Daisy May Hat Co. owner Gage Speas talks music, family, and the allure of a good hat.
Gage Speas is a successful businessman, a new father, and had a whirlwind few years touring as a lead singer with metalcore band To Speak of Wolves—all by the age of 30. This June marks two years since his launch of Daisy May Hat Co.—the curiously named brand designed to be “a pipe-bomb through the window of fast-fashion”—and Speas says the risks he took are certainly paying off. We catch Speas in between hat-making at his shop in Nashville.
You have a toddler and a newborn. How do you manage the work-life balance?
Life’s a little bonkers right now. My fiancé, Donna, and I have a daughter who is 2½ and a newborn son. Normally, I’ll work in the shop from 10 until 5:30, then go home and hang out until 8:30 when my daughter goes to bed and then come back to the shop until midnight or 1 a.m. to meet orders. I just got an apprentice, so that’ll make it easier.
I always try to stop, take a breath, and find time for myself. I take every Sunday off for a family day. We call them “Pancake Sundays.” I love shooting my bow. When my daughter takes her nap, I go to the range and shoot arrows for two hours.
How did a boy from New Mexico end up in Nashville?
I grew up in Edgewood, a small cow town outside of Albuquerque. I got into metal and hardcore bands, and every Friday, my dad would give me money for the show, food, and a T-shirt and then drop me off in town.
This shaped who I was. I always wanted to be in a band and dropped out of high school to join one. We did a tour and then broke up. I got tight with my favorite band, Oh, Sleeper, and when I was 18 they asked me to be their merch guy. After a few years, they got me into To Speak of Wolves, a band on their record label.
I fell in love with Nashville when we toured there. It’s a big city but a small town because everyone knows everyone. I moved there when I was 22 and took oddball jobs between tours: I was a Zamboni and a meter maid.
How did you get into hat-making?
I always loved hats. I was a bull rider in high school and wore cowboy hats. When I moved to Nashville, I wandered into a hat store and got an apprenticeship making hats for three years on and off while I was touring.
Tell us how the business started.
One day, I arrived to work late because I forgot to drop my daughter’s diaper bag off with the sitter. Well, technically I was on time as the doors had not opened yet, but my boss was boring holes in me with her eyes. I thought, “This sucks. I love what I’m doing but don’t like having a boss.” So I quit. Then I thought, “What am I doing? I have a one-year-old daughter.” When I told Donna I quit, she said, “That’s great. You should start your hat company now.” I burst into tears with the overwhelming sense of relief. I started a Go Fund Me for $3,000 and raised $4,500 in a week.
There must be a story behind “Daisy May.”
When I was with Oh, Sleeper some kids came up to us in a mall and introduced themselves by their nicknames: “I’m Twitch. I’m Firestorm.” So, I said, “Hey, I’m the Wizard. I’m the Maze. I’m Daisy Maze.” From there on out, the band called me “Maze.” When I started the hat company and told people it was called Daisy Maze, they kept calling it “Daisy May,” and I realized that was easier to say.
Discuss the artistry in your hats.
I make hats pretty much in the same way they did in the 1800s: The majority of the work is done by hand. The hats are made with rabbit, beaver, or mink felts. Rabbit is a great quality felt and a good option for a first hat. It can get rained on, but if it gets wet, you’ll want to hang it up or, if it’s a flat brim, dry it on a flat surface.
Beaver fur is a top-of-the-line felt hat body that wicks water away better than rabbit felt. Beavers live in the water, so the felt has a natural water-repellant oil. If you want a beat-it-up-get-it-dirty-and-wear-it-forever hat, get a beaver felt hat body. I use a mink-beaver blend for high-end hats. My hats will last forever if you take care of them. You can pass them down to your kids.
I can spend anywhere from four to six hours on a hat and up to 24 hours if it’s dyed. When I make a hat, I steam the hat body, push it over a block, and then sand it down. I iron the brim flat and sand it down. I shape the hats by hand, sew in the sweatband, and tack on the trim. I like to work with material you can’t find anymore. I’m always sourcing ribbons that were made back in the 1930s and 1940s. I also like to work with exotic leathers, like crocodile, gator, and python.
What trends are you seeing?
I’ve been asked to do fun dye jobs like making a hat with an off-white base color and a black-and-gray splatter dye job. I’m also seeing a lot of teardrop crowns, which has a nice pinch in the front and a 3½-inch flat brim with a pencil curl, which is a ¾- or ½-inch curl in the edge of the brim.
What are your favorite hats?
I wear a Black Rifle ball cap. I make myself hats, but I always end up selling the ones I’m wearing! My main go-to is a flat brim hat, with a 3-inch rim and ½-inch pencil curl with a teardrop crown and cool dye job and band.
What has been the reaction to your brand?
I’ve been blown away. I knew I was good at making hats. I started this company to feed my family, but it’s wild that it has this cult following. I am selling internationally and never know who will call me or walk into the shop. I’ve made hats for Tim Montana, Billy Gibbons, Post Malone, Brendan Schaub, Diplo, tattoo artist Dr. Woo, and Mat Best at Black Rifle Coffee Co.
How do you take care of a hat?
Don’t leave it in a hot car! It shrinks. Get a nice hat hanger or throw a nail on the wall to hang up your hat. Brush or sponge it every week or every other week—unless you like a dirty hat, which some people do. And don’t sit on it. However, if something happens, I offer a lifetime warranty. Just ship your hat back, and I’ll fix it and ship it back to you no charge.
You should get a rabbit felt hat reshaped every seven to eight months. You can reshape a beaver felt hat every year to year-and-a-half.
Tell us what is exciting now.
I launched a podcast called Daisy May Chat Co. My producer, David Young, is a Grammy-nominated producer and a customer. I’ll interview anyone. When I was touring, I loved to hear people’s stories. Recently, I interviewed Zach Bell, who runs the Instagram page Veteran with a Sign and custom boot designer Dustin Bowen.
Also, I have a new shop opening and am about to roll out a ready-to-wear line for men and women online. Check it out. Let’s make you a hat and get you looking awesome.