By Ameera Steward
For the Birmingham Times
Tajh Crutch and Archie Clay III may have met in Alabama, but their friendship has taken them places they could only dream about—and enabled them to make history along the way.
Crutch and Clay are nationally recognized for their successful company, WEAR BRIMS, the first Black-owned luxury hat brand sold by luxury retailer Nordstrom.
“[Nordstrom] reached out to us, … [and we] didn’t even know they were looking at us,” Crutch said. “I tell people all the time, ‘You never know who’s watching, so just continue to grind and do your thing because your opportunity will come.’”
Clay said he was “excited” about the Nordstrom partnership because it showed that WEAR BRIMS was “moving in the right direction.”
“A lot of times, you never know,” he said. “You build a company, you go through the ups and downs of building that company, and sometimes you want reassurance. … I think this was reassurance for us.”
WEAR BRIMS has a broad and growing clientele that includes actor Lance Gross, model Eva Marcille, NBA player Chris Paul, and comedian Cedric the Entertainer, among others. The company, based in Atlanta, Georgia, has been featured in publications like the Huffington Post and O, The Oprah Magazine, in addition to being highlighted on Black Parade Route, a directory of Black-owned business on the website of megastar Beyoncé.
In addition to being available via the Nordstrom website, WEAR BRIMS hats are sold at three brick-and-mortar locations: Perimeter Mall in Atlanta; Garden State Plaza in Garden State, New Jersey; and New York Men’s Store in Manhattan, New York.
“I think [the partnership with Nordstrom] was a highlight of last year because we … were in [the COVID-19 pandemic],” Crutch said. “Who would have thought that [Nordstrom] would be reaching out to us during a pandemic? When people were losing money, people were losing jobs, we were able to gain this amazing partnership.”
And that partnership is just as strong as the one between Crutch and Clay.
In it for the Long Run
On a recent April morning, Crutch and Clay drove to Birmingham from Atlanta for a photo shoot at the downtown Morris Avenue Historic District. Beneath a bright sun, the businessmen lined colorful WEAR BRIMS fedoras along a three-foot-high wall where the light illuminated the reds, oranges, and even the grays of each brimmed beauty.
Like the fedoras, the radiant smiles of Clay and Crutch caught the light as they joked and posed for the shoot. With the tweak of a hat here, the fix of a shirt there, a simple comment like, “That’s your pose,” the chemistry between these two 31-year-olds was on full display.
Clay and Crutch are not only close friends and business partners but also image-conscious professionals who exude confidence and self-awareness that can be transferred to customers. The two first met in Montgomery, Alabama, at the 2011 Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated, Cluster, a gathering where surrounding area chapters go to one city to take their national test to become members of the organization.
Crutch said he and Clay “just hit it off from [the] jump.”
“It was just genuine,” he continued. “I just saw [Clay] as a thorough guy. When I met him, he was upfront with me. He was himself, so you just adapt to and attract people that are genuine and real. … There were about 80 to 100 young men in there, and you don’t always keep in contact with everybody, but Archie and I kind of hung tight for the long run.”
Although the eventual business partners attended different Alabama schools—Crutch went to Troy University and Clay went to Tuskegee University—the two stayed in contact through social media, phone calls, and visiting one another.
“Alpha Phi Alpha set that foundation of brotherhood,” Clay said. “We connected, so we wanted to stay in contact … over the years.”
Approximately five years after their initial meeting, the two fraternity brothers decided to start WEAR BRIMS, a luxury hat company built on the pillars of family, faith, and confidence. When they started, the duo had a manufacturer but needed a name.
After brainstorming for a day or two about names related to fedoras—“crown,” for instance—Crutch mentioned his grandfather, recalling that “… my grandfather always says, ‘Take your brim off in the house’ and [Clay] was like, ‘Bro, that’s it!’”
Initially they chose the name Brims, but it was already taken on Instagram.
“We just put ‘WEAR BRIMS’ on there,” Crutch said.
Clay and Crutch wanted to be different in another way, too.
“Basically, there was empty space for luxury fedoras, and fedoras are … timeless,” Crutch explained. “They started a long time ago, and [people] still … wear them. … It’s one of those pieces that doesn’t its touch.”
Asked, “Why ‘luxury’ brims? Crutch said, “Why not?”
“We’re luxury. We’re going to provide you that A1 quality,” he continued. “Everything about us is luxury, so we’re not going to dumb ourselves down because everybody expects us to just come out with regular, urban-style hats or just regular hats. … We’re going to set this blueprint as two African-American men that can start a luxury brand from scratch.”
Trust in Perfect Timing
Even with the two coming from different cities—Clay is from Atlanta; and Crutch is from Enterprise, Alabama, where he was a student at Enterprise High School when an EF-4 tornado struck the school, destroyed the building, and claimed the lives of eight students—attending different universities, and pursuing degrees in different fields, one thing united them: fashion.
Crutch studied computer information systems and business administration at Troy and Clay studied sales and marketing at Tuskegee, but both had dreams of working in the fashion industry.
“I didn’t know what [working in fashion] looked like,” Clay said—until WEAR BRIMS was founded, that is.
