Craft

Q/A with Jack Elway, Founder of Mint Tradition

03.06.17
Jack Elway came out of college with no real direction. By letting his creativity run free & bringing sketches to real life products, he found his true calling.

Name Jack Elway

Craft Founder of Mint Tradition 

Location Denver, CO

Is there any defining moment that inspired you to begin Mint Tradition?

Yes. I went to school and was pretty much planning on playing football for the rest of my life. I ended up quitting football, graduated college, and went to work for my dad’s firm. Over the course of a couple of years, I just felt kind of hollow. I was in California at the time, so I quit my job there and moved back to Colorado to get down to my roots. I’ve always been a creative person; I draw constantly and I’ve always been a huge fan of hats. I kind of had this little idea and in the end, it grew from there. I think part of the reason that I wasn’t happy at the car dealership was not having an outlet for self-expression. So I saw this as an opportunity to express myself and get my creative side out there. It took a leap of faith to jump into all this, but I haven’t looked back and it’s been awesome.

How did you and co-founder Geoff decide to collaborate?

Geoff and I were talking at dinner and just by chance I figured out he was already making his own custom hats in his basement with his own sewing machine and doing everything by hand. We both had very similar visions for what we wanted in a brand. From then on we both knew that it would be good to be a team.

What is your favorite part of being in the industry?

The first time I drew a hat out, designed it and went through the whole process of actually creating it was really cool for me. I thought it was such a great form of self-expression. And then to be able to hold it in my hands and share it with people is amazing to me. I’ve made friendships with some really creative people that have enriched my life and opened my eyes up to all sorts of thinking and living.

You talked about the first time you made a hat and how cool it was to design it and build it yourself and then hold it in your hands. Is that something you still have – do you still have that hat?

Oh yeah. We call them the OG hats. The Original Gangster hats [laughs]. I have those hanging on my wall. It was kind of a turning point for me because it’s definitely a long process to go from drawing it to getting it manufactured. I don’t think people realize how expensive and time consuming all that can be. It was really a good experience for me to break through and have an object in my hand that I could be proud of. That feeling is what keeps me going.

So do you use that first one you made as a model to sell more? Is it something you’re currently selling?

Yeah. The first ones we got made are the designs we are selling now. Initially, we only made one of each kind of design to get a feel for how they would turn out and they all turned out really well.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned since starting Mint Tradition?

I feel like every day I learn something new. I had never started a business before and didn’t know a lot about fashion, so I’m constantly learning. But if I had to pick one lesson, it was learning how to unleash my creativity correctly and communicate with my audience. You have to learn how to put yourself out there and to be completely vulnerable to other people and other opinions. I think, we all live different lives and go through different struggles and that’s what makes each one of us special and authentic. To learn how to let go of societal standards and to just be yourself entirely is what I’ve learned is the best for the soul and the business.

Other entrepreneurs have talked about their “I made it” moment – have you ever envisioned something like that for the future?

I think that I’ve had a bunch of I’ve made it moments, but as soon as I hit that moment another “I made it” moment is created. When I first started, the “I made it moment” was just creating my first original hat – after that, it was making my first sale and so on. Currently, my idea of the “I made it moment” is developing my business further and expanding the brand so that we can continue to innovate and make new designs.

Does your work reflect your personal fashion taste? Can you describe your style?

It’s tough for me to say because honestly, I’m here exploring. I’d definitely say everything the company creates represents our personal taste. Style and tastes change weekly and layer on top of each other. I really like the edge of streetwear mixed with the elegance of higher end fashion. I feel like they complement each other really well.

Do you have any style inspirations?

I would say first and foremost that Geoff, my partner, is one of the biggest inspirations for me because aside from Mint Tradition, he’s in fashion school right now designing his own clothing. It’s cool to see his perspective on fashion. It’s really opened my eyes to the possibility of fashion. And I’ve also got a few good friends that have clothing lines as well. My friend Danny Andrade, the founder of Conspire, is an amazing creative friend who started with hats. I recently met the founder of Informal apparel, Max [Badham]. He’s really pushing the limits of fashion and I really respect what he does.

How would you dress up and dress down a Mint Tradition hat?

