Our friends over at Handsome Citizens recently interviewed our own mad hatter, Will Conner, about re-launching his brand with the family name, bringing out your inner Frank Sinatra, and the quest to make Conner Hats as environmentally light-footed as possible. Thanks to the fine folks at Handsome Citizens, who revel in a simple life well lived. Check them out for your daily dose of summer. ........ C O N N E R H A T S have made their way onto the heads and galleries of some very talented surfing / creative individuals on Instagram. On a recent girl’s Eco-surf adventure to Tonga, Chrystal Fitzgerald, Lauren L. Hill and Ming Nomchong had a very sweet selection of Conner Hats packed for their journey.
We are chatting to Will Conner, whose father Bill started crafting leather hats in the late 60’s in Florida USA. He then immigrated to Australia, and set up an iconic Australian company named BC hats. These are still made today in the Conner’s hometown of Byron Bay. Bill is known as one of the colourful characters of hat making. The search for a secluded, hippy and musical lifestyle bought him to Byron Bay in the 70’s. To this day Bill surfs every morning at sunrise, plays a mean rhythm guitar in two bands and snowboards whenever he gets the chance! Son Will has had his share of an extraordinary life, having already sailed a two-person kayak, one of 6 kayaks with pal Dave Rastovich, in the TransparentSea adventure, raising awareness for coastal environmental issues. This adventure saw them getting lost from their crew, saving a seal and sighting Blue Whales. He tells the story: “We launched from Malibu at about midnight expecting a 2 hour sail under the stars. 11 hours later we ended up at a beach where Chris Del Moro’s mum lives.. I can’t remember the name.. Let’s just call it.. ‘Holy Blue Whale, am I happy to be back on land!’ Beach…” (Palos Verdes LA) And then there is his musical talent that has seen him perform with Jack Johnson. Sounds like a helluva father/son duo! HC: It’s great to see you continuing the family tradition of hat crafting. We have read that you were not prepared in the early incarnation of your own hat brand to use the Conner name. Some 14 years later the time has come to proudly introduce Conner Hats to the World, and build the brand for future generations. Congratulations! this must be a big moment for you and your family, can you tell us how you’re feeling about it? Well when you put your name on something you can’t hide… when you run your own business it rarely leaves your consciousness, and when you put your name on the product it takes everything to a whole new level. Basically every customer better be over the moon or I have to come to their house and mow the yard and do their dishes!
HC: Haha, we like your style!..You seem passionate about creating a sustainable business, causing minimal environmental harm and using organic materials…tell us more. Yes this is a big subject of which I have been a student my whole life and honestly have been failing at since day one. I really didn’t get serious until my wife told me that we were going to have a baby girl. Every single product we humans make creates some kind of environmental harm so I have had to take a really hard look at what we are doing in our business. I’m not talking about just making a few styles from organic cotton and acting like we are the jolly GREEN giant of hats… We have had to dig deep and make uncomfortable decisions based on long term goals and not short term profit. I grew up a strange mix of hippy surfer and entrepreneur so that means once you have enough for food and shelter and simple fun, the rest really isn’t important. That way of being makes the decisions I have made easier. For a long time now I didn’t realize why I was so bored with business and now since our daughter I realize I have a lot of work to do to make her proud.
Here is a list of the changes we have made so far and some we are working on at our USA warehouse. We hope to be launching the Conner brand in Australia sometime next year:  All paper products including office paper, catalogs and hang tags are 100% recycled and FSC and we recycle and reuse everything we can.  Removed all single use plastic hang tag connectors (these should be illegal in my opinion). We use a biodegradable string instead.  Switched most of our sweatbands to organic cotton with nontoxic dye  Our labels are now made from recycled PET (plastic bottles) and we use nontoxic glue to seal them in (it actually costs more for nontoxic glue!)  We use a lot of other great materials like Raffia and Hemp.  Next year we should have 90-100% of our power from solar on our new warehouse.  Instead of plastic garment bags we will be filtering in bags made from Tapioca that are 100% biodegradable.  The hat industry is as dirty as any, and we are in the process of eliminating all toxic chemicals from wool and straw production. This isn’t easy, but we’re moving forward and will be reporting our progress. This is just the beginning, lots more in the works, it never ends!
