Written by Susan Marquez / Photography by Hunter Norris

With long curly locks spilling out from the western-style hat atop her head, Mary Landrum Pyron is a perfect mixture of old-world manners and modern sensibilities. She wears a heavy canvas work apron over a simple cotton dress. There is no doubt Mary Landrum is at home in her workshop in a hayloft of a barn in the middle of nowhere outside Crystal Springs, Mississippi. “I grew up here,” she says. “And now I live here again, in a small house next to my parents’ home, the house where I grew up.” 

Mary Landrum is a professional hatmaker and owner of ML Provisions. It’s her full-time job, and it’s one she is comfortable doing, despite the physical pressures it puts on her body. “It really is a full body workout,” she says as she goes from station to station, explaining each step in the process of making a custom felt hat. 

“Felt is a man-made fiber created when natural fibers are compressed and matted together,” she explains. In the case of her hats, the natural fibers come from either one hundred percent beaver fur, or a fifty-fifty blend of beaver and rabbit. The raw material, for Mary Landrum, is a felt hat form with a tall, rounded top and a wide floppy brim. To size the hats, she places a wooden block inside, measuring anywhere from six and a half inches to eight inches. “I’ve stretched one to eight and a quarter,” she says. The hat then goes onto a huge cast iron contraption called a finger blocker. “This piece of equipment was made in 1860,” she says. “It weighs 1260 pounds.” Getting it into the hayloft was a challenge, but once it was in place, Mary Landrum says she couldn’t imagine her life without it. “It’s been a game changer for me.”

As she places the hat onto the ring of brass “fingers,” the hat is enveloped in a burst of steam to help it retain the size. “I have to let these dry overnight,” she says, pointing to several hats on the floor. She then goes through several more steps, from sanding the hat, ironing the top to create a crisp brim break, then, after deciding if the hat will have a round or long oval shape, she adds the band block. 

The hat then goes on a plater. “It’s like a hat oven,” explains Mary Landrum. “Afterwards I cut the brim. Ladies’ hats usually have a three to three-and-a-half-inch brim, while men’s western hats have a four to four-and-a-half-inch brim. She uses a palm sander to put a nice, finished edge on the brim. 

Next the sweatband is sewn in, each bearing a small “Made in Mississippi” tag. “That’s important to me,” Mary Landrum emphasizes. “The company’s slogan is ‘Inspired by the West, Made in the South.’”  

So how does one become a hatmaker? It’s not a “normal” job. It’s certainly not something Mary Landrum thought about doing when she was in college. “I went to Ole Miss along with my brother, sister and cousins. We were all there at the same time and I loved it. I always knew I’d do something creative, and I knew I was inspired by the outdoors and nature.” Mary Landrum majored in hospitality management. “I thought I would do political event planning in Washington, D.C.” 

The day after she graduated from college, Mary Landrum loaded up her Four Runner and drove to Encampment, Wyoming to work as an expedition chef and caterer at a guest ranch. “It took thirty minutes to get to the top of the gravel driveway there – it was like a ghost town. My father told me it was OK to go home.” 

But Mary Landrum stayed, and she loved living in Wyoming. “It was like college, but without the schoolwork,” she laughs. “If you love the outdoors, it’s a great place to be. It is so beautiful there.” Daily activities included horseback riding, fishing, hiking and exploring. “That is where my passion for hats was born.” She worked at the ranch for three seasons, also picking up hours working in the ski shop. 

In her fourth year there, she took a job with a florist/event rental company. “It wasn’t what I thought it would be, “ she recalls. “After a day of polishing 500 forks and 500 knives for an event, I started looking for something else to do.” 

A lady in town had just started her own hat-making business and she put Mary Landrum to work. “I learned a lot from working there for a year and a half. I even learned to make hats from the same man she learned from. But after a while, I realized I was making the hats, and she was making the money. But that’s OK, because I believe that each opportunity I’ve had has led to the next thing in my life.” 

The next step for Mary Landrum was to make a move back to Mississippi. “I told my parents I wanted to come back to Crystal Springs and make hats. They didn’t quite understand it. I started buying hat making equipment in January 2021 with the plan of finishing out my lease in Wyoming and getting in as much fly fishing as possible before I had to leave.”

It took from April to July to fix up the 175-year-old barn and set up her workshop before she made her first hat under her own brand. “We put in magnolia countertops, which I really love. I like antique and vintage things, and I wanted a cozy environment.” While it is definitely a working shop, there is a welcoming feeling. With a comfy couch and chairs, visitors are encouraged to stay a while and relax. One area of the loft has hats of all colors and sizes, ready for customization. A large wooden table has dozens of feathers, bowls of ribbon, and assorted trinkets that can be incorporated into a hat. Several small branding irons allow a hat to be further customized with its own small brand. A massive vintage oil painting of a well-dressed gentleman holding a hat to his side hangs high on the far wall, looking down over the shop. “It was hanging in the antebellum home next door when my parents bought it. Supposedly it’s a portrait of the second owner of this barn. I told my mom he has a hat in his hand, so he was going to the hat shop. I thought he would fit in perfectly here.”

With a growing custom business, Mary Landrum no longer ships hats. Instead, customers come to her so she can ensure one hundred percent customer satisfaction. “They may measure their own head different from the way I measure. I want to be sure the hat fits them just right.” People travel to her shop from all over the country. “They come in one day and we find the hat that fits their head in the color they want, then we sit down and talk about the style they want and the trim. I typically have the hat ready to go the same day.” As she takes a hat off the wall, Mary Landrum points out the detailing. “Most have a pencil roll in the back. That’s shows it’s a custom hat.” With a wink, she adds, “I like a dip in the front.” 

Many of her clients will bring things to be incorporated into their hat. From family jewelry to feathers from a memorable hunt, she’s seen all kinds of things. “Just this week I added parts of a denim pearl snap shirt that belonged to a client’s husband, and a woman from Georgia asked that I add a strip of her baby blanket that her grandmother made. I have added turkey spurs, duck bands and one grandmother who brought her granddaughter in for a hat added her own special touch. She wrote a message inside the hat that will be there for years to come.”

Her intuitive nature, attention to detail and passion for what she does have all led to Mary Landrum’s success. Despite not having a marketing plan, ML Provisions is successful beyond her dreams. “I have never paid a dime for advertising,” she says. “My goal starting out was to make four hats a month.” She has far exceeded that goal. Mary Landrum called on relationships she made growing up during summers spent at Camp DeSoto in Mentone, Alabama, and friends from Ole Miss. “I grew up skiing and had a lot of friends in that world as well.” She utilized social media and has gained a huge following on her Instagram page. 

Her business continues to grow and Mary Landrum hires locals when she needs extra help. She has big plans for ML Provisions, which may include doing something special with the antebellum home next door the barn on her family’s land. “I have lots of ideas,” she says. 

In the meantime, she is content in the hayloft, where she not only makes custom hats that will surely become heirlooms one day, but she hosts different groups. “We’ve had business retreats here, team building activities, I had some doctors who treated their nurses to a custom hat, and we’ve even had a few garden clubs visit.” 

An ML Provisions hat has become a status symbol of sorts among people who admire custom made items. “I have had a lot of repeat customers, which is so gratifying to me. That alone validates what I am doing. I always say you come in as a customer and leave as a friend. I hope I can make hats for a long time to come.”

The best way to reach Mary Landrum is through her Instagram page, @MLProvisions or via her website,