Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:44 PM
Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 11:53 AM
Floyette Waller's hats are as Texan as Friday night football. Stick around through halftime, and you'll almost certainly see a few.
Floyette Waller, 90, helped great-granddaughter Madison Feik after she burned herself while making hats with the family. Mrs. Waller has been creating hats for high school drill teams for more than 40 years. Three generations help her run Floyette Originals.
Mrs. Waller, 90, has been making hats for high school drill teams for more than 40 years in the garage of her Oak Cliff home. She is kept in business, she said, by a force more powerful than any recession.
"I always say that everybody goes to bed at night and makes more kids - and that means more drill teams," she said. "That's what keeps us going."That and help from three generations of her family.
BRANDON THIBODEAUX/Special Contributor
The Poteet High School Varsity Belles drill team of Mesquite is among Floyette Originals' 655 clients.
Her son Larry, 57, blocks the hats. Daughter Lonnette Horak, 64, takes the orders. Granddaughters Tracee Feik, 38, Jennifer Stewart, 31, and Leeann Tietz, 42, and great-granddaughter Nicole Tietz, 17, size the hats and decorate them with sequins.
The company, Floyette Originals, has 655 clients, most of them Texas high schools, stretching from the Red River to the Rio Grande.
BRANDON THIBODEAUX/Special Contributor
Junior Lt. Molly Johnson and the Varsity Belles practice in their hats in the parking lot of Poteet High School in Mesquite. 'They're very visual, especially when they're white,' director Kristy Turns said of the hats. 'Every head pop, every turn, every move really stands out.'
With football season set to begin this week, business is in high-steppin' form.
Family members, and a handful of other employees, work six-day weeks, sometimes 10-hour days, preparing caps for the Red Oak Hawkettes, Mansfield Gold Dusters, South Garland Dixie Darlings, Killeen Kangarettes, Weatherford Blue Belles, West Mesquite Lariettes and Grapevine Fabulous Fillies. To name just a few.
Leeann Tietz, Floyette Waller's granddaughter, carries off a set of finished hats to be packaged. Business is booming for Floyette Originals as football season draws near.
It makes for crowded conditions in the converted two-car garage, on a residential street just southeast of Kiest Park.
On this particular day, family and nonfamily employees jostled together in the narrow work space made more crowded by racks of hats ready for sizing, finishing or shipping.
Linda Villarreal puts the finishing touches on a hat at Mrs. Waller's home. Family members and others work six-day weeks getting the hats just right.
Some workers sat on benches applying sequins with glue guns while others sized the hats or packed them in boxes.
"Fortunately, we're a very close family and we love each other," Leeann Tietz said with a laugh.
Though no figures are available, the family believes that Floyette Originals, as one of the few such companies in the country, manufactures the vast majority of drill team hats in Texas.
Kristi Beaty still has her Floyette cap from when she was a member of the Duncanville High Hats in the 1980s. Now the team's director, she swung by Mrs. Waller's house this month to pick up an order in time for this year's team photo. This time, she knew where to look.
"The first time I came, I had trouble finding it. They're so well known among drill teams, I thought it must be a big factory, but it's just a house, and I'd drive right past it," Ms. Beaty said.
Mrs. Waller started in the millinery business six decades ago. "We made $5 a week and we worked until the floors were clean," she said.
One day, she came to work and noticed that none of her fellow employees were around.
"I was so naive, I didn't know what a strike was," Mrs. Waller said. "I was the only one left in the building, so the manager taught me everything. That's how I got my start."
In time, she set up her own millinery business. It flourished until the early 1960s, when it was felled by the bouffant menace.
"When bouffants came in, women didn't want to wear hats on top of all that hair, and the hat business went out," Mrs. Waller said.
Fortunately, it was about that time that drill teams began to grow in popularity.
Among Mrs. Waller's oldest customers is Greenville High School, which is about as steady a client as any drill team cap company can have.
The Greenville Flaming Flashes claim to be the oldest drill team in the world, founded in 1929 by Gussie Nell Davis, who would later go on to found the Kilgore College Rangerettes.
In the 1960s, when the Greenville uniforms were redesigned to include hats, they came from Floyette Originals, said team director Lori L. Butler.
She ordered 55 this year - plain hats for the team members, sequined for the officers.
"Floyette Originals are flashy and they're elegant at the same time. I've seen hats on other schools, and they just don't have that style," Ms. Butler said.
Kristy Turns, director of the Poteet High School Varsity Belles in Mesquite, said hats are an important part of any drill team routine.
"They're very visual, especially when they're white. Every head pop, every turn, every move really stands out," she said.
When Mrs. Waller decides to retire, there will be no shortage of family members to take her place. But, for now, they will have to wait.
"I have no intention of quitting," she said. "I'll make hats until I can't make hats anymore. I wouldn't mind it if I died on the factory floor."
Click here to see the article on the WFAA website: http://www.wfaa.com/news/local/64519027.html