The world’s greatest hat maker for 2010
Trent Johnson has designed and built Western hats for a U.S. president – twice – the emir of Kuwait, and the secretary general of the United Nations, just to name a few.
But earlier this month, Johnson, owner of the Greeley Hat Works, got what he called “a huge surprise,” when he was named “The World’s Greatest Hat Maker for 2010” by True West magazine.
“You know, I knew about the awards, but I really didn’t know this one existed, and, since it was voted on by readers, I didn’t even know I was in the running,” Johnson said.
The magazine will list its various winners, including Johnson, in its January edition.
Bob Boze Bell is the executive editor of the magazine, which publishes from Cave Creek, Ariz., just north of Phoenix. He said this is the eighth year of the awards, and in the case of hat builders, the winners are determined on reader response, style of hats produced, commitment and heritage.
“Trent wins in all four, hands-down,” Bell said in a telephone discussion.
Johnson apprenticed with Susie Orr for more than three years before buying Greeley Hat Works from her 14 years ago, after he found he had the eye and the talent to custom-build Western hats. The shop at the time was tucked in a little alcove in downtown Greeley, but as Johnson’s expertise and business expanded, he opened a second hat design and manufacturing location in Greeley. That then blossomed into his present location on south 8th Avenue where he can design, build and display a wide range of hats.
But it’s been the Western hats where he’s made his mark.
The last year Orr owned the shop, she and Johnson designed, built and sold 60 hats. In the first year he owned the shop by himself, he sent 120 out the door. Last year, he and his team designed, built and sold 3,100 hats. The goal for this year, he said, is 3,694.
“I don’t know if we’ll reach that or not, but we’re going to come pretty close. You have to set high goals, otherwise why bother?” he said.
Earlier this year, Greeley Hat Works and Professional Bull Riders Inc. struck a deal to provide licensed, co-branded Western hats to PBR fans through retail outlets and at PBR events.
“That’s working out really well,” Johnson said. That might be helped by the fact that Kody Lostroh of La Salle, Colo., came home earlier this month as the PBR World Champion.
Johnson has made hats for Lostroh for about five years.
“Dennis Anderson of One Twenty Five Design in Windsor, the guy who makes me look good and designs logos to go along with my hat ideas, used to make bull ropes for Kody. He gave him a gift certificate to the shop, and that’s how I first met him and have been making hats for him ever since,” Johnson said.
The felt hats by Johnson, available in three prices, made their debut at the PBR Built Ford Tough World Finals in Las Vegas, where Lostroh ended up the world champion in one of the closet finishes in history. The plan now is to put together a road show that will assist retailers and fans at future PBR events. Those events start the 2010 season in January.
True West was based in Oklahoma City 10 years ago when the current owners took it over, Bell said.
“It was on its last legs,” Bell said, but since then has gained in readership throughout North America. That’s due in no small part to the craftsmen, such as Johnson, who continue the Western tradition.
“There are more craftsmen in the West now than ever before,” Bell said. “The myth that the West is dying is just that, a myth.”
He said this year’s awards were tight, particularly in the case of Johnson’s category.
“They get real contentious, and rightly so,” Bell said.
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