HC: That’s very impressive, if only more companies were this eco-friendly.. What was your childhood like growing up in Byron Bay? I’m so lucky to have grown up in Byron around lots of music and eclectic characters. We lived in the Arts factory before it was a venue and a caravan out the back, then we built a little house behind the hill there.. I listened to so many amazing bands as I was going to sleep. Also lots of bonfires on the beach and all of my family play music and surf, so it was a fun magical time. HC: It sounds like you’ve lived in Florida for some time. Tell us about life in St Augustine which is on the Florida Coast, do you surf there? How does it compare to Byron Bay? St Augustine is a unique part of Florida, it’s North Florida, so we have big oak trees and Spanish moss, its tropical but gets cold in the winter. It’s also the oldest city in America..a beautiful little beach town that looks very different to Byron but has a way of always bringing you back much like Byron does. I like having two places to call home but Byron is definitely my first love. For years it was just my family and I migrating back and forth, now Lauren and Dave (Rastovich) are on the same flight path so it’s fun to meet up over here and eat spicy boiled peanuts and talk in a funny southern accent. We do get the odd fun surf especially in hurricane season and we are close to the Caribbean and Central America if those long flat spells become unbearable.
HC: We took a sticky beak at www.willconner.com With an enviable list of achievements and experiences, what are the moments that have brought you the most joy and peace, in this fast paced World that we live in? One great thing about having a one year old baby is I have a constant reminder of what is really important and that is just being happy in the moment. I have always chased that adrenalin high of surfing and music and trying to achieve what people call success. All of those things create good memories but don’t bring me the deep lasting fulfillment that my smiling beautiful baby does just by being… HC: How does a day in the life of Will Conner look? Now days everything revolves around naps, eating and bike rides to the beach… it’s amazing how much work you can get done in a small amount of personal time you get.. It makes me wonder about all those hours I wasted in the past on staring at a computer. I’m really lucky to have a wife who understands and encourages me to go surfing as much as possible.. Although she has learnt to read the reports and has a bunch of apps on her phone so if it’s no good she gives me chores. Fair enough. HC: Do you have any words of wisdom that you use for motivation, when the work/life balance gets out of whack? I’m very self-motivated so normally I have to try to slow down… my inner Byron hippy tells me to breathe and clear my mind. It doesn’t always work but I try to take a moment every day for that. HC: Name your biggest musical influences? Which one of these have you drawn the most from, whilst creating your own music? I love songwriters. I’m a Bob Marley fan, I love his simple direct messages that everyone can relate to and his melodies are so good.. How could you not just love it! Unfortunately I sound nothing like Bob but what he did influences me a lot. I will keep writing and recording music as long as it continues to be fun. I’m in the middle of a new album and my baby daughter tells me if a song is good enough to record. She may be my new secret weapon.
HC: How do you want the wearer of a Conner Hat to feel? I want them to feel confident and free. You really can change your mood or bring out your inner Frank Sinatra. It’s amazing what the simple act of putting a hat on can do. It’s also great for a bad hair day and keeps your skin looking young. Thanks so much for your time Will, we look forward to the launching of Conner Hats, and following your journey on facebook and Instagram It was my pleasure, we are putting a lot of work into the new site.. We have some unique features we hope to be sharing very soon.
See the Eco-Surf adventure to Tonga with Chrystal Fitzgerald, Lauren L. Hill and Ming Nomchong on Summersite here Thank you to Ming Nomchong for providing the stunning images taken of Conner Hats in Tonga. You can follow more of this talented trio’s adventures on Instagram ☟ Chrystal Dawn Fitzgerald @dawnwolfdreamer Lauren L. Hill @theseakin Ming Nomchong @thedrifterblog