Q & A with the founder/designer of dedicate, T. Williams
Why did you create dedicate?
In 2005, I was living on Teton Pass (part of Highway 22 that crosses the Teton Range), was a dedicated rider, earning my turns, not paying to ride ski lifts, which I was too broke to afford, anyway. For years, I'd been desperately seeking (paid) outlets for my creativity, which I'd discovered and developed from a very young age. I got into screenprinting, and scraped some money together to buy a print press and started messing around with the 22 design for myself, my neighbors, people who rode The Pass. I sold some 22 stuff out of a duffel bag at a couple of local spots like The Stagecoach Bar and The Mangy Moose, and people ate it up. I knew I was on to something. At that point, I was waiting tables at night, catering all summer, staying away from the day jobs, but painfully aware that this kind of work had a shelf life, that the dream wasn't going to last.
There was nobody making these kind of local designs, at the time, so I knew there was a demand, but I needed the right product. Back then, mesh hats were scarce, so I knew they'd go off. I designed the first three dedicate hats at the same time. There was the 22 hat, along with the Colorado hat and Vermont hat, both places that I loved, learned from, and wanted to keep coming back to, keep discovering, and I'd always wanted hats for these places. And it worked, slowly, but surely, and from there I brought in Alaska, then California, Washington State, New Mexico, Montana and Arizona, for all a lof of the same reasons. There are still a lot of places left on the list.
Why revive the trucker hat?
The patch-front, mesh-back hat is an American icon, but I wasn't finding them anywhere, other than the occasional thrift store. I wanted to bring back this style. Growing up in the sticks, all the farmers were wearing them; and in the movies, the truckers were wearing them. Mesh keeps your head cool when you’re working, and the brim protects you from the sun. It's made for function and it’s a symbol for what America was.
Who wears dedicate?
Fisherman in Alaska … smoke jumpers in California … ski patrollers in Vermont … The hats are generally worn by pretty authentic folk who are a legit part of these places. The designs don’t state the obvious, like printing “Colorado” right under the Colorado flag. They’re not souvenir hats, and that’s why they work.
What’s behind the style of the dedicate hat?
I grew up playing baseball, dreaming about The Majors. I idolized old-time players, like Ted Williams. All the team caps we had were always made with buckram backing, which is engineered to keep a perfect, rigid crown...but that's not how the old-time caps were. The modern day hats was practically impossible to break in. To get one broken in proper, I'd have to soak a hat in water, put a wet towel over my hat, and wear it with water dripping down, bleeding ink on me. Other times, I’d just cut the buckram out of the hats, altogether.
I wanted to bring back hats with hand-sewn patches—that's what an old timer would be wearing at the general store or the farmer’s co-op. Everything out there, at the time, had this machine made look, was being embroidered.
So I wanted a patch and wanted the hat to come worn in. I designed the first few hats with these things in mind.
What’s your design philosophy?
dedicate follows a strict no-branding etiquette. To me, a product should stand out on its own without any branding. You should be able to recognize the style from across the room. And in the case of a flag hat, for instance, there’s really no place for branding, anyway. For the most part, it's minimal, just letting the construction stand on its own, that's enough.
What do people get from wearing dedicate?
The common feedback I get is, “Everybody is talking about my hat,” or, “ Strangers stop me on the street to ask me about it.” Friends always tell me stories about some situation that their hat created. Because there’s a familiarity. A dedicate hat creates instant connection and intimacy around a place that you are passionate about, and connection and intimacy are two of the things missing in our modern life. That’s part of the problem with us wearing corporate logos on our clothing for the last couple of decades. There’s nothing to talk about there. And who wants to be a walking advertisement, anyway?
Also, our products are just better!
Tell us about you're push to make American made, sustainable products...
I spent the first year of R&D trying to find manufacturers in the US, but by the end of it, I realized all the places I contacted were going to take my order and send it overseas. I was unable to find anyone who would manufacturer the kind of designs I wanted to make, domestically. So, I had to go overseas, myself The plus side of that, was from the begining, I had to go bigger with my orders than I wanted to, and this meant honing my skills, right away. It also benefitted my company in that we did not need to spend as much per unit, so we could offer our customers cheaper products. This has been instrumental in building our brand.
Though, the overseas manufacturing was a success, there were a lot of hard lessons involved. And one of the greatest lessons I learned is what I knew from the begining...that these products need to be made here, in the United States, not 8000 miles away, for the sustainability of the brand and the sustainability of the planet.
So now, we're making the majority of our products in America. This has allowed us to shift our attention to the sustainability of the materials we source. We are using mostly natural materials like organic cotton, supima cotton, and hemp. We don’t want to outfit people at the expense of the earth we live on. Of course, we still have to use polyester for the mesh and snaps...no getting around this, as of yet, but we will. We've actually looked into recycled poly for these elements, but that stuff is no more eco friendly thatn virgin poly and it can't be recycled.
How do you respond to people who complain about the higher costs of your products?
When I started this, I never intended on making stuff that people would not value to the fullest. That's why it's all limited edition. And after so many years, of hard work, taking risks, I came to the realization that these kind of products are simply not valued at they're worth. I've learned about things like "True Cost": People think that a T-shirt should cost them $10 bucks...but that price is made possible only through mass production on the backs of 3rd World workers who will probably be lucky to take home $10 bucks at the end of their work week.
I made dedicate a limited edition company to give our products value that increases over time, so they don’t end up in a landfill, or in the bottom of your sock drawer. And I never set out to make trendy products that everybody and their mother would be wearing, that, to me, is a dead end. Everything we make has got to be classic.