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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Master Hatter To Offer New Line
by Jack McNeel, Indian Country Today correspondent
credits: photo courtesy of True West Magazine

MANCOS, Colo. – Nate Funmaker is a master hatter noted for his high – quality hats, each handmade, designed and constructed with a particular buyer in mind. His business is Nathaniel’s Hat Shop.

It’s a passion with him, something he’s devoted the past 16 years doing. He loves making hats, but realizes there is a limit to what he can do and what he can earn. “Everything I sell now, I have to touch. That’s fine, I don’t mind, but I’ll always just make wages doing that.”

With that in mind, he’s going to start producing a lower-priced line. The hats will be made under the name Indian Hat Company. “This new line will be better quality than most commercial hats now on the market,” Funmaker said. “I’m going to put some of my expertise behind it. It’s hard and it’s tricky because it won’t be a known name like Stetson – it will be Indian Hat Company. It’s hard to compete with the big daddies that have a mega-million-dollar media push.”

Funmaker now lives 40 miles from the Four Corners Monument near the base of Mesa Verde National Park. The park draws about 750,000 people each summer, and he gets a decent percentage of them. “People see this tiny shop and see the name Nathaniel’s; it’s funny how many walk in and comment, ‘I thought I was going to meet an old Jewish guy.’ No, I’m Native American and I make hats.”

He was born in Wisconsin, but his parents moved when he was five. His parents were both Winnebago, his mother from Wisconsin and his father from Nebraska. “My folks had values for us and were pretty strict,” Funmaker recalls. “Those same values have stuck with me and we’re doing the same with our kids.”

“I’m very much an urban Indian. I appreciate and take great pride in what I am. I think one of the best ways to represent your people is to be a good example. My parents never looked at the color of a person’s skin. ‘Look at their heart’ was their way. That’s how I lead my life now.”

Funmaker describes a master hatter as someone who takes a raw piece of material made of rabbit or beaver fur, or a blend of the two, then molds it, blocks it and sands it to create a hat. “If you ask me to make you a hat I’m going to look at you and ask, ‘Where do you live? Where would you wear this? What will you wear it for?’ I complement the hat for a facial complexion, frame the crown around the face, balance the brim and then I execute it. It’s got to be the right hat and look good
on you.”

That’s what Nathaniel’s is all about – custom hats designed for a particular person, but it also becomes an expensive hat. A rabbit fur hat is $450, a 50 percent blend with beaver is $575 and an all-beaver hat runs $790. But his customers come back for more and bring their friends. “You’re going to get what you pay for,” he said. The bodies for the hats, before he even starts, run about $100.

“When you buy a $200 hat, you’re buying a $2 wool body raw before it’s blocked or built that says 5X or 10X on it. That used to denote how much beaver fur was in the hat. Nowadays it’s watered down. They are just complete junk.” He says the older name-brand hats were great hats, but the newer hats are “questionable.”

The new Indian Hat Company line will also be handmade. He found a small manufacturer so he doesn’t have to handle each hat, but each will be done with his oversight. He doesn’t have a definite price line established, but expects them to be in the range of $200 – $300. The Web site is open but not yet finished at

Funmaker’s father was an artist who once designed a silk screen for T-shirts. He plans to use that logo on the hats. He’s going to burn the emblem on it as a trademark for the new line. He’s also planning a line of T-shirts and ball caps which will carry the new logo.

He sees his new line as a way to bring in the money to allow him to continue making the higher-end line. He obviously enjoys the personal touch of making hats designed for particular people, but recognizes the limitation of how many he can produce. “I take pride in what I do. You’re only as good as your last hat.”

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