Hats Off to Kai Lassen

The custom hat designer invites us to the Jupiter condo she shares with her hubby, former NBA player Jud Buechler, to talk about her growing biz

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Kai Lassen at Jupiter Beach. Photography by Jerry Rabinowitz
Kai Lassen at Jupiter Beach. Photography by Jerry Rabinowitz

Jupiter native Kai Lassen spent two decades of her life traveling the world as a professional model. She was in constant motion, doing runway shows in Milan, Paris, New York, and Australia and flying off to places like Spain, Alaska, Los Angeles, Germany, and Montreal for editorial shoots. But now she has found a new calling that has led her to plant more permanent roots in her hometown.

Lassen has taken the knowledge she gained while working in the fashion business and channeled it into a successful custom hat business. The wool, fur felt, and straw, Panama-style hats are sold on her website and at Palm Harbor Boutique in Jupiter. She is also about to open a showroom/office at 900 East Indiantown Road, where she plans to host hat parties, bridal parties, private appointments, and scheduled shopping appointments. “For some reason, Florida became my niche,” says Lassen, who has a home in San Diego as well as a condo in Jupiter. “In California, there are a lot of amazing hat makers, but there’s nothing like this in Florida. It’s nice to have the business grow here first because I’m from here.”

Relaxing in the condo near the ocean that Lassen and her husband—former NBA player Jud Buechler—occupy when they’re in town, the two chat about their beach-centric life and
Lassen’s budding new business while their 12-year-old Silky Yorkie, Zuma, relaxes on the couch. Lassen is stunning and effortlessly elegant in her daily uniform of vintage Levi’s and a casual top. Makeup, she says, is a rare event, and she’s all about keeping things simple with great accessories, including jewelry, a good handbag and, of course, hats. “In San Diego, it’s Vans and jeans, and here it’s flip-flops and jeans,” she says. “We’re chill people—a little tequila and the beach is all we need.” 

Some of her custom creations in the works inside her Jupiter condo. Photography by Jerry Rabinowitz
Some of her custom creations in the works inside her Jupiter condo.

A born creative, Lassen learned to sew and paint as a child. Five years ago, she started thinking about fulfilling her dream of designing hats but wasn’t sure where to start. A surplus of pandemic-induced time convinced her to take the plunge. She taught herself the craft by watching YouTube tutorials. “I’m a visual learner, so it was easy for me to pick it up,” she says. 

She designed and made all of the hats herself, initially selling them through her online shop on Etsy. She transitioned to her website when she saw how popular they were becoming. Today, the business is going strong, as illustrated by the number of hats in various stages of production covering most flat surfaces in the condo. “This is actually pretty clean,” Buechler observes. “Most of the time, I have to be careful I don’t step on any hats.”

Buechler is an investor in his wife’s business—and her number-one fan. “To do something new and put it all out there takes a lot of guts,” he says. “The way she handles it all makes me so happy and proud, although I joke with her that it’s changed our lives because she’s not available for fun anymore.” 

Buechler, Lassen, and Zuma inside their Jupiter condo. Photography by Jerry Rabinowitz
Buechler, Lassen, and Zuma inside their Jupiter condo.

The biggest challenge for the couple is indeed time management, Lassen acknowledges, especially now that Buechler is retired and her business is taking off. “Work now is 24/7—
I do need to learn to shut it off,” she says.

A hat stand brimming with Lassen’s designs stands against walls filled with surf-inspired photographs. Photography by Jerry Rabinowitz
A hat stand brimming with Lassen’s designs stands against walls filled with surf-inspired photographs.

Since retiring from basketball in 2020, Buechler now has time to indulge his passions for surfing and playing volleyball (he was an all-American player in high school) with his group of longtime buddies. A perfect day for him begins and ends on the beach. “I don’t ever want to be cold again,” he jokes. 

It’s no wonder Buechler treasures downtime after a stellar but somewhat grueling NBA career as a small forward that took him from his hometown of San Diego in 1990 to New Jersey to play for the New Jersey Nets, then the San Antonio Spurs,
the Golden State Warriors, and the Chicago Bulls. He was with the Bulls during the years when the team—including
Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman—achieved their second three-peat of the 1990s (the team’s reign is the subject of a docuseries currently airing on Netflix, The Last Dance). He rounded out his playing career with stints at the Detroit Pistons, Phoenix Suns, and Orlando Magic and, after taking some time off to coach his two teenage daughters in volleyball, he returned to the NBA as an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Lakers and then the New York Knicks.

It was while Buechler was in Los Angeles coaching the Lakers that he met Lassen, who was living in Manhattan Beach at the time. Both divorced, neither was interested in a relationship, but when mutual friends wanted to set them up in the summer of 2017, they grudgingly agreed to meet at a restaurant before a Hall & Oates concert. For Buechler, the attraction was instantaneous. “I walked into the restaurant with a friend who pointed her out to me, and I was like, ‘Wow,’” he recalls. “She was obviously tall and beautiful with a beautiful smile, and I thought, ‘We’re off to a great start.’”

Lassen at work in her Jupiter condo. Photography by Jerry Rabinowitz
Lassen at work in her Jupiter condo.

The attraction was mutual. Says Lassen: “Before we met, I was thinking that the worst case scenario is that this guy stinks and I can go home. But there was just this spark, and he’s so tall, even though I was wearing heels.” They moved in together after
just a few months and have been together ever since. 

The couple spends most of their time in Jupiter, San Diego and Baja, Mexico, seeking surf and sand. Growing up in Jupiter, Lassen recalls a similar, idyllic, athletic childhood on the water, when her mother, Kathy, could barely coax her and her brother inside. She attended Jupiter High School, but when her modeling career took off during her teenage years, she transferred to the more flexible schedule at Jupiter Farms Community Christian School. 

At 16, as her star was ascending in the modeling industry, she convinced her father, Bo, to co-sign on a lease so she could get her own place in New York City. These days, she is represented by Brand Model and Talent, though she has largely stepped away from the industry. “I’ll do a job if they ask,” she says.

Lassen and Buechler take Zuma for a walk on Jupiter Beach. Photography by Jerry Rabinowitz
Lassen and Buechler take Zuma for a walk on Jupiter Beach.

Making hats is what she feels she was meant to do, and she is loyal to the locals who have helped her along the way. A network of niche sellers and small businesswomen in Jupiter have supported her from the start, she says, and she is dedicated to paying it forward by featuring some of them on her site and at the new showroom.

That same generosity of spirit extends to her relationships with clients. “I like them to feel really involved in the design if they want to be,” she says, picking up a hat from a table filled with orders ready to be shipped. “This client, for example, wanted an ocean vibe,” she says. “She chose these turquoise beads as the hatband, and I stitched a gold wave on the side. For another woman, I embroidered flowers along with her daughter’s name.”

The success of the business fulfills Lassen’s creative passion, not just for herself, but, she believes, for others as well. “I get to bring others’ visions to life,” she says, “and that’s very rewarding.” The organic approach she takes to her business can describe her philosophy on life in general: “I don’t set expectations for myself. Instead, I like to see where things go. I’m just enjoying the ride.”

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