My name is Kevin Murphy, but my friends call me KJ. I hand-make custom, western hats.
I have always had a love for the west; the lifestyle, the simplicity, and the adventure. This is my story.
To understand my connection to the craft of “making”, I have to take you back to some of my earliest memories… I grew up using the ocean as an outlet. When I was 12, and grew enough to be able to handle myself in larger surf, I would sometimes find myself in over my head. There were no kook-cords (leashes) allowed, at least dictated by the older guys who had paid their dues for years.
When I would take a spill, and lose my board - I would have to make my way across the reefs to my dinged-up board resting in the rocks inside. Nearly every fall, I would make my way in to find my board with fins knocked out, gashes in the rails, and sucking in water. Needless to say, there weren't enough neighbor’s weeds to pull at 3 cents apiece to buy a new board or pay someone to rebuild mine.
I soon learned that I could repair my boards for pennies and build new boards for about $45, and I could make a few extra bucks making them for my friends as well. This new confidence in my ability became an obsession. I began to focus on little tweaks in the things I valued & spent my hard earned money on - aspects I could improve by “making” and customizing my own versions.
I would invest a majority of my time learning about the masters in their respective crafts, and take their best practices to make my own versions of their art: from surfboards and western button-down shirts, to custom furniture, kitchens, and in 1983 - custom Cowboy Hats.
You see, I mentioned I always had a love for the romanticism of the Old West - a passion I learned from my dad. My father was born and lived his early years in a ranching community in Wyoming. I grew up watching him steam his worn, old hat over a tea-kettle in the kitchen to bring life back to the shape in the crown & brim. I worked for months on end in pack-outfits in the Rockies and the Sierras, looking to escape the monotony of “normal”.
I was lucky to have the same size head as my dad, and he was happy to share some of his finer felts with me. I almost enjoyed wearing those more than going to buy some new, stiff hat off the rack. But there came a time when I needed a hat of my own. I faced a typical goldilocks problem though; the first hat was so big it would fall down to my ears, and the next size down would barely wrap around the top of my head.
After trying on every bit of inventory in the local tack shop, I pulled a few aside, and began mentally de-constructing them to see how I could improve the fit - thinking maybe thats what my dad was doing over the steam kettle.
From the 1980’s to the mid 90’s, I constantly had a new hat I was making. I would trade a friend a hat for some work here and there, or was making myself a new hat - but it was always a passion on the side. As word got out, more and more requests for hats came flowing in.
In 2009, as our great country was driving itself out of the economic downturn, the demand for hats was incredible. I shut down all other business operations and dove head first into opening a hat shop of my own. The sale of a previous business provided enough capital to purchase an old hat factory - some of the machines dating back to the early 1900’s. Some of the machines took months of re-furbishing to get back into working shape.
I’ll save the rest of the story for our next time together. Make sure you follow me to not miss part 2: Instagram: @thecowboyhatter - facebook.com/kjmurphys - www.kjmurphys.com
As for the hat I am contributing, I am making a traditional Vaquero hat. These flat-brim hats are some of the most difficult to make, and have become a passion of mine. Their appeal is romantic, and looks are distinguished. This particular crown is fashioned with a flat-crown as opposed to a telescope crown. The hat is adorned with a braided, rawhide hatband. I plan to marry the felt to the rawhide with with hand-crafted silver tassels.
I present: El Californio.