Brass Rooster turns to Kickstarter, readies new line of handmade hats
The gentleman’s hat has gone through something of a resurgence over the past few years. Blame it on Mad Men, pop stars, or a generation raised on Raiders Of The Lost Ark finally coming into enough money to purchase their own adventuring gear. Milwaukee has its own one-of-a-kind hat store, The Brass Rooster, which fashions gear for those looking to go old-school with fedoras, derbys, and porkpies. The store is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to launch a line of handmade hats using vintage equipment it already has, with the hopes of securing more equipment. The campaign runs until the end of March, and if successful, a launch party at the Iron Horse hotel will be held on the day of the Kentucky Derby in May. The A.V. Club talked with John McLaughlin, the owner of The Brass Rooster, about the importance of small businesses that deal with hats.
The A.V. Club: How did The Brass Rooster get started?
John McLaughlin: There was a large need in Milwaukee. There aren’t too many men’s shops, and men don’t get much when it comes to shopping. I’ve been a hat guy since I was in 5th grade and found my grandpa’s fedora in the closet. My wife has been a hat maker for over 20 years. We saw the need for a traditional shop here in Milwaukee, so we opened one. Shortly after our one-year anniversary, we were offered a very rare and large collection of 100-year-old equipment from a “master hatter” in Detroit. We utilized our back room and turned it into a manufacturing area. With that ability, we started making custom hats. We decided that we were going to design a full line of hats and offer them at wholesale to other high-end hat shops around the country.
AVC: What led you to use Kickstarter to launch the line?
JM: Kickstarter is a fantastic tool for artists. It helps connect people from everywhere to bring projects to life through a universal open belief for something better. You get to put something out there, and if other people see and believe in what you are doing, they get to be a part of it. They have really great projects and a strong setup. Out of all the crowd-funding websites, it’s the most well run and executed. We worked hard on the budget to make sure we weren’t asking for more than what we needed, and it’s a great way to raise awareness about our line and pre-sell hats to individuals who may not live around one of the cities that have a shop.
AVC: Explain how you chose the cities for your Brass Rooster tour.
JM: It’s a small and rare art that we’re helping preserve at The Brass Rooster. We love what we do, so we’re familiar with most of the shops like ours. We picked the cities by size and which ones have really good hat shops in them. So, if and when our project gets fully funded, it will allow us to do three things. First, it allows us to order the materials we need to make our samples. One of every hat in every color. Some of our suppliers have certain minimums that need to be reached, and the funding will allow us to do that. It will allow us the travel money for very modest trips to each city to sell our line to other hat shops. Once we’re able to stand in front of them with our hats, they can order what they want and we’ll make the orders alongside the pre-sale orders from the Kickstarter. It will also allow us to save some rare vintage machines we’ve found that aren’t available any more. These machines will let us increase our production numbers and speed without cutting any corners on our quality.
AVC: Tell us about your launch party at the Iron Horse.
JM: May 4 is a big day for The Brass Rooster. It’s the anniversary of our store opening, and it’s the Kentucky Derby. The Derby is the biggest day in headwear for America, so it makes sense that we launch our line on such an important day. The party starts at 3 p.m. There’s no cover, so come on down and expect to have fun. At 4 p.m. we’ll introduce and show our line, and afterwards in a side room people will be able to get up close to the product and try them on. The Kentucky Derby starts at 5 p.m., and the party will continue all night. So make sure to come on down and see the launch of a new high-end American hat company, right here in Milwaukee.