‘When I was younger,’ Georgia recalls, a mischievous smirk rolling out across her face, ‘I insisted on wearing anything I wanted. Colourful shirts. Vibrant pants. Mismatched socks. Polka-dotted rubber boots. Whatever fit my mood.’ She continues: ‘There’s an old family portrait where we’re all dressed in formal clothes and I’m positioned off in the corner – visibly displeased. On the back of the photo is my mom’s succinct caption: ‘Georgia pouting because she couldn’t pick out her outfit.’’ Letting out a wholesome laugh, Georgia adds: ‘That basically sums me up.’ 

A free spirit, then. Independent thinker. Aspiring fashion icon. And, as I’m beginning to find out during my chat with this Cambridge- based milliner about her emergent business aspirations and successes, a determined entrepreneur too. Let’s get into it. 

It’s a Wednesday morning in later August, just a few days after this past summer’s installment of Riverfest Elora, and Georgia McNab and I are straight up loungin’ in her spacious factory studio located on the main floor of Galt’s historic Ray Electric (now the Classic Shoe) Building. Yes, loungin’. Because that’s what anyone visiting Georgia at her place of work will almost certainly feel inclined – destined, even – to do. Everything about the space is relaxed. Groovy. Comfortable. From the floating rattan chair hanging by a chain attached to the ceiling to the propagation station-turned-chandelier floating above our heads to the eye-popping shag carpet and cowhide-print lounger and velvet-covered couch with cowboy-boot shaped throw pillows, every angle of Georgia’s studio exudes groovy vibes – every perspective offers a panoply of psychedelic delights. 

‘Almost everything in here was either thrifted or found,’ Georgia tells me as my eyes dart around the space. My gaze shifts from the wild furniture to an accent wall where I note about a half dozen brimmed hats of various styles and colours hanging between framed examples of tattoo flash, miniature western boots, a cartoon portrait of a cowgirl, and other alluring chachkies perfectly suited to a space like this. ‘Except the hats,’ Georgia adds, ‘I made those.’ 

Ah yes, the hats. The reason I’m here. And the reason you’re sure to be scouring Georgia’s business Instagram profile, @_offtheblock_, once you’ve finished reading this feature. Because whether or not you’ve ever thought of yourself as a ‘hat person’, there’s something about Georgia’s handcrafted custom specimens that makes a person want to try one on – to pair it with an outfit, wear it on the town, flex it at a festival, bring it out to the bar. 

Case in point: me. Before discovering Georgia’s hats (at a pop-up booth at the St Jacobs Farmers’ Market – a fantastic place for discovery), I would never have dreamed of pulling off a full-brimmed hat. I’m more of a toque kinda guy. And yet when I first laid eyes on Georgia’s creations at the Market, and then visited her studio for this story, I knew that I needed one. And so I was quick to place my order (as was my TOQUE Partner, Cai, and our significant others, too). And now I rock my Off The Block creation whenever I have the chance: at Riverfest Elora, on hikes with the dogs, to ward off the rain, as an everyday addition to my wardrobe. A bit of flash. A gorgeous, striking barricade against the doldrums lurking everywhere. 

‘It makes me feel like a superhero,’ I laugh to Georgia as I describe the sensation I get when donning my Off The Block creation – a bone-coloured Cattleman-style hat with subtle curved brim. ‘That’s exactly it,’ she replies with a grin, ‘there’s just something about wearing a nice hat that breeds confidence – and turns heads too.’ Indeed, Georgia’s hats – which are increasingly modeled by a gaggle of millennial personalities in her hometown of Cambridge – are grabbing much local attention. And international scrutiny, too, thanks in part to an area influencer with global clout who modeled a rhinestone-appointed Off The Block hat on her feed of several million followers. As Georgia recounts: ‘I made a hat for Sarah Landry [@thebirdspapaya] when she attended the Boots and Hearts music festival a couple years back. After she posted herself wearing the hat, I gained at least a thousand followers overnight.’ And new customers from all over Canada and all across the States, too – from New York City to Los Angeles, San Francisco to Texas. 

