When Andie Cohen-Healy found herself relocating to the West Coast to be with the man she loved, she never expected it would lead her to an entirely new career. When she and her new husband were gifted a few chickens she decided to use their feather plumes in her wedding headpiece. The result was a total hit and slowly became a side hustle, creating fascinators, hats and headpieces for parties and weddings. When one of her hats made it onto The Today Show she knew it was time to leave her career in television to pursue The Feathered Head full time. Today the Altadena, California-based entrepreneur finds joy in designing her unique, one-of-a-kind creations and making women feel beautiful inside and out.
Cohen-Healy’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
The Feathered Head is a small entrepreneurial business and my passion. I design, curate and sell one-of-a-kind bridal and party (cocktail, black tie, holiday, derby, performance) headpieces & vintage hats incorporating feathers, vintage jewelry and unusual elements. I sell at markets and specialty shows (i.e. Disney Dapper Day, Bloomingdales Pre-Wedding Party, Burlesque Hall of Fame, etc), Museum stores (ie FIDM, Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising LA), through private commissions and my e-commerce site.
I did what most people only dream about to find happiness – I found my true passion and “next chapter” in the most backhanded, crazy way possible and did a complete 180 in my life. I went from television executive to vintage hat/headpiece artisan and couldn’t be happier. I was the Director of Transmission at MTV Networks and gave up everything I had known for 20 years in NYC and moved to LA for the man I loved. We bought a house near Pasadena & I freaked out when we were gifted 2 baby chicks from the sellers (I’m from NYC…what the ^&*+% do I know about chickens?). But I fell madly in love with them, and our flock soon grew to 5. My now-husband and I got engaged, planned our wedding but, as a later in life bride, I felt too smart and old to wear a pouffy standard bridal veil. I also wanted to incorporate our beloved chickens into our wedding. Solution? Make an alternative bridal headpiece out of our hens’ gorgeous, naturally molted feathers. People went crazy over the plumed fascinator and began requesting similar ones. I recognized the current backyard chicken craze, feather-mania and headpiece resurgence so timing was perfect.
Though I was no longer working at MTV once I moved to LA , I was still in the satellite field in Sales & Operations as 9-5 “day” job. “The Feathered Head” emerged as a side business. I took it very seriously. I used all my advertising, marketing and customer service skills to grow my little business. One hat creation made it to The Today Show during the first Royal Wedding week and was worn on a Kathie Lee & Hoda segment — it became the turning point. I knew then I could do this for real. As success grew, I became so passionate about The Feathered Head that I took a total leap of faith, quit my soul-sucking, though relatively well-paying, day job and have been dedicated to The Feathered Head full time since.
I am in the business of making women feel beautiful, inside and out! The impact I make may seem subtle but it’s incredibly powerful. When I design a headpiece or help a woman to find her perfect hat, I am encouraging her confidence and power to go beyond “oh, I could never wear that”. It’s amazing to see the look in someone’s eyes when they connect with fashion fabulousness! I celebrate my clients’ individuality and in doing so, elevate my own understanding of people.
Some tips for other women considering an entrepreneurial career change later in life would include encouraging them to incorporate the skills from their past (current) jobs so they’re not starting from scratch, and reminding them that they’re probably going to have to take a few steps back (if they’ve achieved a high level in their careers) and that’s OK! It may involve a few hard knocks if you’ve defined yourself by your old title but that re-definition is part of the process. Another tip is to really try to define and refine what is is you want in a new entrepreneurial career? What didn’t work in the last one? What did? What are you passionate about? Lastly, I would encourage lots of networking in the new field and engagement on social media.
I would tell my younger self to be deeply grateful for all the oddball things fate is throwing in your way and PAY ATTENTION to them! Be thankful that you know you have the confidence to take smart and bold risks!
In my growth towards true leadership, I’ve learned to be a much better listener. When I was younger, I mostly listened to what was being said – literally. It wasn’t until I matured that I realized most of what is meaningful is what is NOT being said. It’s body language and nuance. This has allowed me to be more observant of my clients desires even when they are not sure themselves. I’m more comfortable “reading” people in this way and drawing on my instincts and impressions. One of my favorite compliments was “how did you know I wanted this when I didn’t even it myself?”
I will never make a million dollars selling fascinators, vintage hats, headbands and bridal veils. But my definition of success has never been about that. I succeed when a bride-to-be cries in my studio because she can’t believe how beautiful she looks. I succeed when a shy woman who normally wants to recede into the background tries on a giant brimmed hat and laughs hysterically with joy, confidence and fun. I succeed when someone tells me that I have the best collection they have ever seen and that they “would literally crawl out from under a rock” to attend one of my shows. I am attempting to put beauty and fun out into the world – things we surely need at this time.
Our biggest success to date is a toss up between being chosen to submit vintage hats and headpieces to the esteemed FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising) Museum Store in conjunction with their Emmys & Oscars exhibits. Second would probably be my participation in Bloomingdales Pre-Wedding Party event in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
The biggest ongoing challenge in my business centers around balancing the tasks of being my own boss. I often have to do 17 different jobs, 15 of which I have to teach myself just before I attempt the task. As a one-woman business, I do everything including creating the pieces, marketing, popup shops, website admin, photo shooting & editing, copywriting, social medial, product sourcing, etc. Determining where my time should be spent to best streamline my business is a constant question; should I learn a task or hire someone? Be completely hands on or delegate? I AM my product and brand so it’s very hard to hand anything off and not be a control freak. However, this is not always the best use of my time. The ever-present lament of the solo-preneur/entrepreneur! Additionally, scaling up is a challenge because if I get too big, I may lose the personal touch that is so critical to my definition of success. I could license my designs but that leaves me a bit cold. So right now I am trying to figure out how to grow without losing what is essential to me, and that is my one-on-one relationship with my clients.
My mother is my role model. She started her own business when she was in her late 40s as well. With zero training, she grew it and was selling her vintage jewelry to some of the most prestigious fashion boutiques. She is in her 80s and still doing it! I hope that will be me, too!