April 10, 2016

Fat Hat debuts WRJ store

Employee Carol Lang arranges the clothing racks at Fat Hat Clothing's new location in White River Junction.

Provided Photo

Employee Carol Lang arranges the clothing racks at Fat Hat Clothing's new location in White River Junction.

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION – F.H. Clothing Co. has opened a new location in White River Junction, adding to the growing amount of business activity in the downtown.

Its new “satellite” storefront on Gates Street is across from the Barrette Center for the Arts, home to Northern Stage.

F.H. Clothing – or Fat Hat Clothing, as it’s known to its longtime customers — is part of the cluster of boutiques and arts-related stores that have blossomed in recent years in White River’s historic district.

F.H. Clothing Co.’s Joan Ecker opened her Quechee store 27 years ago, and it continues to operate as the company’s main location. Ecker is a designer and entrepreneur and has built a clothing line that is stylish, comfortable and appealing to women of all ages. Ecker owns and runs the stores along with her daughters, Jenn and Sara. In addition to the two Vermont locations, Ecker said her clothing is sold in 250 stores around the country. What began with an idea for handmade hats has grown into a substantial enterprise. “It’s an incredible miracle that it ever happened and that it still works,” Ecker says and laughs. Her good humor belies the hard work she has put in over nearly four decades.

The idea began in 1979 with a batch of free fabric samples and a measuring stick. From there Ecker created the first “Fat Hat” and set out to make sales at her first craft fair. With the slogan, “Hats for Whatever Shape Your Head Is In,” Ecker was off and running. Her creative fashions, designed to provide comfort as well as style, set the stage for success. “My basic idea was that if you’re comfortable in what you’re wearing, you’ll be comfortable with who you are,” Ecker has said, according to the company website. It’s not just the clothing either — F.H. Clothing provides a sense of humor in its promotional materials, and it almost seems built into the clothing itself.

These days F.H. Clothing Co. has grown beyond hats to include a full line of clothing and fabrics. The clothing is all manufactured in the U.S., and all the clothing and samples are designed in Quechee. The business isn’t the only thing that’s grown since its humble beginnings. Ecker’s two daughters, who used to accompany her on road trips to craft fairs when they were young children, are now grown businesswomen who’ve helped  the business develop. “They both have come back [to the area],” Ecker says. “One works in the wholesale division and one works in the retail division, and they are owners too.” Jenn also makes jewelry — rings, earrings and necklaces. Sara handles all the production for F.H. Clothing and has been the lacrosse coach at Lebanon High School for 20 years. “My granddaughter Kait is six, and helps with filing and likes to scan things. My grandson Ty is eight and loves to choose colors.” It’s a family affair and a neighborhood affair too.

The new store in White River Junction is small at about 550 square feet. “It’s a great addendum to the ‘mother ship,’” Ecker says, referring to the Quechee store, where customers can find more styles of the clothing. So why a small store in White River? “We just wanted to be part of a community that is vital and changing. It’s right across from the theater. A lot of our patrons are already customers of the theater and it gives them an easy place to find us. We love being part of a community that makes a difference.”

With its front windows looking out at the theater and with neighbors like Valley Flower Company and Lampscapes and others, Ecker says, “I think we’ve all got the prettiest view on that row. I think we’ve got the window on Vermont right there.”

It’s not the only great thing F.H. Clothing has. “We have a wonderful staff,” Ecker says. They do a lot of customer service. “We’re really good at making people look and feel wonderful and comfortable about how they look. It’s a very happy place.”

F.H. Clothing Co.’s new location is at 83 Gates Street in White River Junction. The phone number is 296-6646, and the website is www.fathat.com.

The hours for the new store are 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. These hours are sometimes expanded for special events like First Friday ArtWalk or a matinée at the theater.

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