The History of American Hat Makers: Celebrating 50 Years in Business

The History of American Hat Makers: Celebrating 50 Years in Business

Last updated by Yauni Smith on

American Hat Makers stands at the forefront of craftsmanship and innovation in the world of hat fashion.

Born from a legacy of passion and dedication that began in 1971, our brand, under the visionary leadership of Gary Watrous and Garth Watrous, has transformed from a small leather endeavor to an iconic name in hat-making.

Dive into a story of dreams realized and an industry revolutionized.

Crafting Dreams with $40

The year was 1971. With a keen interest in leather crafting, Gary Watrous embarked on a journey that few could have foreseen. He laid the foundation for what would become a hat empire with a mere $40: $20 invested in leather and an equivalent amount in tools and dyes.

From the back of his 1963 Belair, he produced hand-sewn bags, intricately designed coasters, wine racks, key chains, and leather articles adorned with pastel-painted flowers - each piece a testament to his intricate hand-tooling skills.

Shifting Culture: Riding the Pop Culture Wave

The dawn of the 1980s heralded a transformative era for both cinema and fashion. The iconic looks of the "Urban Cowboy" and the adventurous "Indiana Jones" deeply influenced trends, propelling hats to the forefront of fashion.

The pop culture scene was ripe, and Gary was ready to dive into the hat-making industry.

A Deeper Dive into Leather's World

In his relentless pursuit of perfection, Gary constantly explored various types of leather. The 1970s saw him associating with San Zeno Leather, known for its heavy 7-8 oz leather—ideal for crafting sturdy hats.

Brands like Poetschl & Peterson with their affordable Yellow Latigo and Tandy Leather enriched his repertoire. The first hat, a piece of art crafted in 1974, was hand-stained, hand-tooled, and hand-stitched, setting the gold standard for what was to become our company standards.

A New Chapter: From San Zeno to Head'n Home

1981 was transformative. Acquiring San Zeno's was more than a business decision; it was the birth of a legacy.

Branding his business as "Head'n Home," Gary shifted his operations from the confines of San Zeno's premises to his very own garage in Santa Cruz. 

The brand's identity began to solidify, offering 4 to 5 styles adorned with distinctive trims.

Redefining Craftsmanship: Mesh Meets Leather

The late 1990s were pivotal. 1997 marked the year Gary masterfully combined mesh with leather. This innovation was a significant turning point, blending aesthetics with summer functionality.

The Walkabout hats, crafted with lightweight 2.5 oz Wolverine leather, akin to Hush Puppy shoe leather, showcased Gary's unwavering commitment to innovation and quality.

Journey Beyond Borders: Global Exhibitions & Recognitions

Gary's talent wasn't just confined to Santa Cruz. His enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit took him across the U.S., showcasing at renowned events like the Park City Festival, New Orleans Jazz Festival, and more.

Internationally, a trip to Amsterdam in 1985 and participation in the Equitana show in Germany in 1987 broadened his horizons.

Adapting to the German market's smaller head sizes with tailor-made leather sizers further accentuated his adaptability and added new standards to our hat making.

Modernization & The Digital Era

The advent of the internet was reshaping industries, and Gary was quick to adapt. Recognizing its potential in 1991, Gary echoed the sentiment, "You Need A Web Page," resulting in the launch of the brand's first website.

Gary's dedication laid the groundwork, but the company's evolution continued when Garth, his son, began running the business in 2005.

As the 2010s rolled in, Gary's hats, especially the Steampunk Top Hats, became a rage. By 2013, the company expanded its offerings by importing straw hats from renowned global destinations like Barcelona, Florence, and Milan.

Branding Evolution & Looking Ahead

Gary's dedication laid the groundwork, but the company's evolution continued when Garth, his son, took over the business officially in 2005.

Garth's leadership was further solidified when he became the president in 2018 and took charge of the import business, rebranding the company as "American Hat Makers."

The brand transitioned from Head’n Home Hats to American Hat Makers to symbolize a renewed commitment to core values, beliefs, and community involvement.

Today, as the American Hat Makers, our brand is a culmination of decades of hard work, innovation, and a relentless pursuit of perfection. From importing straw hats from regions like Barcelona and Florence in 2013-14 to embracing internet marketing in 2018, the journey continues.

Join Our Tradition - Shop American Hat Makers

Over the years, Gary's vision has evolved from a modest leather endeavor to a global hat powerhouse, continuously redefining industry standards. The legacy of American Hat Makers is a testament to dedication, innovation, and the enduring spirit of his craftsmanship.

As the company strides into the future, it remains anchored by its rich history, always seeking the next chapter of hat-making excellence.

Join us in the pursuit of American business and tradition - shop American Hat Makers today.

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