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Pistil hats: Getting ahead of the day 5 a.m. to 6 a.m.

August 20, 2005

With hats, like any business, it helps to get up early to go to the head of the class.

That’s what brings Pete Hixson to the Pistil office and warehouse at 5 a.m.

He’ll be talking to Italy.

“It’s a good time to find them at the end of their day,” said Hixson, who comes to the office at 5 a.m. during the peak shipping season of August, so he can talk on the phone with his Italian associates at about 3 p.m. in Milan, where most Pistil hats are made.

“I like to call them on the phone rather than e-mail them and wait a full day for a response,” said Hixson. “Things can still happen. You might even catch Fed-Ex.”

A small but growing pocket of the global economy can be found in Pistil’s operation on the Heights. Hixson and his partners, Tood Douglass and Forrest Jones, deal directly, and artistically, with yarn makers and hat makers in Italy, to create a distinctive line of hats, scarves and mittens that are sold in local stores as well as national outlets such as L.L. Bean and REI. Pistil picks the materials and designs the hats, and a century-old Milan company makes them to order, right down to the tassels, soft-milled wool, and fleece ear flaps.

Hixson describes himself as more of a lark than an owl, so the pre-dawn working hours are no problem. They help him get not just a head start but a head lock on the day.

“The day is often dictated by what comes later. This is the time of day when you get done what you want to do,” he said.

Designing, ordering, and shipping top-end headwear places high demands on Hixson, and Douglass and Jones.

“Our growth has been about 80 percent. That’s why I get up at this hour — the stores want the hats and they want to know they’re going to get the hats when they need them,” said Hixson, who started Pistil three years ago out of his home. (Hixson’s wife, Janet Cook, is a reporter for the Hood River News.)

After making phone calls and checking e-mail, Hixson turns on the Internet radio — alt. country to go with Thursday’s waking shift — and then goes into the packing room. Orderly rows of boxes shipped from Italy await the Pistil packing crew, who will start filling orders at about 8:30 a.m.

Hixson goes through the orders to see if there’s anything unusual he needs to discuss with the packers.

“I like to make sure it’s all lined out for them,” he said.

In other words, heads up in more ways than one.

While the Pistil staff is busy filling orders and getting them shipped and to the stores for sale in August and September, they’re now planning their merchandise for 2006.

“You’re always a year ahead in hats,” Hixson said. “You’re always thinking about hats in August.”

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