Greeley Hat Works makes hats for celebs, ranch hands and real folk
– By Jared Fiel –
From the White House to the remote ranches on the eastern plains, Trent Johnson of Greeley Hat Works has left his mark.
While the business has been around since 1909, it’s only been in the last 17 years the business grew from 60 hats a year to 4,500 from the shop in downtown Greeley.
In 1996, Johnson, who had apprenticed for three years, bought the business from Susie Orr. He quickly realized he needed to grow. “I broke it down to how many hats I had to sell a month to pay my bills,” he says. “And that’s when I realized we had to grow the business because I had more bills.”
Johnson went from “ghost building,” where they would make hats and let other companies put their name on it, to co-branding hats to a place where businesses specifically wanted the Greeley Hat Works name.
Johnson says things really started to change in February 1998 when the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association commissioned the company with making 100 all-beaver felt hats for the association’s 100th birthday.
That relationship continues today and led to Johnson making a hat for then-President George W. Bush for an NCBA meeting in Denver. “I guess he liked it because then I was asked to make one for his second inauguration,” Johnson says. “That one I got to present to him in the Oval Office.”
That success has continued to today, and Greeley Hat Works is the official hat maker for TV shows like “Yellowstone.” He’s also made hats for Aaron Rogers, Peyton Manning, Todd Helton, Von Miller, Kevin Costner, Jimmy Fallon, Aerosmith, PINK, Lady Gaga, Toby Keith, Lyle Lovett and Miranda Lambert.
“We are an overnight success…30 years in the making,” he says. “Two things that got us here are quality and customer service. And sometimes, if you grow too fast, those are the first two things you lose. We reiterate that to our staff all the time.”
The celebrities lend him credibility and look good in a press kit, Johnson says, but he prefers working with “real people.”
“The ones that always are the wow factor for me are the ones like…a friend in town, his mom has never worn hats. She doesn’t wear hats. And she came in on the day after her first chemo treatment. And I worked with her on a hat,” he says. “Not only the fit and style but the sweatband. Lots of times people with chemo, their heads are sensitive to the touch. I put in a flex-fit band so it would be softer to the touch.”
So, yes, celebrity stuff is cool, but the people I get to work with day in and day out, whether it is real fashion or real cowboy or real outdoors, those are the ones who are fun to work with.”
And Johnson knows his hats. The shop now has stock and custom hats. Between sizes, styles, colors and more, the choices are endless. “We are only limited by two things,” he says. “One is your imagination and two is your credit limit.”
While making hats is the job, talking about hats, the American West, ranching and the ag lifestyle is what Johnson loves just as much. He calls it “spreading the Gospel of Greeley.”
“I have clients that fly into the Greeley Airport on a private jet, and I pick them up and I talk about Weld County and agriculture, Union Colony, JBS, UNC…. Everything we take for granted living here,” he says. “Those are the things I put out there to make them feel like a part of the community.”
Finding the right hat …
Trent Johnson, owner of Greeley Hat Works, has one rule of thumb for finding the right hat.
“The right hat is the one where you feel comfortable and confident in it,” he says.
So, how do they help you find that right hat? He starts with sitting them down in his antique barber chair and measuring their head.
“Not a tape measure,” he says. “That will tell me the size of the head but not the shape. We start with the conformateur, which was invented in Paris in 1843. That gives me a 1/6th size picture of the exact shape of your head. Then we trace that and cut it out and then we take that and put it in the next piece called a formillon, which blows that up six times to make it life-size. Then we can test it in a few hats, and we can tweak a stock hat or make a custom hat.”
Johnson says the fun part of the job is then talking with the customer to find out what they want the hat for. “Do they need it for sun protection? Work? Looking good at the Cattle Baron’s Ball?” he says.
He says even though black remains the most popular color for Western hats, a lot of people are moving toward light or neutral colors that they can accessorize with hat bands to match boots or belts. “I personally think you should buy five different hats,” he says, “but most people don’t start out with that.”
Jared Fiel is a writer in Northern Colorado.