Biochemist turned headwear designer Tina Madsen-Walcott sells around 300,000 hats a year in Australia. Add to that making and distributing hats to companies in Denmark, South Africa and the United States – and soon Israel and the United Arab Emirates – and Tina is a juggernaut in the fashion industry. She’s designed a hat for Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark, and worked in partnership with Danish model, Helena Christensen. Tina, too, is tall and striking in appearance. Her creative thinking stands out in her personal and business life, and it quickly becomes apparent that she has a wonderful eye for clothes, design and décor. Yet this Central Coast-based woman, originally from Denmark, is both warm and humble.
Tina also flies under the radar with her parent company Rigon Headwear, which she owns with husband Peter Walcott.
The pair started Rigon Headwear 22 years ago and have four warehouses in West Gosford. One of their main clients is the Australian Cancer Council, for which they’ve been the licensee for the past decade. That means Rigon Headwear makes every Cancer Council hat (all of which are UPF 50), and every time you buy one, 10 per cent of the purchase price supports cancer research.
Tina and Peter moved to Green Point from Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs 15 years ago to buy a warehouse. They also have a showroom at their West Gosford premises for Christine Headwear, designed for cancer patients who’ve lost their hair. The elegant scarves and turbans come in a range of botanical prints and bold colours.
Also under Rigon Headwear are the boutique but affordable labels Before Dark and Tina M Copenhagen. All of the hats are handmade, with materials including raffia from Madagascar,
which is sent to Korea to be crocheted. The hats are then shaped in China, although the always forward-thinking Tina plans on starting production on the Central Coast. If that doesn’t keep her busy enough, she is currently working on another range for the Australian outback, teaming up with Aboriginal designers who receive the royalties.
On top of that, she has recently created Evoke Headwear with a new material called Flexibraid. It’s aimed at golfers but the hats suit anyone who’s active outdoors.
‘These hats, not only do they look fabulous on, you can totally squash them in your bag, you can wear them in the water, swim underwater … they are just amazing,’ Tina says.
As for the hat for Crown Princess Mary, it was a gift during one of her royal visits to Australia. ‘Being Danish doing hats, I thought, “Why not?”, Tina recalls. ‘We presented the hat via the Danish embassy and Mary wore it on many occasions during her visit … sometimes the stars do line up.’
So how does all of this come about from a biochemist? Having always loved fashion and colours, Tina was convinced to switch to millinery and headwear design by her husband who was in the industry. After they had their two daughters (now 15 and 20), working together made sense.
‘It’s one of those things, it lands in your lap and you run with it, I guess,’ she says. ‘I love being creative. I’ve always had that part of my brain working so for me, yes, it’s very enjoyable.’
Tina’s passion and drive for her business is admirable, as is her attitude to fitting in plenty of downtime, which includes yoga and beach walks with her dogs. She thrives on creating hygge (a Danish term for a cosy, welcoming home environment), but also loves to travel and spend time on the water.
‘Boating is a great passion for our family and we are fortunate to have a boat so we use it as often as we can on weekends. ‘Our children love to join us to relax and to do various forms of water sports.’
This work/life balance surely plays a huge role in Rigon Headwear’s success, but on a more obvious level Tina attributes it to constantly looking outside the box. ‘I think the key for our success is that we have different labels, we have different brands,’ she says. ‘We’re just sort of innovative in how we do it.’
That innovation keeps them creative and they have another secret collaboration in the pipeline, but you’ll have to stay tuned to hear more.