I think that’s part of the reason I like hats, they can kind of go both ways. If I’m going out at night I like to wear a Topman coat, Buscemi shoes, G-star jeans and then a Mint Tradition hat. I feel like that goes really well together. But then also when you’re just in sweats and a t-shirt, you can throw on the hat and it looks just as good. That’s how I’d do it.

Anybody, in particular, you would want to see wearing your hat?

There are people all around me who are chasing their dreams and taking risks, those are the people I would love seeing my hat on and representing the brand …Most of all I want people to support the brand not only because they love the aesthetic and design but also because they believe in our brand message to develop themselves by putting all of who you are into what you do and seeing where it takes you. That’s what I want the brand to represent. Anybody that is doing that with their life is the type of person that I would want to wear my hat.

How are Mint Tradition products made?

All of our products are made entirely in the United States and each component is sourced from an American company. It’s definitely more costly to do it this way, but we feel the quality is that much better and that’s what we want to bring to our customers. We can hand make all of our prototypes in house, which is awesome for us to do to have patterns. After making them in-house, we’ll perfect the design from there and make sure it’s perfect before we send it out for production.

How did you select the materials used to make the product?

We didn’t want to go too outlandish with our designs but we definitely wanted to have some flair in there. We really pride ourselves on the materials that we use and believe that those are the heart and soul of what we do. The leather that we use represents the top 2% of hides in Europe. And we only use full grain leather, and full grain is considered the highest caliber of leather in the world. The beauty is that over time all the hats will wear in, not out, and will patina to perfection with age. And they’re also sourced responsibly, so each hide is a byproduct of the food industry. The tanning is built mostly around water-based material, therefore limiting the emissions of volatile organic compounds. When we source our stuff we are very aware of where we are getting it from and how. When it comes to the straps, we found that a lot of what other hat brands were doing was very similar, so we wanted to do something different. We found a manufacturer in Florida who manufactures watch straps. We worked with him to repurpose one of their high-end leather padded watch straps into a form that would fit our hats. I honestly think it’s one of the best parts of each of our hats, the strap on the back. I don’t think there is anything else like it.

How can consumers customize the hats?

We’re capable of taking the brim of the hat and completely customizing the brim. So, you could take any sports team, and we can re-wrap the brim with any material and any pattern, anyway people want to do it. We don’t embroider our hats or anything like that, it mostly revolves around the re-brimming of hats with different types of materials in pretty much any combination that a customer wants.

What are your plans for the future of the company?

The future is to stay the course and continue to try to perfect the art of making a hat. I think that’s where we want to focus. As we grow, who knows, we might do other accessories and clothing, but for now, hats are definitely our focus.

What would you say has changed in you from the beginning to where you are now?

I think it started off as just an idea and you have this idea in your head of how you’re going to be successful and you have a vision for the future. And then the more you get into it, the more you start working, the more you realize how difficult and how complicated the industry really is. It just goes with the saying, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know.” It’s a day in and day out of learning the business, which is fun. It’s been great and it's stuff that I don’t think you can really learn in school or learn any other way than jumping in and trying to figure it out.

Is there anyone who pushes you or helps serve as an inspiration to you?

There has kind of been a lot of different people that have inspired me along the way…and you know, my dad, he knows football, that’s what he knows, and he doesn’t know the fashion industry at all but he has shown me that with a relentless will anything is possible. When it comes to fashion inspiration my partner, Geoff, has been the biggest inspiration for me. He is a fashion designer and seamster and is constantly inspiring and teaching me. My friend and hip hop artist, Catch Lungs, has served as a person who has opened my eyes to the possibilities of self-expression through fashion.

Anything else you would want to tell people?

I would say that the key to success I have found is in learning to believe in yourself, but also knowing when to ask for help – vulnerability is a form of strength, and never giving up…you only truly fail when you give up. I heard a quote that success is failing over and over again without losing enthusiasm – so that’s what I try to implement in whatever I do. Mint Tradition is endorsed by the following NFL players: Malik Jackson, Laquan Treadwell and Demaryius Thomas. They also recently collaborated with Derek Wolfe’s clothing brand, DEFWU. This interview has been edited and condensed.