This is a small company started by two brothers. Neil Levine is
an artist, illustrator and fashion designer, living in San Francisco, California. Rick Levine
is a web designer and software architect for Sun Microsystems' Java Software Division, living in Boulder, Colorado.
Hat Factory was born of necessity and curiosity. Neil Levine spent the last several years designing and selling hats. The
hats ranged from whimsical, fun-to-wear fleece creations to stunning, high-style fashion commissions. He was
searching for a way to expand distribution channels for his work, and still retain creative control.
|They pooled their
and started Hat Factory.
Rick Levine created some of Sun's most successful web offerings,
and has been instrumental in helping Sun to use the web and the 'net to support and run its business. However, he was
concerned that it was becoming increasingly difficult to innovate in the corporate web development
environment. The size and complexity of corporate web organizations work against rapid innovation
and, in some organizations, damp the multi-disciplinary collaboration required to explore new vehicles for
business on the web. Rick wondered, a bit idly, how hard it would be to build a small, self-contained commerce
site "from the ground up" as a stage to try out new e-commerce ideas.
Rick and Neil compared notes. They realized they had a product that might
be sold effectively on the web, some interesting ideas about e-selling that weren't being implemented
elsewhere, and the basic skills they needed to cover the expensive parts of site development. They pooled their lunch money,
and started Hat Factory.
Red Rabbit's Fleece Hats
Hat Factory was created as a showcase for hats that are as much wearable
art as they are functional headgear. The fleece line was born when
designer Neil Levine started experimenting with fleece, not to jump on
the fleece bandwagon, but because fleece is a fabric that lends itself to
describing a variety of sculptural forms and functions beautifully, as a
warm and breathable garment.
At Hat Factory, we want you to stay warm and still be able to express your
inner child: run around, have fun, be big. (However, we do try to have something
for all tastes, even for those of you who don't want to be the center of
attention!) At the heart of our company is the desire to help people be
comfortable, have fun and connect with each other.
Lapin Rouge Couture Hats
There are periods in the history of fashion where hats were a much more
important element in people's wardrobes than they are today. Our designs hark back
to those times. Hats are an expression of
personality and character, an opportunity to stand out in a crowd. In our
couture high style line, to
be premiered in the spring of 1999, we
meld classic sculptural forms with subtle, contrasting combinations of fabric in many
textures and colors. We want these hats to ooze elegance and stop traffic
Hatfactory is a small company. Neil does the hat design, pattern drafting, and prototyping,
and supervises hat construction.
All our manufacturing is done in the US, currently in California, by a small, skilled
group of cottage industry artisans and small soft-goods manufacturers.
We are committed to paying a living wage to those who do
work for us and are dedicated to support ethical business practices with our
vendors as well as our customers. Our motives go beyond making a profit: we want to
make a positive difference in peoples' lives. Two years of consistently successful
vendor relationships and many repeat customers testify that this philosophy
Our hats are built to last. We will not compromise the quality of our
products. Our commitment to quality is made real in our guarantee:
no questions, no time limit, no excuses. If we wouldn't send it to our mother we're not going
to send it to you. And believe us when we say our mother is pretty picky
when it comes to quality!
www.hatfactory.com was created not only to sell a retail product line, but as a test-bed for experimentation
with the basic fabric and tools of the consumer e-commerce experience. Here, we offer a "top 10" from the
guidelines we formulated as we built this site.
||Show your product.
Many of today's web catalogs don't show their product to consumers. People won't buy what they can't see.
Many e-commerce sites currently use small images and poor quality photography. When offered a chance to click on a
thumbnail image for a larger view, the resulting picture is often only a slightly larger snapshot
of the same thing. Pay for professional photography, show more than one view
of a product, and make the presentation hold its own on the page. Describe the product in text, as well, for
customers who prefer verbal over visual description.
||Know your purpose.
Before the first line of copy is written, or any coding
begins, know why you're building a commerce site, how it's going to serve your customers, and how the
e-commerce venture fits with the rest of your business.
Understand your business and your goals. Otherwise, the web is a great way to waste lots of time and
lots of money. Be sure you can answer the question "What business are we in?"
If your audience enjoys your site, they're more likely to revisit it,
and to tell others about you. Make your content interesting, engaging, and entertaining, and people
will spend more time with you. Make them laugh. Teach them. Capture their imagination.
||Give more, take less.
Give something back to your audience. Consider each
page of the site, and make them a gift of an interesting tidbit of knowledge, an engaging graphic,
or a revelation about themselves or the world. With each page impression, you have the potential
to teach, to illuminate and to inspire. If you take advantage of the opportunities, people will expect more
back, and view more of your pages hunting for more value.
||Don't make your customer feel like an idiot.
Bill Cosby had a wonderful
schtick on one of the recordings we listened to when we were kids. It was about accidentally hitting the
windshield wiper switch in a car, and the wipers would flap back and forth saying "dumb guy, dumb guy,
dumb guy," over and over again. All too often, that's what happens to our customers on the web. They follow
vaguely labelled links to unwanted content that could have been clearly marked. They're chastised by "error" messages triggered
by actions they didn't know were wrong.
Design your interfaces to guide people into correct choices, and engineer out
the errors before they make them. They know they're not stupid, and they shouldn't be treated to site design that
makes them wonder if they are.
||Let your customers do things their way.
