- Written by Sarah Sayles
- Published on July 01, 2011
When Roy Jackson grew up in the South Valley area of Albuquerque, NM, his dream was to work for the state fish and game service. But the twists and turns of life led him to a different career. Get him talking about Jaxonbilt Hats and you’d think he had never had any other dream in life.
Jackson had every intention to go into wildlife management when he graduated from New Mexico State University in 1971.
“I ended up as an employee for the Bureau of Land Management,” he says. The job eventually took him to Salmon, ID, where he served as the district manager for the regional district. But a change at the agency led Jackson to pursue a very different career. In 1995 he returned to Las Cruces, NM, where he had gone to college, and worked with Charles Dickerson Auctioneers.
Jackson soon realized he really wanted to swim upstream to Salmon. In early 1998, he apprenticed himself to hatmaker Daryl Sullivan in Las Cruces and learned all he could in three months. Then he returned to Salmon with nothing but “a steamer that I had bought from Sullivan Hatters.” He opened a hat shop in a small storefront on Main Street which he shared with a bootmaker.
Jaxonbilt Hats was born.
“We soon outgrew that,” he says, and the two businesses eventually moved to their current location. “Within six months the hat shop was paying its way.” In the early days, Jackson, who made each hat himself, hoped to be 30 days out on hats. Within a short time he was 8 weeks, then 14 weeks, and at one point was at 8 months out on new orders.
“I was working by myself entirely, building each hat by hand,” he says. “Finally I just had to hire some help.” He and his assistant have managed to get the backlog back down to 16 weeks.
“The process itself is both an art and a craft,” Jackson says. He believes each hatmaker works by the same basic principles: they get their felt “raw bodies” from one of only a handful of providers, they go through more or less the same steps to build the shape of a hat.
“I don’t use any heated machinery other than an iron,” he says. “I built my own flange press, and everything’s wooden that I use.” The little touches like these set Jaxonbilt Hats apart--that and his willingness to listen to exactly what his customers want.
“I offer standard styles,” he says, “but if someone has a style that is unique to them, if they can get me a picture of it or if I can write it down in a word picture, I can do my best to replicate it.” And he keeps his eye on the changing styles to make sure he has the latest in stock.
In addition, he has created a Conformer Kit, which he sends free of charge to his clients with instructions for making proper measurements. “This is a Jaxonbilt exclusive,” he says. The device sits on the head and the tabs are tightened with elastic, giving him a more accurate idea of the shape of the head. The Kit allows him to “build a head” inside the hat he makes for each customer.
Watch the company’s web site, www.jaxonbilthats.com, to find out what is coming next, especially his expansion into the Australian market, which he hopes to announce soon.