A Man of Many Hats: Meet Brian Downey, Skateboarder, Entrepreneur, and Hat Maker
Almost everyone has a t-shirt they love for sentimental reasons, whether it’s a souvenir from an epic concert or a gift from a loved one. But the memories we attach to our favorite t-shirts often outlive the fabric they’re made of. It’s the classic clothing conundrum: what to do with these tattered, stained, ill-fitted keepsakes that we can’t bear to throw away, but can no longer wear in public?
Brian Downey has the solution: bring a t-shirt to him, and he’ll turn it into a hat.
The Amazing T-shirt Transformation Program is the latest venture of Falcon Bowse, Brian’s San Francisco-based company centered on producing clothing and other items from natural and repurposed materials. The project began as a Kickstarter venture and has expanded into a pop-up shop here in Greenpoint, at 110 Meserole Ave. I had the opportunity to interview Brian at his new store.
GP: Tell me about the inspiration for your company, Falcon Bowse.
Brian: When I was growing up my mom was always into making things sustainably; she grew her own food, made her own clothes, made our soaps. And I’ve always been a skateboarder. I knew I wanted start my own business and bring those two things together. I used to steal my mom’s candles and mix them with crayon to make skate wax, which I sold to my friends.
GP: How did you get the idea to transform t-shirts into hats?
Brian: I like the 5-panel hat because it’s a popular style among skateboarders, and you can get pretty creative with it. I started experimenting with different fabrics, and it just kind of clicked: everyone has t-shirts, and everyone identifies with a favorite piece of clothing that they can’t wear anymore but want to hold onto.
GP: What led you to set up your shop in Greenpoint?
Brian: Really fortunate coincidences. I had just launched the Kickstarter for the T-Shirt Transformation Program and randomly hitched a ride to New York to go visit some friends. It turned out one of my friends knew someone named Rachel Yaeger who had just bought gallery space in Greenpoint but had nothing booked for the month of August. So I went to meet her the next day and she was like, “I’m Rachel, here’s the keys, here’s your pop up shop for a month!” And I was like, “Alright, guess I’m staying in New York for a month!”
GP: What has your experience in Greenpoint been like so far?
Brian: The community here in Greenpoint has been super supportive, people have done way more than I could have imagined. Once I got the keys I had this totally empty space, and I needed supplies to make some furniture and frames. Trish Andersen of Domestic Construction , just let me come in and start building things for my shop. To decorate the walls, Josh Stewart over at Theories of Atlantis gave me all these painted skateboards to hang. My old friend Tess Barbara who lives in Greenpoint and works as a traditional hand-painted sign artist helped out hugely by decorating the store front window and sandwich board with the Falcon Bowse logo.
GP: What are the future directions for your Falcon Bowse company?
Brian: I’d like to move this project to the digital realm, so people could upload a picture of their t-shirts and design their hats with a click of the mouse. Upscaling the project is a challenge I’m still working out because I’m not interested in outside manufacturing, so I’m the only person making all the hats. It’s still really exciting for me because each hat comes out different and unique. And that’s the idea- to bring something personal back from the past, and make it relevant in a new way.
GP: I have a t-shirt I want you to make into a hat. How can I reach you?
Brian: You can come into my shop with your shirt, or just visit my Kickstarter page
Author’s note: The deadline for Brian’s Kickstarter project is August 28, so act fast if you’re interested!