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Interview: Teraysa Grasty and her fabulous faux fur hats

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"If you don't mind me asking, what's your weight and height?"

It's not something I expect a woman who designs faux fur hats to ask. But when I tell Teraysa Grasty that I'm not sure what size hat I wear, this is the question she poses to me. Using my information (you didn't think I'd share that here, did you?), she calculates that I'm a small/medium.

"I've been doing this for a long time," Grasty says with a laugh.

Grasty is the designer and maker of a hat line called Wear With Attitude. (In addition to being sold via her website and Etsy, she also has a display at Green With Envy, 1111 Central Ave.) Available in a variety of colors (from hot pink to blond) and designs (the Cozy Mo, for example, sport fur going down the center of the hat, resembling a Mohawk) for men and women, each hat is made of faux fur and lined inside with warm fleece. It's not only a fashion statement, but during these winter months, it truly serves a function.

The magic happens in the dining room of her apartment in South Charlotte, but Grasty's been melding fabric and fur together since 2003. That was the first year she attended Burning Man, the annual event dedicated to community, art and radical self-expression that attracts tens of thousands to Nevada's Black Rock Desert.

Grasty says Burning Man is what inspired her to make the hats, which she specifically makes for desert weather. When she started selling them on Etsy in 2006, it was the Burners who were, and still are, her target market. Beginning months before the late-summer event, she gets inundated with orders and says she eventually ends up sleeping on a "nap-only schedule."

"These hats are designed to wear late at night — it gets cold, like 40 degrees — in the desert, at a giant dance club that's outdoors. The idea was to wear a skimpy bikini, hat and boots. You're dancing, but you have on this hat that's holding in the heat," she says. "That is my core customer base. The people that are like, 'I actually love this, and I don't care if people stare at me. I don't care if it's in style. I'm just going to enjoy it.'"

But faux fur is certainly in style right now, popping up in malls and big box stores like Target. (Grasty says she thinks it's natural to be attracted to fur. "It's tactile, it's soft and cuddly. Plus, I think when you see it in different colors, it's exciting.") So much so that Grasty says manufacturers in China are copying her designs and selling them for cheap. She admits she's frustrated, but also says that she's passionate about what she's doing, even if it never becomes a business that sustains her. Because of that, she's gone back to school to finish her degree, hoping ultimately to be a psychotherapist, and also works three part-time jobs.

"I've had a hard time over the years trying to make a go in this business by myself without really any capital," she says. "I still sell a lot. I sold 20 hats in December, all mail orders on my site and through Etsy. As opposed to buying them in any of the stores, you can pick out the color that you want, the style and the size."

Despite some disappointment, the excitement in her voice about faux fur fashion is still evident. More than anything, she thinks people are becoming more open-minded about style and not afraid to stand out a little.

"It's kind of like the concept of big hair. Think about it: Everybody loves big hair. Why do we love big hair, I don't know. Some people think it makes your butt look smaller, the bigger your hair is. We don't know why. But it's certainly a thing of glamour. I think that you put these hats on people and it makes them feel more glamorous, or even funny or unique."

Sure enough, when my new hat arrives — light pink faux fur, with ears! — I'm completely enchanted. What's more, Grasty's calculations about my head size were spot-on. It really does fit like, well, a hat should.

Grasty's faux fur hats can be purchased at www.wearwithattitude.com, www.etsy.com/shop/mspresto or at Green With Envy.

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