In Conversation with Tina Madsen-Walcott on Balancing Fashion with Sun Protection

In our conversation, Tina Madsen-Walcott, Creative Director of Tina M Copenhagen, talks about the fusion of fashion and sun safety in her latest hat collection. Drawing on her biochemistry background and three decades of life in Australia, Tina sheds light on the importance of UPF50+ rated materials in headwear, especially in Australia’s harsh sun.

From her transition from biochemistry to fashion, to the innovative Flexibraid® technology, and her commitment to sustainability, Tina shares how each aspect contributes to creating stylish yet protective hats. She also offers a sneak peek into the future of Tina M Copenhagen, hinting at exciting new designs that continue to blend elegance with essential sun protection.

Tina, you’ve combined style with essential sun protection in your latest collection. Can you share more about what inspired you to focus on UPF50+ rated materials, especially considering Australia’s unique climate and culture?

I strongly believe the Australian population are generally unaware that hats can be purchased which have a UPF50+ sun protection rating, and that not all hats are made equal. Most people see a hat as just a hat and assume it provides adequate protection; however, it is critical to look for the label which indicates that it has been tested and achieves a UPF50+ rating.

If you hold the hat up towards the sun and you see any light coming through the material, most likely the hat will not provide sufficient sun protection.  Our aim as a hat manufacturer is to communicate this very important message and in return hopefully help Australian’s by providing them with adequate sun protection to help prevent sun-related skin and health issues. 

From biochemistry to fashion is quite a transition! How has your scientific background played a role in your approach to designing hats? Do you find that your understanding of biochemistry helps in creating more effective sun-protective headwear?

Absolutely! I am very excited that I can use my background to fully understand how best to design a hat which will rate as UPF50+. Coming from a cold climate where the sun is hidden for many months of the year, it was an eye opener to understand that hats, like sunscreen, need to perform scientifically. 

In my homeland of Denmark, I didn’t realise how much damage the sun could do to the skin on your face, scalp, ears and neck here in Australia.  A UPF50+ rated hat will greatly assist in protecting these delicate areas and make a day out in the sun so much more enjoyable.

Sustainability seems to be a key aspect of your brand, especially with the introduction of durable, rain and colour fade-resistant materials. How do you balance this commitment to sustainability with the need for high-quality, fashionable headwear in your collection?

Tina M Copenhagen is the couture collection under Rigon Headwear, who developed a material called Flexibraid®, which took many years to perfect. In short, we wanted to create a material that would stand the test of time and last for many seasons.

We also wanted this material to tolerate water, be colourfast and crush resistant, so the hats can easily pack into a suitcase and survive the journey. Of course, it was essential that Flexibraid® would rate as UPF50+ to give the customer the confidence in being fully sun-safe.

Achieving all of this, and ensuring that the hats are durable enough to last a long time without needing to be replaced, makes Flexibraid® a very clever sustainable material. 

You’ve lived in Australia for 30 years and have a strong background in biochemistry. How do these personal experiences and your knowledge of the effects of the sun shape the ethos of Tina M Copenhagen and the development of your products?

The sun can cause huge damage to the skin and can lead to health complications. If I could give my younger self a piece of advice, it would be to wear a UPF50+ rated hat from a very young age. It would be my best anti-aging advice, not only for wrinkles but for sun spots and skin cancers. 

I strongly feel my purpose as a hat designer is to fully communicate this very important information. I can see how much damage the sun causes in Australia especially on my adult friends who grew up playing on the beach unprotected.

Most of my adult Australian friends are paying for this now by having skin cancers removed and going for regular check-ups. Growing up in Denmark we did not have very much sun-related health issues but within the Australian climate it is so prevalent. 

Your collection showcases a variety of styles, from trilbies to fedoras. What was the creative process like in modernising these classic designs while ensuring they meet the high standards of sun protection and durability?

I like to work with shapes I feel suit most people and their face shapes, like a fedora or wide brim trilby. I felt there was a gap in the market where Tina M Copenhagen could exist. We researched the market and found it was hard to find a high-quality hat within our price point which was beautifully designed and ticked all the boxes of being UPF 50+, crushable, colour safe as well as tolerant of water. We looked to produce a high-quality hat with a minimalistic design – just a bit different to your average headwear available in Australia.

Flexibraid® is a revolutionary innovation in your hats. Can you tell us more about this technology? How does it enhance the functionality of your hats, making them ideal for the Australian lifestyle?

We’re so proud of Flexibraid® and its multiple benefits – from being lightweight, breathable, highly-resistant, long-lasting, crush-resistant, packable and travel friendly, resistant to rain and colour fading as well as being UPF50+ rated for maximum sun protection.

While I can’t go into great detail about how the technology came about due to IP protection, I can say that Flexibraid® is a mixture of fibres and filaments that we have woven together based on the tightness of these fibres and the mix of materials used.

We then create the shape of the hat and provide this information to ARPANSA, a scientific testing facility in Victoria, Australia. They then perform tests, throwing UVA and UVB light through the hat and based on their measurements we get a firm UPF rating. We always ensure our Flexibraid® material rates as UPF50+ – the highest rating possible. My biochemistry background really comes into play during the development of each hat and each of our Flexibraid® hats has documents stating that they have been tested to offer a full UPF50+ rating. 

To wrap up, what do you envision for the future of Tina M Copenhagen? Are there any upcoming projects or new directions you’re excited about in the world of fashion and sun protection?

Yes, I am currently working on a new collection for 2024! We are so pleased with the feedback Tina M Copenhagen has received since launch and we are looking closely at what is working well based on this year’s collection. I get new ideas all the time and I just love creating new designs. Our collection for 2024 is looking amazing.

About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.