By Hayden Seder
Local hat maker Jytte (pronounced “you-tay”) Mau has been making her signature Merino-wool beanies for 20 years for local organizations and events like Sun Valley Company, City of Ketchum, Hailey Turkey Trot, Boulder Mountain Tour, sports teams, wedding parties, and heli-ski companies.
But she is likewise well known outside the Wood River Valley for making hats for National Geographic expeditions, Arctic explorers and, most recently, Expedition 48, an expedition of astronauts departing from Kazakhstan to the International Space Station.
The Canadian hat designer, who has lived in the Valley for 46 years and is known by her first name, almost dismissed the opportunity to work in space as a joke email.
“But then I got a phone call a few days later from Houston and thought, ‘Maybe I’d better answer this’,” she said.
The call was from the email’s author, American astronaut Anne McClain, who had worn the beanies while working as an instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS).
Now, she was interested in custom hats for herself and her fellow astronauts, personalized with their home country’s flag.
McClain, who is originally from Sandpoint, will be joined on the expedition by Canadian astronaut David Saint Jacques and Russian astronaut Oleg Kononenko.
Today, each crew member of Expedition 48 and their families have been outfitted with JYTTE custom hats.
Born in Denmark before immigrating to Canada with her family as a little girl, Jytte grew up in a strict European family where “work ethic was ingrained, manners were not questioned and knitting was a rite of passage.”
Jytte knit in her free time growing up and would continue to knit even as she started backcountry and heli-skiing in British Columbia and then became a professional skier featured in many of Dick Barrymore’s ski movies.
From her experience in the ski industry, Jytte shifted into designing and developing product for companies like Salomon, Swix, Descente, Demetre, Burton, Wigwam, Marmot and Mountain Hardware. While working for Wigwam socks and traveling from Hailey to Wisconsin, Jytte utilized the opportunity to make her previously hand-sewn hats with some commercial machines.
“I realized I didn’t want to work as a consultant anymore in the corporate world,” Jytte said.
She decided to make a go of it in Hailey, building a 5,000-square-foot factory in 1998 in what is now The Hunger Coalition building. She purchased several European CNC knitting machines, sourced the finest Merino wool out of Australia, worked with domestic dye houses and created the only knitting mill in the state of Idaho.
During the 10 years she was in her first factory, Jytte put energy into the retail market, going to trade shows, creating product catalogues and employing 15 people. But after moving into her new facility in the Hailey airport industrial park, she decided to pull back a bit.
“I moved away from retail and focused entirely on the custom program,” Jytte said. “We have such a big following already.”
Jytte now has only two part-time employees who help her hand-finish each hat in her 3,500-square-foot factory.
Staying local and true to the original values of the company are evident in every step of Jytte’s company. From using domestic spinning and dye houses to recycling fabric scraps to simply being involved and speaking to every customer, JYTTE is a company creating a positive impact through and through.
“The carbon footprint is really important to me,” Jytte said. “I’ve had companies try to take me offshore but I won’t do it. We’re always trying to think of ways to make a positive impact on our mountain community and the environment at all stages of production.”
The excess remnants in the factory are remade into cat and dog beds and donated to rescue shelters and clinics across the country. Fabric remnants are often repurposed as cat toys or original limited-run products like teddy bears, pouches or fingerless mittens. Jytte says that her factory only throws out about half a bag of garbage a week.
From concept to design, Jytte prides herself on creating a special product that will last forever and comes from the heart.
“There is no other company where you can talk to the person who actually is designing your product,” Jytte said. “Every one of these hats has an amazing story to them.”