As he considered pursuing a career in the fashion industry, Clay was trying to figure out what he wanted to do. He knew Crutch was into fashion and hats, so he decided to run the business idea by him during a call.
“God always has the perfect timing, and I think that was the perfect timing for me to reach out to him and ask if he was interested,” Clay said.
“It was a sign from the Lord [saying] that this needs to happen. He could have called anybody, but he decided to have faith in me and what I could bring to the table,” Crutch added.
Each business partner brings something different to WEAR BRIMS, which makes them a great team. According to Crutch, they have a great balance.
“[Clay] is more business-[minded] and more about the state of the business and helping us grow. He is amazing with that,” Crutch explained. “I’m more [on the] creative designing [side] and making sure that the product is where it needs to be, giving that luxury feel. … We both dibble and dabble in both sides, but we trust each other, … and that’s the main thing.”
Clay added that having trust and respect makes things easier to navigate, especially because, when Clay brought the idea to Crutch, neither one of them knew how to run a business or how to design.
“We both were learning, and I think that’s what allows us to really be transparent with one another now,” Clay said. “We’ve always learned through [the] process, and we’re still learning. . . I think that’s the only way we can get to the level of success where we want to be.”
It Runs in the Family
In addition to selling fedoras, WEAR BRIMS also offers baseball caps, T-shirts, and hoodies. They sometimes offer limited edition shirts, like the ones in their “Milliner Games” collection, “just for people to feel like they’re part of the WEAR BRIMS family,” Crutch said.
“If they don’t wear a fedora, they can wear the hoodie, a baseball cap, or a T-shirt,” he added.
Speaking about fedoras, in particular, Crutch said it is an accessory that gives confidence.
“When you wear [a fedora], people will automatically [be attracted to you]. It allows you to show your confidence, it shows you walking with pride, and it allows you to be comfortable in what you’re wearing,” he said, adding that you have to be really comfortable and confident to be able to wear a bright colored hat.
“When you walk into a building, … people don’t see your sneakers, people don’t see your jeans, most of the time they [will] see your shirt and whatever you have on your face and your head,” he said, explaining that a WEAR BRIMS hat just elevates the way you announce yourself when you walk into a room.
WEAR BRIMS evolved from the duo of Clay and Crutch into a team that is like a family. In addition to Clay, who works with the company full time, and Crutch, who dedicates his time to both WEAR BRIMS and his job as an information technology manager for another company, WEAR BRIMS consists of six other team members: Brandon Hicks, director of marketing and partnership; Tamirah Owens, director of finance; Kayla Guiste, intern and creative director; and the digital creation team of Kieauna Jefferson, Jose Alvarez, and Kyle Moore.
Although Crutch and Clay both are CEOs of the company, Crutch serves more as a creative director, handling most of the design efforts; Clay chips in when there’s a certain style or color he would like to see. For instance, the “Rosetta Rose,” a bright-red fedora with a red band and purple accent, was designed with Clay’s grandmother in mind.
“We both tap into each side here and there when we need to,” said Crutch, who added that he has different sources of inspiration for his designs—family members, friends, someone’s outfit, the color scheme of someone’s shoes.
Here’s a peek into the WEAR BRIMS creative process: It takes about an hour or two to design each hat. That design is then handed over to a manufacturer for the sampling process, which can take up to two and a half weeks. After Crutch and Clay approve the sample, it can take a month and a half to get the finished product.
Though the hats take center stage at WEAR BRIMS, Clay and Crutch emphasize that the culture of the company is very important.
“If the culture is dope, … people will work for you,” Clay said. “Most importantly, when people respect you and see the value in what you’re building, it’s easy. Of course, you’re going to have your down days, but it’s easy because they see the importance in what you’re trying to do. … I think it’s a blessing because we want to make sure everybody within our company has a voice.”
Own Your Crown
Clay and Crutch want to do more than become the number-one hat company in world—they want to help young entrepreneurs reach their goals and enhance their lives and the lives of their families. The WEAR BRIMS founders emphasized that their focus is to create generational wealth for those after them.
“I think that is aligned back to the company when we talk about family, faith, and confidence. Faith is literally the ability to believe in who you are, family is the root of who we are, and confidence is what has been embedded in who we are,” Clay said.
In addition to their three pillars, the brand is simply about being yourself.
“Be who you’re supposed to be,” Crutch said. “If you want to wear a white T-shirt, some lime green pants, and a WEAR BRIMS fedora, that’s you, that’s your confidence, that’s owning your crown. That’s why we create those statement pieces and those hats [because] when you walk into a room, you’re going to get the attention.”
All WEAR BRIMS items are unisex. Fedoras are all the same style with different colors and different bands, and sizes range from small (S) to extra-extra large (XXL); T-shirts and hoodies come in sizes S to XXL; and baseball caps are adjustable one-size-fits-all. To see the WEAR BRIMS collections, place an order, and learn more about the company, visit wearbrims.com or follow on Instagram: WearBrims, Facebook: WEAR BRIMS, and Twitter: wearbrims.