When the global pandemic shut down retail stores earlier this year, many artisans and shopkeepers ventured into online sales out of necessity. While some struggled to get their products on the web for the first time, one local maker was perfectly situated to accommodate the new buying habits of a nation suddenly stuck at home.
Olivia Ashline of Easy Living Hats designs and creates sustainable sun hats and beanies, and her customers are loyal. For the past three years Ashline has worked to build a local following in Ithaca as well as cultivate a deep connection with her followers on social media. She calls her customers her “hat fam,” and said she owes her success this year to the relationships she’s created with them.
“I had no way to sell my hats in person for months,” said Ashline. “Without these online sales, I would not have been able to keep my business open during the pandemic.”
Ashline is no stranger to struggle. She previously owned a brick and mortar store in downtown Ithaca that she eventually had to close. After experiencing the stress of retail and depending on foot traffic to make ends-meet, she said she would never let herself be that vulnerable again.
“A huge, years-long construction project started in the area where my store was, right after I opened,” said Ashline. “There was nothing I could do to get customers in the door. That experience was horrible, but it taught me what to do the next time around.”
Ashline has now been making a living off the Easy Living brand, one hat sale at a time, for the last 3 years. She began selling her wares at the Ithaca Farmers Market and the local artists’ cooperative, but always focused on online sales. She said she slowly built up a fan base of hat lovers from near and far through Instagram and a weekly e-newsletter. Ashline has been the maker, photographer, web designer and more during these formative years, and shows her fans behind-the-scenes moments of what it’s like to have a small business.
“I’ve always tried to show people how I work to create the pieces they buy,” said Ashline. “I think it’s helped them connect to the brand, and I’ve learned a lot about my customers, too.”
Even without attending the usually bustling farmers market this summer, Ashline said she’s had a hard time keeping up with orders. She even had to hire a few local artisans to help keep up with the demand.
In the past few weeks Easy Living Hats has outgrown Ashline’s home studio and since opened up a production studio downtown, in Ithaca’s Fall Creek neighborhood. The space also functions as a safe pickup spot for local customers who order online.
“At first customers were picking up items at my house,” said Ashline. “But I realized that wasn’t good enough, I needed to step it up and open an official business location. It’s been great to offer this hybrid online/in person option, I love seeing my customers.”
Even though Easy Living Hats is now able to sell at the farmers market and the co-op again, online sales have continued to increase. And she’s recently added a new customer base: retailers around the state are placing wholesale orders, especially as the gift-giving season approaches. Ashline said she is grateful to have grown her small operation, especially in the face of a pandemic.
“Because we were already established online I was one of the lucky ones,” said Ashline. “But I have watched a lot of local makers and business owners scramble to navigate web design and marketing – just to keep their businesses afloat.”
Ashline said she is looking forward to a busy holiday season; her knit beanie design has been more popular than ever as the cold weather sets in. With a well-established online store, customers have already begun their gift shopping – and by offering local pickup, the hat company is now serving their community in person again.
Shop for hats and read more here: easylivinghats.com. Deadline for holiday orders is December 5th. To pick up in Ithaca, just select “Local Pickup” at check out. The new workshop is open Thursdays and Fridays, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. for pickups.