Colo. hat shaper goes out on his own to provide western wear
Every living human being has a head. A singularly individual head, with a face that observes the world each in its own unique way. How better to shield these uncommon noggins from the elements than with uniquely personalized hats?
Even as a child, Travis Hamblen was being molded into a Western-loving hat man. The 37-year-old Ault, Colo., resident was born and raised in Fort Collins, Colo., where his parents, Cliff and Carol Hamblen, put up a subdivision of houses and twinplexes. They then owned Hamblen Sales which sold guns and safes.
That area was pretty rural at the time, with farms and ranches all around. So Hamblen used his equestrian skills to break horses for a horse trader. Young Hamblen observed and learned, quickly developing a passion for the Western way of life.
His grandfather, Sam Hamblen, had grown up on a Missouri farm which he ran from age 13 on after his father’s untimely death. Another Hamblen, Travis’ uncle Sammy, is a lifelong auctioneer at livestock and general merchandise sales. There’s a definite family bond to all things cowboy.
At age 16, Travis Hamblen began working for Kevin Rich, the owner of Wild West Cattle in Galeton. A few years into that stint, the young man got into team roping and participated in Northern Colorado jackpots for six years.
“I was never very good at it.” he declared with a grin and a head shake.
Perhaps that’s why he simultaneously worked for Fresh Rides, a Greeley, Colo., diesel pickup dealership. Next, he served as a vet tech at Gilcrest Feedlot and day-worked around several Greeley feedlots.
As National Sales Manager for Heel-O-Matic for two years, Hamblen sold roping dummies. This position opened some doors to Irvine’s, Canada’s largest Western store. The huge Alberta-based company stocks up to 2,000 Western saddles at a time, as well as other tack, gear, clothing, etc.
If boots are a cowboy’s base, you might say that Hamblen quickly made his way to the top when Irvine’s hired him as a hat shaper in 2015.
He traveled back and forth to Canada, working 10-12 hours per day contouring hats to their awaiting owners’ heads. That flexible schedule worked well for the single father of two sons who has 50/50 shared custody of his boys.
But after nearly five years of extensive travel polishing someone else’s nickel, Hamblen decided to try his own venture. Hats, of course. Perhaps having spent much of his previous career life distance traveling from home to work — including to our neighboring country to the north — Hamblen felt drawn back to the road.
So in January 2020, he opened Hamblen Hats Mobile Hat Lounge: a long, self-contained trailer filled with various equipment he uses to custom design, fit, shape and re-craft (primarily Western) hats.
Hamblen noted that he’d had plenty of experience during the four years he spent working at a northern Colorado area hat shop. And although he now also sells American Hat Company hats, he’s especially enthusiastic about transforming old headgear into something new and exciting.
One of the many “old into new” hats he has transformed belongs to Chito Arreola, aka “Chef Chito,” the executive chef at Denver’s Pepsi Center.
And Arreola knows what looks good. Food properly prepared and presented, of course. Chef Chito served as a 2012 and 2013 Kentucky Derby chef where he worked producing food for the event of 164,000 people and had 250 employees working in his group. Chef Chito is also corporate chef at Las Delicias in Denver, and has won several industry awards beginning in 2004.
Perhaps Derby ladies’ spectacular hats inspired him. After all, why couldn’t the gents likewise display sporty finery on their heads at events such as the Super Bowl? So, he did! Chef Chito wore his Hamblen re-fashioned, contemporary Grizzly hat at Super Bowl LIV in Miami.
A recent addition to Hamblen’s hat-filled trailer is a measuring tool called a “conformatuer.” This revised version of an Ali Mallard tool invented in the mid-1800s measures the shape and size of a head employing a series of movable settings.
Hat modification can involve numerous steps including cleaning, steaming, blocking, flanging, and hand-sewing bands (and sometimes bling) onto the restored piece.
One might wonder just how a mobile shop works. Hamblen’s Hat Lounge frequently travels to scheduled events, where he cleans and re-shapes attendees hats on-site. They in-turn might send him their other well-worn hats to spruce up or even transform into new, eye-catching creations.
Hamblen frequently conducts Instagram live design sessions during which followers contribute fresh ideas. A recent such brain-storming session had 20 people on for just one hat!
Said Hamblen, “Grandpa’s old beat-up favorite becomes your contemporary favorite. It’s all about honoring the Art of the Hat.”
Hamblen’s sons Braxton, age 12, and 10-year-old Kasen each has his own special hat. Both are likely to honor their father’s heady art as they grow up. Even should they choose to pursue non-Western lifestyles, they’ll have other diverse head toppers from which to choose because Hamblen can re-fashion all types of hats, however…
“Western is my passion, cowboy is my core!” proclaimed Hamblen.
Contact Travis Hamblen about bringing Hamblen Hats Mobile Hat Lounge to your event; cleaning and re-shaping; purchasing one of his classy, re-fashioned hats (for men and ladies); restoring one of your handsome old charmers; or adding an American Hat Company model to your collection. His email is at firstname.lastname@example.org , phone 970-324-0014. Or visit his website at http://www.hamblenhats.com. ❖
— Metzger is a freelance writer from Fort Collins, Colo. She can be reached at email@example.com.