Gary Watrous started American Hat Makers in the early 1970s.
With an investment of $20 in leather and $20 in leather working tools, he began making belts, wallets, and purses and selling them from the back of his 1963 Chevy station wagon. In the mid-70s, Gary created a leather hat for his own use. He loved it so much that hats quickly became his calling and sole artistic focus.
Mostly self-taught - while learning in the “school of hard knocks”- Gary is thankful for the tremendous support and advice he has received from many talented hat professionals and knowledgeable individuals over the years. He also has the good fortune to have a creative and supportive family, many of whom have chosen to join him as the demand for his handmade hat designs has grown.
Not only is Gary profoundly passionate about leatherwork and hat making, he is equally enamored with the team of people working with him at American Hat Makers at the Watsonville headquarters, warehouse, and boutique.
Gary’s heart of gold is the stuff of legend at American Hat Makers, and each and every employee knows they can come to him if they need anything and he will do all he can to help because the team he works with is like family.
In fact, many of the folks working at American Hat Makers are family -- Gary’s wife, Merry Lee contributes to design and creative development; son Garth is second in command, and daughter-in-law Hannah is the Director of Global Marketing and Branding.
“Family has always been the most important part of life to me,” Gary says. “There is satisfaction in sharing the creative process and continuing the dream with those you love.”
Speaking of those he loves, Gary’s constant companions, his dogs Ruby and Pearl, come with him to work every day. They are an important part of the team and if you come to the shop you may well be greeted by them. If he could, he would likely bring his gorgeous horse, Tucker, to work too!
Garth Watrous grew up in the hat making world watching his dad, Gary, create one-of-a-kind artisan hats in his workshop. Later, Garth would join his dad at art fairs and festivals as Gary made a name for his skilled handiwork and artistry and began to build the American Hat Makers brand.
Surely influenced by his early exposure to entrepreneurship, Garth went on to earn his business degree from San Diego State University. He came home to Watsonville and joined his father as a partner in American Hat Makers in 2005.
In the years since, Garth has put his business acumen to work and American Hat Makers’ has doubled its business – twice. But don’t think that Garth is satisfied with that because you would be wrong. Garth’s goal for American Hat Makers is clear: “To be the #1 hat company in the world.”
Garth knows that to reach this goal he must do three things: 1) cultivate the best from the dedicated and talented team at American Hat Makers; 2) make solid, authentic industry connections; and 3) bring greater exposure to the exceptional and unique line of products designed and manufactured at the Watsonville, California facility.
To that end, Garth spends a good deal of time nurturing business relationships through his positions as President of the Board of Directors of The Headwear Association and as a member of the American Made Matters Board of Directors. In addition, Garth is skillfully guiding the expansion of American Hat Makers’ global presence by strategically increasing brand recognition and sales worldwide.
With Garth’s visionary, dynamic business sense and an unparalleled team at his side, American Hat Makers will continue to grow in innovation, production, and global recognition.