By Gabe Frayne
Kori Giudici, the co-owner of Flipside Hats, emphasized the importance of sustainability as she gave me a tour of the remodeled empty space at 7850 SE Stark St.; soon to be the new home of this Belmont St. business.
She points to the polished wooden floor, which was re-planed from ceiling beams recycled from a demolished elementary school in Beaverton. “We worked with McGee Salvage in Hillsboro, a treasure trove of upcycled wood from the Pacific Northwest,” she explained.
Pointing up, Giudici drew my attention to the formerly hidden arched ceilings fitted with new skylights, a belated embrace of the building’s original architecture. A small area of the building beside the Academy Theater has been walled off for an additional future retail space “for someone who’s really going to interface with the community.”
Asked why the business is moving, she replied, “We’re not paying rent anymore. We’ve always wanted to own our own building.”
While that is certainly part of the reason, it may also have to do with the fact that Flipside has been on a “steady climb” in recent years and appears to have outgrown its present location.
It’s now been 20 years since she sold her first hat, which then became a cottage industry to help her pay her bills while she attended medical school. Over the next decade, the business occupied a basement and various garages as it grew its client base of primarily other retailers. In 2014 it moved to its Belmont location.
Medical school? Though that is not a prerequisite for entering the hat business, Giudici maintains a naturopathic practice in the Pearl District. Asked if she considers Flipside Hats a mere sideline, she replies, “It was a sideline – now it’s the mainline.”
Another milestone in Flipside’s growth was when Giudici’s husband, Jake Wollner, joined the business as a co-owner in 2010. Today he handles various operations, including human resources, sales and IT.
The two describe their main product line as ball caps, beanies, bucket hats and “hats for healing.”
This latter product, says Giudici, “is about healing the earth, our bodies and our spirit. They’re soft-stretch knit hats so they’re also very good for people going through medical hair loss.”
The beanies are made from recycled cotton extracted from post-consumer clothes, which she describes as “one of the biggest polluters we have.” These hats have now been picked up by the outdoors retailer REI. Giudici concedes that “I’m really proud of that product,”
Along with these successes, Flipside has had its share of challenges the past year and a half. When the pandemic lockdown froze the economy, the store had no choice but to close its doors and lay off all its staff.
As Wollner explains, their wholesale customers “had no interest in holding their purchase orders with us. We [were] hundreds of thousands of dollars down the road and then this happened.”
The closure lasted all of two weeks.
“Then suddenly, it was just an epiphany,” Giudici recalled. “Like, oh! Nobody can get masks. We raced back to work on our bikes and we spent all day there prototyping, figuring out the mask that is now the mask we have made hundreds of thousands of.”
Like Hollywood during the Great Depression, Flipside was booming before long, due in part to the fact that China had stopped exporting personal protective equipment. Hospitals all over the US “weren’t just placing five or ten orders, we made 5,000. We were the only ones doing it,” she said.
The sudden closure of all public schools also gave the couple an opportunity to bring their 10-year-old son Moses to work. “He was working hard,” Giudici assured. He kept busy doing general chores, taking phone calls, delivering masks to waiting cars and “picking and packing orders,” Wollner added.
“At one point he was on the phone and someone said, ‘can I speak to a real person?” Giudici recalls, smiling. “And he said, ‘I’m one of the owners. How can I help you?”
This past summer, their family had to deal with another unwanted challenge: Wollner was having heart problems. In early 2020 he had been diagnosed with an aortic aneurism which was now becoming unstable, requiring open-heart surgery.
Since the FDA has not yet approved what he and Giudici considered the optimal surgical procedure, the family travelled to London for over a month, where Wollner underwent a successful operation. However, his work hours will be strictly limited for the near future.
That may be bad timing for a growing company that is in the midst of a move and has “every season in stock,” as he puts it. Still, the couple seems unfazed.
The target opening date for the new location is November 1.
Visit flipsidehats.com for updates.
Owners Jake Wollner and Kori Giudici. Photo by Gabe Frayne