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Elope hatmakers mad about new, unique designs

1:02 PM, Dec 11, 2009   |    comments
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"Wearing hats is a must," Keith Johnson, the company's chief creative cfficer, said jokingly.

Almost every day, the staff of the Colorado Springs-based company wear some sort of head gear, from pirate hats to fedoras to costume masks. With thousands of different styles just about anyone kind find something to fit their personality.

"There have been a lot of people that have worked here that didn't really like costuming and wearing hats when they first started. But then they really like it a lot more as they work here longer and longer," Johnson explained.

It's the perfect place to work for hat lovers. One of Elope's designers, Matt Meacham, used to get in trouble in high school for wearing hats. Now he's got a job where he can wear one every day.

"I actually went back to go see a teacher last year and he was like, 'What are you doing now?' I said, 'Take a wild guess.' And he said, 'I'd have to say something with hats.' And I said, 'That's exactly it!" Meacham said.

Keith Johnson and his brother Kevin started the company 16 years ago while looking for an opportunity to turn their love for hats into a full time job.

"We always loved hats and collected them in different countries. We just enjoyed wearing them," Kevin Johnson said. "In Tibet they wear crazy miters. Some of them are big and round with pom-poms hanging around, maybe with a spike coming out the top."

The brothers returned to Colorado from their world travels and founded Elope, creating a line of unusual of hats influenced by their time abroad.

While, some of the hats were similar to those worn by the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland and Dr. Seuss' Cat and the Hat, others had protruding spikes or tentacles.

"We thought they were a little too crazy for the mainstream, but we were wrong. Our first 1,000 pieces sold out in a week," Kevin Johnson said.

Snowboarders made up a large part of their target market. The riders loved the unusual designs, but the company did not stop there.

It has expanded into all types of costume accessories, including eyewear. Plus, it has won a number of exclusive contracts to provide licensed replicas based on Disney, Peanuts, Groucho Marx, Dame Edna, Jimi Hendrix, Where's Waldo and Dr. Seuss.

Harry Potter, however, was one of their first major deals.

"We finalized our negotiation and then that week Harry Potter was on the cover of Time magazine. If we would have waited a little too long, we might have just missed the boat," Kevin Johnson said.

It can take months for Elope designers to bring a licensed product to market. After designers work diligently to copy the original from photos, the item must be approved.

"It's almost unheard of that we submit a product and they say, 'Oh, it's perfect,'" Kevin Johnson said. "Usually we have to submit samples 10 to a dozen times, before it's exactly the way they like it.

"In the end the product speaks for itself. Sometimes you can't tell it apart from the original," he added.

Persistence has paid off for the Johnsons. After three years of pitches and proving their products with other licensed lines, they finally won a line with Disney.

"We put together some beautiful proposals showing them this is what we can do: this is our take on Tinker Bell, this is what we could do for Mickey, or this is what we could do with Pirates of the Caribbean. We really thought outside the box and brought a fresh new look to their products," Kevin Johnson explained.

The hats have been used in more than 100 television shows and movies, including "Elf" starring Will Farrell.

"Not the main character, Elf. He wasn't wearing one of our hats, that was made by a costume designer. Some of the secondary characters were wearing our hat designs," Kevin Johnson said.

While the company has become very successful, the Johnson's goals are still true to the company's name-which stands for Everyone's Laughing On Planet Earth. Elope is always looking for new and unusual ideas to keep the laughter coming.

"Our hats do provide a lot of laughter, so that is one of our goals; to bring joy to the world through our costume accessories," Kevin Johnson said.

The company was recently selected as one of the 50 Colorado Companies to Watch by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. Every Friday 9NEWS is reporting about another company, highlighting its success in this difficult economy. CLICK HERE to see those stories.

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