Jimmy Hickey


WORDS Jyssica Yelas PHOTOGRAPHER Tim Sugden

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From four people in a garage to twelve people in a warehouse, and the front page of Reddit and back, Jimmy Hickey isn’t your average suit-and-tie entrepreneur.

Like many businesses that experience a speedy growth, his idea came from one need that wasn’t fulfilled. As a young teenager, he lost his favorite quilted hat to the Toutle River. He decided then and there that this would never happen again. 

The next time Hickey arrived at the Toutle, he removed his shoelaces, cut a hole in the side of a new hat, inserted the laces and named it his ‘water hat.’ The shoelaces would wrap around the bottom of his neck, ensuring that his hat would stay sturdy on his head, no matter what the river brought this time.

Little did he realize, this ‘water hat’ was the first Findlay Hat – a hat that would later spark a community of over one-hundred-thousand hat-lovers strong.

Where do you get your inspiration from for new hat designs?
We really find inspiration in many different ways. Typically, we have a brainstorm session around a certain theme, and once we arrive on the theme, we’ll figure out how to tell a story within that theme. So, for example, for a winter line in the past, the theme was ‘a perfect winter day’ and we wanted to have a hat that represents each piece of that perfect winter day. Starting with a cup of coffee, a hat that’s inspired by the chairlifts, and so forth. We look for a theme and then expand on it within those parameters of that theme. That’s about as complicated as it gets. Other times we’ll just simply go off of, you know, ‘let’s figure out a way to incorporate these colors into a hat.’

You seem like you might be inspired by travel. Does any particular travel memory stand out to you?
As far as a particular memory that stands out, there’s when we ran into someone wearing our hats in Italy. We had the driver stop and pull over and I chased the guy down and asked him where he got the hat and I guess he got the hat from his buddy at a bar the night before…that night I posted our photo on Reddit and it actually made the front page of Reddit and we had like 3 month’s worth of sales overnight. We had tens of thousands of people go to our website and close to 3 million people viewed that image. It was a pretty crazy, surreal experience running into someone wearing Findlay on the other side of the planet.  

You recently celebrated Findlay Hats’ 5th anniversary. Congratulations! Looking back at your journey, what words of advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are starting their journey?  
A big piece of advice is you just got to do it. You just have to dive in and make it happen. There’s never going to be the perfect moment, and you can’t let good be the enemy of great. A lot of people will be waiting for that special time when everything is lined-up and perfect, and that moment just never comes.

Whatever your project is, whatever you’re trying to start, set a deadline and stick to that deadline. When that deadline comes, launch it that day and then you can fix it. You can improve it from there, but you really just have to get something out there. Another piece of advice is simply to trust your own artistic direction and vision. 

You told me you went from 4 people in a garage to 12 people in a warehouse. What was it like building your team?   
We’ve been hiring people based on the necessity to simply keep up with the demand. It’s been a pretty slow process, and a big piece of that has been simply finding the right people for fitting in with our team. We have a very tight-knit, friendly, chill environment and anyone new coming into this has to kind of fit in with that because it’s been a big piece of our identity.

I come from a photo background, not a team building background, so I definitely had to read a lot and learn a lot about leadership and running a team, organizing and that stuff. It’s been a challenge. It’s been enjoyable and I’m grateful for everyone we have on our team. It was a lot of work to get us where we are today, and we still have a long way to go, but right now I’m very satisfied and happy with how our team is looking.

What are your favorite things about being a Portland-based company?
We kind of represent the whole area of Cascadia without just using the images of Mt. Hood and the Portland city skyline and all that stuff. So that’s a big piece of it. We want to represent that city without being that Portland brand or anything like that. We want to differentiate ourselves from those who just use this city as a cash cow and profit off of its imagery. But, you know, their spread is a different level than with what we can achieve in our route.  

You’ve been known to collaborate with other local businesses from time to time. Are there any collaborations in the works right now that you could give us a sneak peek of?
We are working with Widmer Brothers on some hats, an awesome Portland brewery. We have some big stuff in the works as far as expanding to Australia. We have an Australian distributor that might actually take over a new section of Findlay called Findlay, Hats Australia. 

Your product is designed “for good times!” How does that play into your product design, and how does it affect your company culture?
It plays into our product design simply because we want to have something designed to stay on your head during those good times. That’s why we have the patented stampede lace, that’s why we have the lifetime warranty. We want people to wear our hats without being worried about them being damaged or broken.

We basically try to have those good times trickle throughout our entire brand, both as a product as well as where we actually make the hats. No one’s wearing a suit and tie here — it’s a pretty chill environment. The hats are made in a facility where good times are being had and they’re built for people to wear while having those good times too.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
My favorite philosophical quote is from Bob Dylan. It’s simply, “What is success? Someone is successful if they get up in the morning and get to bed at night. And in between, they do what they want to do.”

That quote is something that I’ve always loved and held dear. I’ve tried to build a lifestyle trying to do what I want to do throughout the day, which right now is building my company.