And as if having The Birds Papaya sport one of her hats wasn’t enough, this past summer Georgia fitted The Sheepdogs with custom hats for the Meadows Music Festival in Fergus. So how did this all happen, anyway? After all, it’s not every day that someone decides to become a professional milliner. ‘It certainly didn’t happen overnight,’ she tells me. ‘In fact,’ Georgia continues, ‘my journey to this business took me from my hometown [of Cambridge] all the way across the country and back.’ There was a stint in college at Humber after high school where Georgia started a journalism degree in hopes of founding a fashion magazine. Then a sojourn out west where she achieved a degree in fashion design and management at Vancouver’s Blanche Macdonald Centre. Then back to Ontario where Georgia completed a course in millinery at George Brown College. What drove her forward: a passion for fashion and design, wherever it led. 

‘After George Brown,’ Georgia tells me, ‘I knew that I wanted to become a milliner. In fact, I’m the only one in my millinery class who decided to give it a go.’ And so Georgia worked to save up enough money for all of the appropriate kit and by 2021 she was experimenting with her first hats. By April 2022 she found this space in the Classic Shoe Building, and in May 2022 she opened her doors here. ‘Right now,’ Georgia notes, ‘we’re open by appointment only. Because each of the hats I make are custom orders, it’s important that every customer who’s able to travel to the studio receives one- on-one time to figure out exactly what they expect their hat to deliver.’ 

I peer past Georgia to her work bench just beyond our seating area and note various samples of felt in appealing hues: bone (like what we chose for my hat), mustard, sahara, pecan, and more. All around the bench, various tools of Georgia’s trade are neatly arranged. Various sized hat blocks – made from solid wood and shaped like the tops of people’s heads. An industrial sewing machine – to attach each hat’s leather inner brim to its outer felt ‘shell.’ An iron to finesse every hat’s shape. A burn pen for optional custom imagery (like tattoos – but on a hat). A blowtorch to clean up each hat’s felt fibers. And a lot of other cool stuff, too. 

Along one wall in the studio I note an impressive collection of fantastic string and lace and leather strips and twine. ‘Those are what I use to assemble each hat’s band,’ Georgia tells me, adding: ‘I’ve collected them from all sorts of places – ripping them out of vests and dresses, sourcing them from discounted ribbon bins, scouring Value Village. Besides the colour and style of each hat,’ she continues, ‘brims can really speak to the personality – as well as the hair, complexion, and eye colour – of each customer.’ Next to these materials, on a small table positioned under a large mirror, a tray of the most unique materials – from Moroccan amethyst to thulite from Yukon to bits of dinosaur bone – catches my eye. ‘We can incorporate almost anything into the bands for further individuality,’ Georgia remarks. Beside this tray of wonderfully eclectic materials, a handful of sample hats – some colourful and funky, others more subdued – are positioned for customers to try on, to get a sense of what suits them and their tastes. ‘Customers use these for inspiration,’ Georgia remarks – picking up a pinched brim cowboy hat off the table and twirling it in her hand. 

Inspiration – it’s certainly something not lacking in this space. Nor from Georgia herself. Indeed, I find it hard to believe that she is ever anything but inspired. When I ask her about future plans for the business, Georgia’s quick to reply: ‘I’d love to host ‘sip and shops’ at the studio, and hat-making parties too. Down the line,’ she adds, ‘a bricks and mortar storefront would be awesome too.’ For hats. And for silversmithed items, which stem from a hobby Georgia has recently picked up. And, as if that’s not enough, she’s recently opened a selfie studio, Dawn Daze, in downtown Galt mere blocks from her Off The Block space. And there are more ideas to come. ‘I’ve never been a miniature version of myself,’ Georgia tells me. ‘I’ve always been a bold personality with unique dreams. I want everyone to be able to find their own boldness and uniqueness – their inspired self. And I think that a sweet hat can get them at least halfway there.’ 

I’m more than inclined to agree.