It doesn't matter how you think people "should" use your site. They'll want to choose their
own path, and they'll get very frustrated with you if you don't let them. If I'm adding a gift card for
Cousin Freddie to my completed order and I remember that I should probably buy a present for Aunt Martha,
let me. Make your site "stateless," in the sense that I can stop what I'm doing at any time and
come back to it later. I should be able to choose when and where I give you basic information, and I
should almost always get a second chance.
Make your information hygiene and policies explicit.
Publish a complete statement detailing the information you collect from customers, what you do with
it, and what choices they have concerning their personal information. Don't weasel-word it, don't hedge
and don't be vague.
Once you've published your information policy, stick to it. If you say you're going to delete their
customer record, do it, and don't hold back a copy in case you change your mind. If you say you'll
answer your mail, answer it. If you say you'll only send one piece of mail, send only one. Even cynical
people take your initial assurances at face value, but they notice real quick when you cheat. Don't do it.
||Sweat the details.
The t-shirt gets it half right: it's all details. People's understanding of the world is shaped as much by little
things as by big things. Usability studies of web sites have shown that people base their judgment of the
veracity and accuracy of a site's content on the fit-and-finish of the site. Spelling, punctuation, grammar,
page layout, readability, image quality, broken links, all have as much impact on your customer's reaction to your site as
the specifics of your product and business. It's not fair, but that's the way peoples' heads work. Spend the time
to make your site as perfect as you can. No excuses.
||Listen to your customers.
All too often, sites are created for very small audiences: usually limited to the site design team or the company web
business manager! You are not your customer! Talk to your customers, listen to their responses, and base your
site and business process design on their needs and feedback. Every interaction you have with a customer, whether
by 'phone, email or in person, is an opportunity to discover how well you're serving their needs. Learn to ask the
opening questions that will get them talking, and then shut up and listen. Don't defend, don't explain: just listen.
(And if you have comments on our site, send 'em in: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
||Ask for help.
Of all the lessons we've learned, asking for help at the right time is one of the hardest to internalize.
We try to do too much, and stretch our meager skills too far. Learn what you're good at, and get help with
the rest of the stuff. Even when you're good at something, learn to ask for feedback and criticism from
people equally skilled, so you mitigate the risk of getting too close to your problems and losing objectivity.
This site would not have been possible without the help of a very wonderful bunch of friends and associates.
In our menagerie, we have: a prominent San Francisco gallery owner, a few high-tech entrepreneurs, a deputy
city attorney, an Ashiatsu master, an internationally famous choreographer, a well-known San Francisco sculptor and
a big-time 'net curmudgeon. To name some names:
Catharine Clark (see the Catharine Clark Gallery online,)
John William Lund,
our collective spirit guides,
the powers that be,
Jesus, Allah, Buddha, that God on the left with the really twisted sense of humor,
The Nevada State Sanitarium for the Criminally Insane,
the whole gang down at the Mary Magdalene Anti-defamation League,
Chris Locke (another plug: subscribe before he does sumpin' rash: Entropy Gradient Reversals),
Jerry Spiegel and Larry Miller at FGK&S, Lori and Marty at PPI, and the whole cookie-loving gang at The Sphere Information
Services. And, last but far from least, Sue, David, Naomi and Sarah.
Our special thanks go out to all of you: we couldn't have done it without your help. (Yeah, yeah, we know: "So sell some hats, already!")
Neil and Rick Levine are the principals in Levine Squared, LLC, a small consultancy with offices in San Francisco
and Boulder, Colorado.
Neil Seth Levine
Neil Seth Levine received his BS in Textile Design from the Philadelphia
College of Textiles & Science in 1983. After designing apparel fabrics in
New York City he moved to the Bay Area where he designed textiles for home
furnishings . He has also done work in the fields of photostyling, graphic
design, logo design, illustration and art direction. As a Painter, his
work has been the focus of several one-man shows in the Bay Area. In
1992 he completed the Dream Theater Mural Project at 1906 Market Street.
Neil has continued his studies in clothing design
and construction, and currently makes his living designing hats and custom
clothing for private clients.
Rick Levine is web architect for the Java Software division of Sun Microsystems.
He is responsible for the creation of much of the current public web
interface for java.sun.com, including the
Java Developer Connection, a free,
registration-based site for Java Developers, currently with more than
750,000 registered members.
Rick has been with Sun for more than 12 years. He started his tenure at Sun
leading a group that created all the desktop software for Sun's experiments
with 386-based workstations, including Sun's first on-line help and
easy-to-use system installation and management software. He spear-headed
the creation of Sun's first usability testing facilities, and pioneered the
integration of human-factors design, usability and visual language
disciplines into Sun's engineering universe.
Rick has been a member of several teams that worked on reinventing and
redesigning Sun's external web presence. He joined the Java group in
mid-1996, served a stint as webmaster of java.sun.com, and has focused his
efforts on driving the creation of web delivery channels that serve both the
business needs of the organization and Sun's customers.
Recently, Rick was one of the authors of
the Information and Content Exchange (ICE) specification, and is Sun's
representative on the ICE authoring group.
Rick is the author of the Sun Guide to Web Style.
Prior to joining Sun, Rick worked for Control Data's PLATO system group, NCR
COMTEN, various smaller companies, and, in ancient pre-history, did a lot of
innovative and sometimes just-plain-off-the-wall film, video and videodisk