory that treasured them, but no longer existed, just like the country that gave birth to it – Yugoslavia. I immediately bought a ticket, booked accommodation, and went to bed to get some sleep before the next day’s flight. With all the savings in my pocket, I went on my first business trip.
On the way to Škofja Loka, the place where the famous hat factory “Šešir” was located, I thought about this well-known company with almost a century-old tradition of making hats. From its founding in 1921 until its closure in 2016, this factory witnessed and adapted to numerous changes; from the economic crisis in the mid-1930s, the Second World War, the post-war years in the newly modeled state of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to the breakup of Yugoslavia and global economic instability that gradually led the factory to bankruptcy. However, despite all that, this factory was one of the few places where “world-famous hats”, as they used to point out in the advertisement, were made and worn across all of Yugoslavia, and with export to foreign markets, all over the world as well.
Although I was already familiar with the history of this place and the factory, it was only when I arrived there that I could really feel how important the tradition of hat-making, that wonderful and rare craft, was to the people who lived and worked there. While I was looking at the pictures and listening to the stories about the factory, its people, and also the importance that the hat had in the daily life of many, I had just one quote in my head that whole time.
“Our ancestors were not caricature figures who moved quickly and waved their arms while walking, like in an old movie.” They were alive, just as we are today. And they weren’t black and white. They lived “in color”.
While walking around the factory, I found various hat molds on the floor; yet, that one mold, in particular, caught my eye. Although it was in very bad shape and looked as if it would fall apart at any moment, I felt that this mold was waiting for me.
The administrative receiver, a wonderful gentleman who was about to close the heavy factory doors for the last time, tried several times to talk me out of buying this rather damaged mold. However, when we feel certain things from the depths of our hearts, we simply know that they are for us, no matter how inexplicable and illogical they might seem to someone else. That wooden mold, which took me almost a year to restore by myself, would become the mold that will give birth to the Mushroom hat – the first member of the Dulsineja hat family.
That is how the story about the molds became the story about the birth of Dulsineja hats, but also a reminder, to me and to everyone who will read this story, that sometimes having a desire for something is more than enough. I did not have a long family tradition or the opportunity for my ancestors to pass down the secrets of the craft to the next generation, but I had a DESIRE.
If that desire is as strong as mine was to make hats, I believe that faith, hard work, persistence, and dedication will always take us exactly where we need to be. Mine took me to Slovenia, to the closed factory Šešir, which was yet another confirmation that at the end of every road was always a new beginning.
From the moment when the wooden molds for making hats from one of the largest Yugoslav factories found their way to me, they continued to live. Their stories and the stories of our ancestors are woven into the Dulsineja family of hats, which every year keeps growing. Through the artisanal work, I developed a sense of presence and became one with this craft and with the past generations who devotedly performed their work.
I am grateful for the excellent craftsmen and the wooden “sculptures” that I work with today. I am also grateful to all of you who together with me save hats from being forgotten because every time I see my hats walking around Belgrade, I know that they are here to stay.