Hats Off to a Successful Alumna

As long as Kat Whalen ’88 can remember, the mountains have always given her happiness. Whether it was teaching at King Ridge Ski Area when she was a student at Colby-Sawyer, watching her daughter ski race in middle and high school or instructing young women at Sugarbush, the mountains have never disappointed Whalen. In fact, they were the inspiration and catalyst that sent her into an unexpected career path.

During her daughter’s ski races, Whalen spent many days at various ski areas. “I asked myself ‘how can I monetize my time at the mountain?’ I started to collect vintage ski patches, Whalen said. “Whenever I would go to a race, I would make hats and put on patches of the area we were at. I would sell out before the first kid ever went through the gate.”

Hence, in 2016, an idea was born, and in fall of 2017 Whalen’s business, Rippin Kitten Hats, was established.

After securing a small business loan, creating a website and finding the perfect name (“Rippin Kittens” was a name given to her and freestyle skiing students while she was an instructor), Whalen was on her way to starting a successful business.

Whalen makes her handmade hats by cutting soft microfiber material, sewing it together, putting on a vintage ski patch and topping off with a refurbished real fur pompom. With the leftover material, she creates neck gaiters and scarfs.

Whalen said she is very picky about the patches she uses for her hats. She has a group of what she calls “patch whisperers,” who travel all over the country looking for vintage products. Whalen purchases about 40 patches a month and always waits for the “right” patch.

Rippin Kitten Hats has partnerships with the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame as well as various academies such as Stratton Mountain School, Green Mountain Valley School and the Franconia Ski Club. The product goes on tour with Warren Miller productions throughout New England, and Whalen also attends ski shows throughout the region and has some of her hats in area gift shops. Each year, Rippin Kittens grows exponentially and is currently selling approximately 1,000 hats/year.

Whalen also does her share of donating, often sending scarfs to local hospitals and elderly housing developments.

Whalen loves that she started her own business and encourages others to become entrepreneurs. Her advice to others thinking about starting their own business is, “Pursue your passion. Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. And if the answer is ‘no,’ keep asking until someone says ‘yes.’ Whalen suggests future businesspersons to remind themselves, “I’ve got this. I can do this. And say it every day.”

Please be sure to check out Whalen’s fine creations at www.rippinkittenhats.com and on Facebook at Rippin Kitten Hats. Whalen can be contacted at: kat@rippinkittenhats.com.