Melissa Huff knows her way around a hot glue gun. And feathers. And netting. In fact, there’s not much off the table when it comes to materials for her vibrant seasonal craft…making Derby Hats!

A mother of four with a keen entrepreneurial mind, Melissa has always been a crafty lady. “I just love to make things,” she said, waving her hand at a room of her creations, brought to life in just over a month after she decided to go for a dream & open a seasonal store.

Melissa is a major decorator, with a Christmas tree in just about every room of her house each season, a monogram machine at home, & a long history of making wreaths & other things for the silent auctions at her kids’ school fundraising events. Last year her interest expanded to hats & she took a class at Dee’s in St. Matthews. That was all it took for her to get the wide brimmed bug, & she went on to make & sell thirty hats & fascinators.

This year, with the urging of her husband, she enlisted the help of a village of friends & family to launch a business, affectionately called Mad Hatter 502, after the nickname given to her while spending hours & hours in the throws of creativity in the basement of her family home.

“It was a wild thing that came together all at once & I could never have done it alone,” Melissa said while naming dozens of people who have contributed to her launch. From her cousin Froi Pinili & his wife Danielle, who designed her logo & launched her website, to her friends Sissy & Brad Wilder & their son Brandon, who comes in to help her do everything from load content to the site to naming hats, the business has been a labor of love for many. It’s evident standing in her space talking to her about the process, that this business runs on more than colorful feathers & Derby fever. It is fueled by gratitude & community, a truly refreshing thing to see.

Melissa was born & raised in the Greater Louisville area & has been a resident of the Prospect community for nineteen years. She’s had a rewarding life investing in her children & their schools, where she loved being a room parent, volunteering & doing all she could to help fundraise for the future of education long after her kids, including 17 year old triplets, would move on. Needless to say, this is the first season where she’s had time to elevate a hobby to a business, but now that she’s had a taste, there’s no going back.

After deciding to go all-in with the business, she journeyed to NYC to find suppliers for high quality bases, feathers in bulk, & beautiful moldable fabrics like crinoline to use in her wearable art. She returned home invigorated with ideas & set to work to build an inventory for her seasonal store & other events in the community, like Pearls & Pumps, benefitting the Charles and Mimi Osborn Cancer Center and 3 Park Tower with Baptist Health, & pop-ups at Marriott East.

Like most artists, Melissa has no set formula for her creations. She begins by selecting a hat or fascinator base, considers color palette potential, & then sits among her collection of embellishments & plays with possibilities until the personality of the piece is complete.

After a hat is finished she names them using inspiration from horse racing history, things related to Oaks & Derby, & clever plays on words similar to the popular nail polish company OPI. “Sometimes the names are obvious & sometimes it takes a minute before it pops out at us,” Melissa said with a laugh.

Her packed open house event at the Prospect location on March 28th was thrilling, & she was happy to share the creations of other local artists. Jules by Julie designs join the heavenly hats on each display, suggesting perfect pairings to complete the outfit for your day at the Downs. Her dear friend Gail Corso, who also created the beautiful barrel head logo piece that welcomes guests to the store, has her Designs By Gail line of gorgeous glass & pottery on display as well. The painted rocks & wine glasses featuring nostalgic Derby scenes are perfect for a guest gift or to build a personal seasonal collection for your home.

Melissa envisions Mad Hatter 502 growing into another location with prime placement for both local shoppers & tourists, where she can feature even more local makers & find ways to give back to local non-profit events/auctions & share proceeds with organizations like Twisted Pink & Hosparus, both which are near & dear to her heart.

This venture is truly a reflection of the spirit of the Louisville community, Melissa’s love for giving back, & her desire to connect more people to the artisans, including herself, who enrich our lives & experiences through the functional beauty they create.

There are dozens of places to get your special event hats in Louisville, but our pick for this season is Mad Hatter 502. Each piece is crafted with love & sure to add the perfect flair to your Derby season experience.

Mad Hatter 502 is located at 9561A US-42 Prospect, KY 40059. Business hours are Tuesday through Saturday, Noon – 5PM, or by appointment. Call (502) 649-0915 for more information. Limited looks available online at!

Melissa would like to extend a special thanks to the following friends & family who have been part of her Mad Hatter 502 journey:

David, Alexa, Michael, Nicholas & Sara Huff | Gayle Ciliberti | Froi & Danielle Pinili | Sissy, Brad & Brandon Wilder | Bridget & Tori Summer | Sonnie Carter | Michelle Ciliberti | Gail Corso | Shery & Liz Poppe | Shelly Burke | Rebecca Roy | Charlotte Hollkamp with Nexus Commercial Advisors | Carolyn Matula with Signarama Downtown | Omni Graphics …& the fabulous customers who are keeping this dream alive.

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