How Marin County’s Tommy Breeze turned a side hustle into a specialize
How Marin County’s Tommy Breeze turned a side hustle into a specialized hat brand

How Marin County’s Tommy Breeze turned a side hustle into a specialized hat brand

Becoming a hat maker was in many ways more random than planned.

Tommy Breeze hats came into being because Breeze had lent a hat to a friend and he needed a new one. He couldn’t find one he liked.

Six years later, Breeze is making a living creating specialized hats in Marin County. That means now every decision is intentional as he builds his brand.

The 29-year-old launched his hat company named in Fairfax, where he grew up.

READ ON NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

“I have a really deep love for Marin scenery and I love trying to capture it,” Breeze said. “My second mountain design was a combination of the Sierra Nevada in California and the Rocky Mountains. It was never supposed to be Marin, but some people see Mount Tamalpais.”

Breeze has gone from hand stitching each patch onto every hat, to having a crew using specialized sewing machines that are hand guided.

While he has been helping others with various aspects of the business, it is Breeze who continues to design the artwork for the patches with his roots in Marin often serving as inspiration.

“It’s not just designing the artwork on them, but it’s also designing the specific stitch patterns, and in many cases the order of operations of what is embroidered where and when,” Breeze said. “I also developed a process that I call hybrid patch manufacturing where the printed gradient is added first and embroidery is added on top of that printed gradient.”

Strategic growth

Breeze can tell the hats from the first year when he sewed about 1,000 patches by hand. He’s not sure if they could be collectors’ items, but he knows the quality has improved tremendously; this includes the actual hats, not just the sewing.

For the past couple of years he’s sold about 17,000 hats annually at an average cost of between $36 and $38 each.

“We are not focusing on growth right now,” Breeze said. “We are focusing on our current size ... so when we want to grow, we do so sustainably.”

In the next handful of years Breeze anticipates having the business locked in to where he will want to expand the product line as well as markets. Whether that is done through loans, crowd funding, or investors remains to be decided.

“I think the numbers this year are looking especially promising because we started to do (a) little bit more in terms of providing really good catalogs, revamping the website, and doing a lot of things that are more streamlined,” Breeze said.

A major thing that has changed since August 2018 when the company started is Tommy Breeze is no longer a one-man shop. Seven others are part of the team, which, Breeze admits, is allowing him to breathe easier.

Right now Tommy Breeze hats are in about 40 stores, mostly in the Bay Area — with some in Southern California outlets and other states.

“One of the next things we really want to do is go on the road, do some road trips with the brand,” Breeze said.

A tow-along trailer is being built that would essentially be a sewing machine on wheels for live events such as music festivals, or as a pop up. Customers would choose their hat, their patch and then wait for it to be sewn on.

Finding a passion

Art had always been a part of his life, but he has no formal art education. Much of what he does has been self-taught.

Early on, Breeze had been painting buttons, which he thought would translate into a patch for a hat. What he didn't realize is the patches would come in a box of 100. So he got more blank hats, sewed on the patches, and gave the finished product to friends.

What he thought might be a side hustle turned into a moneymaking business. While Breeze wouldn’t reveal financials, he said all profits are put back into the company.

Breeze has 14 designs in his collection, with a new one coming out roughly every year. This last year has been a bit of an anomaly with Vista being unveiled last December and Lakeview arriving four months later.

The Cypress patch is the bestseller with its Central Coast feel. Serenity, which has water, sun and sky, is the one Lady Gaga was seen wearing in 2021. Ridgecrest, which is rectangular, rounds out the top three selling patches.

“None have words, just the landscape. It’s a little window into the outdoors,” Breeze said of all the patch designs.

Online, people can customize their hat by picking the cap style and then the patch, which usually comes in a variety of color combinations.

“I just want people to be able to wear something that represents them, that helps channel their happy place,” Breeze said. “At the end of the day, if you picked up a hat of mine, it is your hat now. I’m excited to see them go on adventures.”

Kathryn Reed is a journalist who has spent most of her career covering issues in Northern California. She has published four books, the most recent Sleeping with Strangers: An Airbnb Host’s Life in Lake Tahoe and Mexico. She may be reached at kr@kathrynreed. com, or follower her at kathrynreed.com, Twitter @Kathryn0925, or Instagram @kathrynreed0925.