Editor’s Note: This feature was made possible by our friends at Coal Headwear
Back when I was in my early 20s, I spent a lot of time riding at Whistler. It’s an incredible place, full of just about anything a snowboarder could ask for. While I never got as good as I wanted, I had a handful of friends who were sponsored by a variety of snowboard brands. On one such trip, I noticed that, while they were all wearing or riding some form of gear made by the brand they rode for, nearly all of them were wearing Coal beanies on their heads. I’d never heard of Coal at the time, and the more I looked around, the more I noticed that most of the people wearing Coal were extraordinarily good snowboarders. The beanies they were wearing were decisively snowboard-styled — a little slouchier with very subtle branding. Since that time, I’ve watched Coal turn from a few beanies worn by an exclusive group to a wildly popular brand that has managed to stay true to who they are in the process. Now, all these years later, from snowboarders to surfers and everyone in between, Coal has embodied a distinct style that anyone who plays in the mountains or ocean can recognize.
Twenty years ago, a group of snowboard industry pros got together to chat about something. They’d noticed that nobody in their industry was focused exclusively on making headwear. There were apparel companies and hardgoods brands, but most were treating their headwear as an afterthought, covering it with big logos and heavy-handed branding. Most of the beanies and hats at the time weren’t exactly what people who actually snowboarded wanted or needed, so they decided they’d fill the hole. There, Coal Headwear was born.
“It was really word of mouth,” said Joe Windemuth, Coal’s Managing Director. “That’s how the business was built in the early years. It was kind of by snowboarders for snowboarders.”
Based out of Seattle, Coal has stayed true to their market for two decades. The brand is still run by a relatively small group of people, and that’s just the way they like it.
Despite its roots in snowboarding, the people at Coal don’t necessarily think of the brand as a “snowboard headwear brand.” The people who wear Coal gear are of a certain ilk — people who love the outdoors and require a quality product that suits their own personal style and identity.
“At Coal, we’re headwear specialists,” says Windemuth, who prides himself on the brand’s focus. “We sweat the details and offer more fit options than any other brand so that our customers can find a hat or beanie in our line that fits them perfectly and becomes an instant favorite.”
Within a few years of Coal circulating in the snowboarding community, the larger fashion world caught on and wanted to cash in on what Coal was doing. That was the era of slouched beanies with longer profiles, a trend that came directly from snowboarding. Coal, though, caught the eye of snowboarders and the fashion world by setting trends, not following them. And in order to do that, they have a simple approach: stay connected to the core. The design team goes straight to the team members for ideas.
Take, for example, one of Coal’s best-selling hats, the Provo. Not only does it look good, it’s also made to function well. It’s made of a lightweight UPF 50+ rated polyester fabric with laser-cut perforations at the sides. The crown is breathable, and it has a cushy wicking sweatband at the brow. The brim is floatable, so the hat won’t get away from you in the water, and it features an adjustable shock cord and toggle back adjuster for a perfect fit. Many of those design details came from suggestions from team members, and because of them, the Provo has been one of Coal’s most popular products for years.
“Coal, for me, has always been a thoughtful step ahead, from the product’s design to the understated but intentional brand presentation,” says Mat Savage, Coal’s Marketing Director. “We’re not the loudest or flashiest, but the brand that is doing it a different way. Dedicated to crafting the best headwear. The brand that other brands look to for design and inspiration.”
Staying true to keeping a thoughtful step ahead, the company has had a sharp focus on the environment and how they can minimize our impact on it. The garment industry can be particularly wasteful and damaging, but Coal is doing their very best to figure out ways to make their footprint as small as possible. The fall 2022 line, for example, uses an interesting fiber called Polylana. Coal was the first brand in North America to start incorporating it into their products.
The stats for just how much better Polylana is speak for themselves. It uses 76 percent less energy, uses 85 percent less water and creates 76 percent less waste. That means that not only are Coal products great looking, they’re long lasting.
By staying true to their roots, keeping an open mind, and listening to the people who wear their gear, Coal Headwear is at the top rung of the headwear ladder, and they’ll be there for a long time to come. It can be hard these days to find a brand with a long history that has stayed true to what made them popular in the first place. But Coal, by walking that fine line between listening to their customers and forging ahead with new and innovative styles and materials, has done just that. Like Windemuth said, “make it nice or make it twice.” And Coal has decided to make things nice.