Texan Joey Austin goes from selling his Hooey hats out of a pickup to helming a vibrant Western action brand.
Written by Constance Dunn
The summer of 2009 was a happening one for Joey Austin, a young guy in Spring Branch, Texas who, just a couple of years earlier, had started supplementing his construction wages by selling his custom hats out of his pickup truck. Not long after, a few local stores picked up his designs and after hearing that kids were regularly coming in asking for them, a buyer named David King contacted Austin with a make-or-break order for Cavender’s, a popular Western wear store. “He called me and asked, ‘Are you the Hooey guy?,’” recounts Austin. “I said: ‘I guess I am.’” The budding entrepreneur quit his job, and his mother helped him produce the order.
“Fortunately, they sold,” says Austin, “and the thing started to grow like wildfire.” Hooey was born. Prior to this break, however, Hooey was not more than a side gig for Austin. “I thought it would be big enough for me to get some entry fee money for rodeos and some gas money,” he describes. “I didn’t think I’d have a company that would become my sole source of income.” The name Hooey is a rodeo term referring to the final knot a roper uses to secure the legs of a calf. It’s a concept Austin knows well. He started roping competitively as a child, and though these days he only competes a few times a year, he can still be found roping regularly for pleasure.
And doesn’t have to go far to do it. Hooey’s new 15-acre Spring Branch headquarters, in addition to offices and a warehouse, also house a barn and an arena. The brand’s rodeo imprint goes even further with their rodeo-star-studded Team Hooey, and a big presence at National Finals Rodeo (NFR) each year. There’s a recent collaboration with John Wayne Stock & Supply too, featuring a man known to all cowboys—John Wayne—with Hooey hats and t-shirts featuring Duke images and sayings. “John Wayne was woven into my childhood and was such a touchstone as a TV and movie hero for me,” remarks Austin, who favorite Wayne films include True Grit (1969), Rooster Cogburn (1975) and, not surprisingly for a dyed-in-the-wool Texan, The Alamo (1960). But The Cowboys (1972) tops his list. Watching it as a kid, explains Austin: “It made you think that anything was possible, and it was such a fantastic ride throughout that entire movie.”
“I didn’t grow up with many resources, and that makes you creative out of necessity.”
Created to appeal to those in the lifestyle and sports of the modern American West, with styles influenced in part by the colorful surf brands Austin observed when in California, Hooey has stayed at the top rungs of the Western cultural landscape for more than a dozen years with a well-refreshed identity throughout; not an easy feat for a youth-driven action company. “We’re one of the few brands where the executive-level leadership still participates in this lifestyle every day,” says Austin. Having the company’s prime decision makers on the front lines of rodeo and other Western-driven pursuits is a “significant advantage,” points out Austin, enabling them to stay in the creative thick of the brand and move quickly on new concepts and designs.
It’s been a strong run of success at Hooey due to their culture, which includes large doses of fiscal responsibility and a perpetually well-tempered perspective on success. “We’ve only done what we can afford to do,” Austin points out, “and we’ve always stayed true to who we are.” Without the pressures of being beholden to outsiders, the brand has stuck to its own path, which includes assuming very little—no matter how much you’ve got. “I didn’t grow up with many resources, and that makes you creative out of necessity,” Austin points out. “You’re at your best when you have very little. It heightens your ambition. It heightens your creativity.” This is a mindset that burns brightly at Hooey from the top down. “How I live my life is how we run this business,” states Austin. “We don’t get too wrapped up in our own success. The minute you’re not humble and you assume too much is the minute you can do something to hurt your company.”
Photographs courtesy of Hooey