Julio Freitas, The Flower Hat

Wearing Many Hats:  A Montana grower uses a quirky accessory to inspire his business

When you meet Julio Freitas, there is a good chance he will be wearing a floral hat. He owns several of them but the first—a black baseball cap with bright red flowers—is his favorite. It was a gift from a friend as a nod to his passion for floral design.

Freitas wore the hat so often that it became his calling card as well as the source of inspiration for his business venture, The Floral Hat.

“It started as a joke,” he recalls. “But it stuck. People know the flower hat. Just this summer, I had four brides say, ‘I was wondering which hat you’re going to wear to my wedding.’”

The Flower Hat is a farm and floral design business based in Bozeman, Montana which Freitas started in 2014. But his flower design career started long before he started his collection of colorful, blossom-bearing hats.

Hotels to Cafés to Weddings

Freitas began creating floral arrangements for the hotel where he worked as a front office manager. The lobby, he explained, needed flowers and no one else was stepping up to tackle the task; he decided it’d be a chance to marry his left-brained job with a little right-brained creativity.

Although he had no formal training in floral design, Freitas had obvious talent. The reactions to his arrangements inspired him to seek out opportunities to practice his newfound passion. In 2012, he offered to design and deliver weekly floral arrangements to a local café, Harper and Madison. To his surprise, the owner agreed.

“People started taking my business cards and I started getting requests to do flowers,” he recalls.

In the beginning, Freitas operated his floral design studio in conjunction with his partner, Shane Kirkham, an interior designer and owner of Kirkham & Company, and created arrangements on the side. 

Interior design clients often contracted Freitas to provide arrangements for their living spaces, complimenting the “wild” feel of his designs, which incorporate bold colors and lots of texture.

As demand grew—and requests expanded to include weddings and special events—Freitas decided to create a separate business and The Flower Hat was born.

Brides are big business for The Flower Hat. Freitas, who started with just one wedding in 2012, designed bouquets, boutonnieres and centerpieces for 43 weddings this summer; the 2017 wedding season is almost booked, and Freitas is looking to expand his staff.

While brides loved his arrangements and Freitas loved the work, there was one thing he did not like about operating a flower business in the Northwest: importing blooms. “It’s so hard to get flowers to Montana,” he explains. “I had friends in the business who were experiencing delays every week.”

To overcome supply chain issues, in 2015 Freitas started growing flowers in a 10 x 20 garden behind his studio. The colorful blooms, which included forget-me-nots, dahlias, anemones, zinnias, snapdragons, sunflowers and scabiosa, did so well that Freitas was able to grow about 20 percent of the flowers he used in his designs. This season, he expanded the garden to 5000 square feet and continues to experiment with new blooms.

Growing Flowers in Big Sky Country

“In Montana, the hardest thing about being a grower is the weather; it can be brutal here,” he says. Some years, snow remains on the ground until April and flakes start falling again as early as September. This summer, nighttime temperatures dropped to 37 degrees in August.

“I look back on early spring and all the struggles it took to get it going, and I didn’t think I would make it,” he recalls. “I was thinking, ‘If I plant the ranunculus too early it will freeze and if I plant it too late it won’t be ready for wedding season.

“I kept going because I hoped all of the hard work would pay off,” he adds. “Knowing—hoping—I would get flowers that would make brides so happy was what kept me going; that is the reason I’m a grower.”

Despite the challenges, Freitas admits there are some advantages to the Montana climate. Thanks to the unusual weather, Freitas can harvest anemones and dahlias at the same time—something growers in most other parts of the world cannot do.

“No one believes I can put both of those flowers in the same arrangement,” he says.

Educating clients about what grows well in Montana (and when different flowers are in season) is a big part of what Freitas wants to accomplish with The Flower Hat. To achieve that, Freitas encourages clients to select flowers based on seasonal availability.

“We want our clients to have the freshest product available,” he explains. “And the freshest product comes from our garden.”
In the midst of expanding his knowledge and skills, Freitas is also making time to celebrate all that he has accomplished with The Flower Hat.

“When you leave a steady paycheck to do your own thing, it’s pretty scary,” he says. “I’m so thankful that people trust us and want our product; that is the thing that I am most proud of.”

Jodi Helmer

Freelance Writer

Jodi Helmer is a freelance writer in North Carolina. Contact her at [email protected]