Thanksgiving is a time during the year where we give thanks. Denise Washington is thankful to be alive and have the opportunity to showcase her God-given hobby of making hats after going through trials where many would have given up.
“I started getting the vision for making hats when I lost my kids in 1991 in a house fire,” she said. “Three weeks before that, I lost my adopted mother who died from cancer.”
After the two tragedies, Washington moved to Georgetown from Nesmith.
“I was at my lowest,” Washington said. I lost everything I had. I only had the clothes on my back, so I moved to Georgetown and never looked back.”
She used to work at the old Sampit Lumber Mill for a little over 12 years, but was still very depressed after moving to Georgetown. She then got the vision about hair and the ways she could use it.
“I started praying,” Washington said. “I was raised doing hair. I knew how to braid hair really good. My momma taught me well. So I got this vision one day after looking at a packet of hair on my bed. I wanted to create something out of this world that no one had heard of or seen before.”
Washington also drove an eighteen-wheeler for eight years after she settled down in the area.
“That was a wonderful experience,” Washington said. “However, I almost got killed on Hwy. 701 in 2010.”
Washington was coming from the paper mill in Conway during the early morning hours carrying a heavy load. She saw a family of deers jump out in front of her, had to brake and the trailer jack-knifed on her trapping her in a ditch and seriously injuring her.
“I just thank God that I’m alive,” Washington said. “I was thinking that he gave me another chance again.”
As a result of the accident, Washington had surgery at the Spinal Institute in Charleston in 2011.
“I had broken discs in my neck,” Washington said. “The doctors said that I was lucky that my neck didn’t snap. I had to have major neck surgery.”
Washington still has to take it easy and sometimes has trouble getting around because her back was also injured in the accident.
“I had severe nerve damage,” Washington said. “I can’t stand up for over an hour because my spine won’t let me. The doctor told me to be careful with my back because they couldn’t do surgery on it.”
Washington credits the Spine Institute with helping her get back on her feet; in fact, she will be a spokesperson in an upcoming episode that the company airs on television.
“That was the dream of my life,” Washington said. “I’ve been going to them since 2010. Dr. Johnson there told me that I should be in their commercial because I have a story to tell.”
In 2016, Washington fell, broke her foot and hurt her neck again. Once again, she had surgery again in Charleston and after that, needed two major vocal surgeries.
Washington said that her hat-making hobby helped distract her from the pain of going through all of the surgeries. She calls her creations Nissie’s Original Hair Hats.
“It’s a hobby for me,” Washington said. “The doctor told me that I needed a hobby. I create things. I’m a designer.”
The hats that Washington designs are sometimes included in fashion shows that occur in various churches in Georgetown County.
“Every time my hat has been in a show, it has won first place,” Washington said.
Washington said her hats, made with synthetic or human hair, come with matching earrings. She has also started making matching necklaces, purses and now shoes. Most of her products now are even reversible.
“I try to be unique,” Washington said. “I try to be different than other people. I try to create something where you don’t have to wear it one way; you can wear it multiple ways. My hats shine.”
Everything she makes comes by hand with the help of a sewing machine. She would like for someone to help her manufacture the product if anyone can give her ideas from the business community in Georgetown County.
“I can’t make it by hand,” Washington said. “This is not a business. This is a hobby for me.”
Washington recently visited the African-American Museum in Washington, D.C. with VIP tickets as news of her life story and hat-hair hobby has spread. She was a special guest at Star 99.7 DJ Belinda Parker’s birthday party and has even appeared in several music videos.
Washington, after recovering from a total of eight surgeries, said that she gives advice to others who say that they can’t do something or make it in life.
“I can come back from losing everything I had,” Washington said. “If I can make it, there’s no excuse why you can’t make it. You have to put in the hard work and God is now repaying me for it. God spared my life for me to be able to tell my story.”