College students these days wear a lot of hats — but not nearly as many as Middlebury senior Corinne Prevot. Last winter season, she sold some 10,000 hats and accessories for alpine and Nordic skiing, and she expects 50 percent growth this year. Forbes magazine has called her an all-star entrepreneur. Prevot’s company, Skida , has revolutionized a segment of the skiwear business with fun and funky colors and fabrics.
Her next goal? Well, graduating for one, along with launching a new line of kids’ caps and continuing to donate caps to a cancer center through her recently launched Skida [+1] charity. Not bad for what was a teenage girl’s hobby just five years ago.
“It honestly started as a craft project,” says Prevot of Skida’s origins in December 2007. At the time, she was a student at Burke Mountain Academy who had recently switched from alpine to Nordic skiing. “One rainy Christmas, my mom and I went and found some fabric and whipped together a hat, and then I made some for myself and my teammates.”
Whipped together? Truth be told, Prevot, who grew up in Pennsylvania before attending Burke, was bitten by the Betsy Ross bug early on. She sewed wallets, laptop cases and “all sorts of weird stuff,” and crafted fleece pants with her mother.
It was hats, however, that stuck — namely, on the heads of her Burke teammates and racing competitors, who were drawn to the flashy and often feminine patterns. After years of donning the same ho-hum, drab and itchy hats that Nordic skiers had been sporting for generations, Prevot’s compatriots were understandably drawn to pink paisley and turquoise dots, in breathable and moisture-wicking poly-blend fabric.
“The prints are all definitely unique, and there’s not much of it in the Nordic ski-apparel market,” Prevot says. “They’re fun and colorful; they were comfortable and warm, so it was fashion meets function at a basic level.” The hats were an instant hit.
Within a few months of making them for fellow racers around the Northeast Kingdom, Prevot, then just 16, began selling the lids through East Burke Sports. Skida (an old Swedish word for ski) was officially launched before Prevot had even graduated from high school. Look around any ski shop these days, and you’ll see not only Skida hats but offerings from bigger brands that the fledgling company seems to have inspired.
“It’s flattering — imitation is the greatest form of flattery,” Prevot says modestly.
She’s still a bit surprised by her success and is quick to credit the Kingdom-based seamstresses who make sure everything is made in Vermont, as well as the tight-knit world of New England’s winter athletes. “The whole ski community is small and very well connected,” Prevot says. “The story behind it is something else that attracts people; it’s a Vermont-local thing.”
Today, the Skida line has expanded: For women there are headbands, fleece-lined neck and head warmers, bandanas and alpine hats. Prevot also has a men’s collection with more masculine plaids and geometrics. “Flowers and swirls aren’t really their thing,” says Prevot, who sources some fabric from suppliers who also produce dancewear and swimwear.
Next season, pint-sized skiers and riders will be able to don their own Skida hats, which fit under helmets, thanks to a new line designed for ages 4 to 10.
No doubt Prevot will also be busy next winter supporting friend Liz Stephen, an elite cross-country racer who will be aiming for a spot on the Sochi 2014 Olympic team. Proceeds from sales of a special “Friends of Liz” Nordic hat will benefit Stephen by helping pay for travel costs and other expenses not covered by the U.S. ski team.
Prevot has many more friends she’s helped without ever having met them, all because of an email from a man whose wife was going through chemotherapy. “He was wondering if he could buy a dozen hats,” Prevot recalls.
Instead of simply selling him the soft caps, she decided to launch Skida [+1], a program that donates one hat to a cancer patient for every order that is placed with a special promotional code. Customers can now choose from a half dozen donation destinations, from Berlin’s Central Vermont Medical Center to the Vermont Cancer Center at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington. Prevot estimates she’s given away at least 150 hats, and is touched by “tearjerker” emails from patients.
Meanwhile, back at school, her classmates may be shedding tears over thesis deadlines and job hunts. Prevot, a sociology and geography major at Middlebury who will graduate in May, admits things are “definitely hectic right now,” but says she enjoys being able to run Skida alongside her studies. She left the Middlebury Nordic team after her sophomore year to study abroad in Nepal and still travels extensively around the region selling her wares and looking for new fabrics.
“My mom jokes that I have an eye, but it’s really hard to tell what’s going to do well,” Prevot says.
Judging by the number of Skida hats spotted on Vermont slopes and beyond, Prevot has a hunch about heads. “Honestly, I get so jittery when I see somebody walk into a store or on the ski hill wearing one,” she says. “They don’t know who I am — it’s so weird, this interaction. I’m shocked and so excited, seeing it on people I have no connection to. That’s really cool.”
For more information or to purchase Skida Hats, visit shopskida.com .
The print version of this article was headlined "Midd Hatter".