Brenda Michael adored her dad, Benny Binion. She and her dad had a relationship like no other. Although he was a successful business man that […]
Written by: Siri Stevens< Back to Articles
Travis Hamblen Starts A New Hat Company.
Travis Hamblen started out with $28 in his pocket when his life abruptly changed course. After four years of working for another hat shop, his new path led toward starting his own business, Hamblen Hats. “I tell people this isn’t my hat shop, it’s God’s shop and my customers’ shop, because without my customers and God there’s no way I’d be where I am,” Travis said. “I was a single dad starting over from scratch.”
Travis started with 250 American Hats and a mobile shop in a trailer that was taken to jackpots and other events across Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, Wyoming and Nebraska. “We got all of our hats a week before COVID shut things down and it was tight quarters in that trailer, about 10-by-10 feet,” Travis said. “Keith Mundee (President of American Hat Company) helped us get going. We picked up the Atwood hat line too since they’re made in America. That’s why I went to Brooks Atwood. We checked his cows, prayed over dinner and these are my people.”
In less than two years he went from a small trailer to opening the first Hamblen Hats store on June 28 in Ault, Colorado, about 40 miles south of Cheyenne, Wyoming. “We’ve grown a lot over the last couple of years and with the storefront it’s doubled,” Travis said. “It’s an amazing community here in Ault. We are getting to the point where there’s a crew of people who stop by to talk and it has a coffee shop atmosphere.”
Travis shaped his first hat over a tea kettle when he was 13 years old and by the time he was 16 he had shaped all of his hats. “I didn’t want my hat to look like a store-bought hat, I wanted it shaped like Ty Murray’s,” Travis said. “I dropped out of high school about six months before graduating, and my grandpa (Sam Hamblen) told me if I went back to school he’d buy me the best hat that he could. But, I couldn’t shape that hat. That was my love language, so I said I can put up with six months of not liking school.”
Sam received the first custom hat Travis built in January 2020 and he was at the grand opening of Travis’ store shortly before passing away in the fall of 2021.
Before diving into the hat business, Travis worked with the Wild West Cattle Company in eastern Colorado, doing anything that needed to be done for the competition, including announcing. “I’ve always been around cowboy stuff and I just love the lifestyle.”
Now he enhances that lifestyle for others, and it comes with a wide brim. “We had a cowboy tell us ‘the relationship with my hat shaper is the most intimate relationship I have. My hat is ME, the stories that are in the hat, the work I do every day, it has a lot to do with my personality so having a hat shop that understands my lifestyle and passions, and me as a person, is what gets me,’” Travis said. “That’s what guys who wear hats every day want, not to just grab one off the shelf.”
Striving for a unique product presented some equally unique opportunities. Claire Parr sold her hat business, Claire West Designs, to Travis before losing her battle with cancer in early 2021. “She was building hats for Jay-Z and Beyoncé,” Travis said, holding Claire’s notebook of measurements with a letter of encouragement to him.
As for which celebrities Travis makes hats for, that’s up to his clientele to reveal. “They come to us because they want to have that confidence and be treated like a person.”
James Young (guitarist in the Eli Young Band), Dalton Risner (offensive lineman for the Denver Broncos), comedian Steve “Mudflap” McGrew, and rodeo contestants such as Sadie Jackson, Kyle and Maddie Dickens, Devon Burbank, and the entire Colorado State University rodeo team are some of his clients. Hamblen Hats also sponsors nationally ranked ranch sorter Shawn Elliott from Greeley, Colorado.
No appointments are needed and there’s a catalogue of hats to choose from at hamblenhats.com.
“We can custom fit them, custom design them and build them from scratch,” Travis said. “We can rebuild hats too, so if they bring in a dirty, nasty hat we can block it, flange it and re-craft it.”
The first time someone brings in a beat-up old hat, they’ll toss it on the counter as a challenge – “I’ve got one for you, see what you can do.” But after their first one is fixed; the rest are brought in with a bit of a somber and hopeful tone of “see what you can do.”
“It’s nice to see their eyes light up when they brought in a hat that’s all caked up with grease and dirt and they thought we couldn’t do it, but then we did,” said Travis’ employee Parker Longbottom.
Parker started shaping hats about two years ago at The Wrangler in downtown Cheyenne. “I taught myself the ropes there and came here to get further into it,” Parker said. “Hats are one of those things where it’s more than just a hat. There’s that style to it and being able to help someone make theirs unique.”
Travis also gets help around the shop from his parents, Carol and Cliff, and his sons, Braxton, 14, and Kasen, 12.
Travis prefers not to clean his own hats. “They have memories. They’ve been to the feedlot and funerals and been with me when I won the only buckle I own and when my kids were born,” Travis said. “Hats are no different than pickups; the better you care for and maintain them, the longer they last; and it’s fun making them last a little longer.”
Shaping hats takes about 15-20 minutes, picking one out takes a bit longer. Fitting one and custom designs can take a few hours. Depending on the hat’s condition, it could take two to three weeks for it to be cleaned.
“It very much is an artform, every hat has eight to ten raw manhours put into it,” Travis said. “We take a blank hat and pick which block based on the shape and size of their head and the design of the hat. Then we’ll hand-finish it to smooth it out.”
It’s not just cowboy hats – there’s top hats, bowlers, fedoras, broadbrim fashion hats, and just about anything a customer could want.
“We always ask people if they want the Flying H on the back of their hat and the coolest thing is seeing that on the back of a hat since they made the conscious decision to support our brand,” Travis said. “That’s what means the most to me since that brand is no different to me than ‘riding for the brand’ when I worked on ranches.”
Travis likened the relationship between a cowboy and his hat shaper to a woman and her hairdresser.
“Hat people and cowboys make a living with their hats, it’s part of their equipment,” Travis said. “Our slogan is ‘keeping cowboy cool,’ so I try to stay close to those roots.”