Stetson, a global and timeless brand…
Stetson’s story is one where heart and drive was born in the wilderness and sought shelter in a man’s soul. It is a story of how this soul thrived on the drive that was within it and swelled with the heart it carried…It is also a story of how lucky the world is that John B. Stetson had rotten luck when it came to gold.
The tale begins in the year 1830 when the legend John B. Stetson was born. Stetson came from a line of hat makers (it is said that he’s father made hats for George Washington). Yes, providence was smiling upon him from a young age, but young John B. Stetson took a while to warm up to it.
In 1860, in collaboration with the harsh elements of the land, John B. (30 years old) joined so many and tried his luck at gold mining on the plains. John B. worked in the sunshine and the rain, he worked tirelessly to find his fortune but soon enough, the hard elements started to get to him. Soon he found that he he did not like blisters on his neck and rain in his eyes and so John B. dug into his father’s teachings and made himself a felt hat off the land. This hat became the original “Boss of the Plains”. It is the hat that would become the cornerstone of Stetson and his company and is in production till this day.
Now, John, liking all the characteristics of gold: the timelessness, the beauty, the scarcity but most of all the feeling of weight it gives to your pocket (and not having any luck in finding some for himself), decided to make his own gold, by making hats.
Stetson started his first hat manufacturing company in Philadelphia in 1865 and by the beginning of the twentieth century Stetson owned the world’s largest hat factory. In that time notable people wore Stetsons, one of which was Colonel William F. Cody “Buffalo Bill”, Calamity Jane (heroine of the plains) and Annie Oakley the first American female superstar (her most amazing trick being able to repeatedly split a playing card, edge-on, and put numerous additional holes in it before it could touch the ground, at 27.43 meters).
Senators and Presidents got personalized Stetsons (a tradition that is alive till this day) and Tom Mix, Hollywood’s first Cowboy became Stetson’s self-appointed ambassador by carrying a dozen Stetsons around when travelling internationally and giving them the officials and dignitaries.
Stetson kept on growing and growing and in 1930 production grew too big for Philadelphia. So the international career began. Then, in 1932 Stetson blessed the ladies of the world by opening a new line of women’s hats. Pill box hats, Cheviot berets, Tricornes styles and cloches made the women of the world smile and Stetson men smiled back.
In 1943, when World War II was at its peak, Stetson stepped up and took on government defence contracts to support war efforts. Stetson factories started producing parachutes, heavyweight webbing for parachutes and safety belts and had the perfect ad campaign to support their country, promote cautious behaviour during the war, discourage espionage and show military support “Keep it under your Stetson” and “Let’s bring him home quicker!”
When the war was over it was the perception that a hat was needed to get ahead in life, and a Stetson was the hat to get ahead in. Hollywood was not behind with this headwear boom and familiar figures like Gene Autry, James Dean, John Wayne, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were some of the most visible and big Stetson wearers. Stetson advertisements were published which featured notable actors like Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Ray Milland, Robert Young, George Montgomery in Life Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, Harpers Bazaar, Time, Look, and Men’s Reporter. This was also the time when Stetson created their most successful line of ladies hats in collaboration with Dorothy Lamour, Carole Landis and Susan Hayward.
1955 was a year for the books, when the most expensive Western hat was created. This hat was a master piece which took forty-three workers a year to assemble. At that time, 1955, the hat was worth $1,500. It was made of beaver felt, trimmed with a sterling silver band in the shape of a double rope strand and a solid gold longhorn steer head was added for ornamentation. This hat toured through Australia, Columbia, Germany, Mexico, New Zealand and Japan, stunning each country with its glory.
Stetson, having survived the great depression as well as two World Wars (not only surviving but thriving) still had its most difficult challenge to come. 1961 signalled the end of the “headwear era” and the beginning of “optional hat wearing”. This was a sad time, and the world has still not totally recovered from the tragic event, when the newly elected President John F. Kennedy took the oath of office and spoke to the nation hatless. Hat enthusiasts and lovers of the craft defined this as the exact moment the hat became an optional accessory, in contradiction to it being a requirement for proper dress earlier. Many hatters went bankrupt after this and only the very strong remained.
The 1980’s signalled a new era for the Stetson brand. The company started working with licensing partners and added fragrance, eyeglasses and luggage to its product mix.
Hit movies like ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ and ‘Urban Cowboy’ fuelled a spike in hat sales and it seemed like everybody wanted, no needed, an Indiana Jones fedora or slick cowboy hat in their life.
In 2005, Stetson expanded even more and launched men’s and women’s apparel and foot wear.
Now in 2012, Stetson is still on top of the headwear chain. An exclusive brand, classified as expensive to the ‘non hat lover’ classified cheap to the ‘hat enthusiast’ and bringing a tear of joy to the brave Cowboy. Stetson is a brand that has been old and wise beyond its years since the beginning and now in its prime is getting only more attractive. Stetson is the brand that connects the world. It is a link between the lone Cowboy singing to his cattle and the President leading a nation. It connects the humble schoolgirl waiting to grow up to the Hollywood lights and Texas’ cool summer nights. Yes Stetson is a brand that truly overcomes worldly differences. And from the first week in May, Stetson will connect the Free State ‘boertjie’ with Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley, it will connect the Kwazulu Natal farmer with Tom Mix and Indiana Jones and most importantly, it will connect the land at the bottom of Africa with the man who started it all, John B. Stetson.