Taken from Fashion 81 article; summer, 1981
The burgundy Jaguar sedan with the fresh temporary license sticker in the window sits in front of his factory. John Shady Brady really likes that car. He likes his van and his little office and his 20 employees and his time clock that he never thought he would install. He likes being a success.
At Least, he thinks he likes it.
Brady, 29, is a California success story. He designs hats. But these are not just ordinary hats.
They start as conventional raffia cowboy hats that are then manhandled and bent by Brady's employees and machinery until they have a "real lived-in look." Then comes the Brady hatband, a sartorial hen house of feathers.
Thousands of people annually spend between $50 and $80 to buy a Shady Brady, says Brady. The Shady Brady California hat, which premiered in 1976, is becoming the status symbol of that new trendy set - the people in the $25,000 raised pickups with the custom paint jobs and German stereo systems. Brady originally credits the urban cowpoke movement to helping the growth of his business, and says current sales have definitely been helped by such films as "Smokey and the Bandit" and "Urban Cowboy." Of late, one saw Michael Phiffer wear a "Brady" in the movie "?????".
All this does make Shady Brady moderately happy and his accountant ecstatic. "But darn it," Brady insists, "I didn't really plan it this way."
The Shady Brady story began a three decades ago when Brady was another no - major - because - the - upper - classmen - got - all - the - good - courses freshman at Cal State Long Beach. Brady was less than enthusiastic about school. What he really wanted to do was surf.
So he packed his knapsack and surfboard and decided to follow the sun and the perfect wave. His father, he recounts, was miserable. His bright son, for whom he had so many dreams, was going off to become permanently waterlogged.
There was Brady chasing a pretty decent wave not too far from Cape Town, South Africa when a gnawing feeling in his stomach told him that even freethinking surf bums needed to eat. Another have - board - will - travel type showed him how to do a little leather work. Just belts and sandals and easy stuff. The items sold, and Brady ate and surfed.
In New Zealand, he introduced the beach chic of Auckland to the joys of sandals made from old tires. In Australia, he started making hats. He sold his hats without a peddler's license and met a few policemen. At the time, John was pushing age 25 and needed a place to settle down and plant his surfboard, and Australia was relatively hassle-free.
Sydney would be fine.
But with the world the way it is, a well-tanned California surfer cannot decide to live happily ever after in Australia without first returning to the United States to ask the bureaucrats for permission.
Eating is just as necessary in L.A. as it is in Sydney and Auckland, so Brady did the swap-meet circuit selling his leather hats. Then the price of leather doubled and Brady discovered the straw hat.
"Straw hats are more compatible with California weather anyhow," Brandy insists. "At swap meets, I would I put on a show in the back of the van. I would crunch the hat. I would stomp on it and kick it. The hat would just end up looking better."
Willie Nelson bought a Shady Brady straw hat. So did Robert Blake and Steve McQueen. A pattern seemed to be forming. And a few shop owners started dropping by his van and ordering the hats to sell to their urban cowpokes.
Brady started selling wholesale.
That was many years ago. Today Brady (there is no incorporated or company or limited or associates after his name) is president of Shady Brady. His dark brown hair is no longer sun-streaked, but he is still surfer slim. Surfer photos line the walls of his 15,000-square-foot factory in a Northern California industrial park. A shiny, too-new-looking surfboard is propped ceremoniously in the corner of his office.
The Shady Brady factory is overcrowded. He keeps explaining to his insurance agent that all those stacks of boxes are only temporary, and as soon as one of his neighbors goes out of business (this is, after all, a recession and those things happen), he will expand some more. His landlord approves because Brady always pays his rent precisely on time.
Brandy doesn't like to talk about the dollar volume of his business. But it doesn't take too much mathematical ability to figure that, at the rate of 52,000 hats annually, he's probably selling close to $1 million of hats right now.
Big department stores have tried to place big orders but Brady says they want to take 60 days to pay and this does not please president Brady, who has to pay his workers and secretaries and accountants each week. And then there is cat food for watch-cat Cosmo, a large creature without a tail, who has moved into the factory.
Mom and pop stores are just fine with Brady. However, his major Los Angeles accounts are the Earthcraft stores.
He still goes to swap meets with his shiny black van and nicely designed booth. "It keeps me in touch. I still won't take plastic credit cards at the swap meets. You know, they want 3%. I think that is terrible."
About going back to Australia and that perfect wave...
"I still think about it , but I have cars and leases so the trip to Australia will have to be put off. It's so damn profitable. My dad brags about me now. You know business is like the ocean. It's like going up against a force. It's like surfing."