In starting a business we can't help but study those that have come before us. Whether hat companies or businesses in unrelated industries there's so much to learn from the success of others. This type of investigation creates a lot of excitement (perhaps even delusions) about what's possible. But, one story stands out to us as being particularly interesting and worth sharing. And, that's a recent one about the Bollman Hat Company.
Founded in 1868 (Andrew Johnson was President), Bollman is the oldest hat maker in America, based not too far from a place where one of us grew up in Amish Country Pennsylvania. Bollman hats have been worn by everyone from Run DMC and Eminem to Michael Jordan and Pete Townshed. Simply stated, they are the godfathers of the hat game, which makes them worth a closer look.
Of particular interest in this story is the fact that Bollman has long held the rights to manufacturing Kangol hats, the ones you’ve seen Samuel L. Jackson and countless other superstars wearing for years. Since the 1930s, the hats were produced in England, but like most things, production had to be moved to China to remain competitive.
At some point in the early 2000s, the Chinese factory that made these hats shut down and the extremely expensive, custom machines integral to the production of Kangol hats were set to be sold. The folks at Bollman saw an opportunity...
The almost 150 year old company launched a Kickstarter campaign (supported by Samuel L. Jackson himself) to raise a small portion of the funds necessary to buy the machinery, ship it to the U.S. and begin making Kangol hats in the United States at a new factory in Adamstown, Pennsylvania.
The campaign was a success drawing support from fans of everything from Kangol itself to those with a belief in the merits of U.S. manufacturing. But, it didn’t end there. The campaign drew interest from numerous businesses and organizations that wanted to help.
For example, the nearby Dogfish Head Brewing company struck a deal with Bollman to secure the naming rights of this new factory space. The collaboration also involved the creation of a Dogfish Head Kangol hat and a Kangol-inspired English-style IPA, known as “Sir Hops-a-Lot.”
There's a lot of things that we looked upon with deep admiration when we first heard this story, not the least of which is a 150 year old company using Kickstarter to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. (slow clap).
But, at the heart of all of it is this: the courage to do things differently and the willingness to assume the risks that come with being unconventional.
We started making hats, first and foremost, because we absolutely love them. If you don’t believe us, check out one of our co-founder, Louise’s, house in Alaska. Seriously, you should go see her. She’s an incredible host. Most people hang art on the walls. Louise hangs hats. And, if you ever see her staring longingly in your direction, it’s not your charming good looks. It’s probably because you’re rocking a pretty sweet hat. And, good for you. She’s got excellent taste.
But, the more we thought about it, the more we realized hats could be so much more. At their core, hats are a super visible means of communicating the things in life that matter to us. For some, that’s a sports team or a brand of some kind. But, for Hanna, Louise and myself, that’s the mountains and everything they represent.
Our hats allow those who share our passion for the outdoors to take it with them wherever they go. A little reminder for the wearer and anyone they encounter, of what’s waiting beyond life’s many distractions.
More personally, this endeavor will push us to explore our own connection to nature and our indescribable drive to venture further and higher. It is this drive that is the basis for this company (to put it generously).
All of this may seem a bit lofty for a group of dreamers that print mountains on hats and you're not wrong. But, why not aim high? Ridiculously high. Not in our perceived success, but in our own understanding and appreciation of the things we hold dear.
It'll be a century or more before we can compare ourselves to a courageous company like Bollman, but we can promise to emulate them; to take risks in our designs, production and all of the fun ways we choose to bring them to you, our adventure-seeking, hat-loving, blog-perusing, fans.
Now, get out there and #FindYourMountain