Tarp Hats - The Real Deal: Made in Brazil

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We're all about the tarp

A few years back, Mr. P., as we affectionately call the founder of our little Greenville, N.C., company, was traveling along the coast of his beloved Brazil when he spied something intriguing in one of the local markets there: Wide-brimmed hats handcrafted out of wonderfully weathered old cotton canvas, with heavy stitching, shifts in color, fraying, stains, rips, punctures, patches and even occasional ink marks. Mr. P. immediately began inquiring about the unusual hats, learning that their material was actually old canvas tarps discarded by Brazilian trucking companies after lengthy use as protection for freight. A romantic in the broadest sense of the word, Mr. P. was instantly as hooked by the story as he had been by the hats themselves.

The long, hot journey into cool

In Brazil, the world's fifth-largest country, most cargo is transported by trucks, their payloads often protected by just such heavy canvas tarps. By some estimates, there's enough tarp barreling along Brazilian roads right now to wrap all the way around the moon, and then some. The huge nation's vast, varying terrain and dramatic climate shifts assault this rugged fabric with hammering rains, scalding heat, harsh winds, frost and ice, and all manner of road debris. Yet even though the tightly stitched canvas tarp is seriously tough stuff, after enough heavy abuse, it's still going to get tossed and replaced with a new sheet – meaning that at any given time out on Brazil's endless byways, there's a whole heap of potential tarp trash just waiting to happen.

Convinced there was a market back home in the U.S. for hats like those he'd just stumbled upon, Mr. P. set out to find where they were made. He eventually traced them to a remote little inland town along the equator known regionally for its hat-crafting. The trip there, once he was able to arrange it, was long, and arduous. Hours of constant driving, with roads in all manner of disrepair, sometimes crumbled almost entirely away. The heat outside the car was blinding. And as Mr. P.'s Brazilian interpreter friend who was driving kept pointing out, they were heading ever deeper into a remote part of the country where gun-toting highway bandits often held sway.

When the two men finally arrived, safely, at their wayward destination, they found it wasn't much of a town at all, just a modest cluster of buildings. They asked around until locating a family hat-making business with experience sewing that same basic type of recycled-tarp hat. Within no time, Mr. P. had arranged for some sample hats to be made, with a few modifications to the original design. He ended up carting that small batch of hats back to the U.S. with him, intent on seeing how they might sell.

And sell they did. Slowly, at first, but then steadily, following a couple of nice press reviews (BoingBoing.net! Reader's Digest!). Then a seemingly chance event flat-out changed everything.

Thanks, you zombies!

So we get this call, totally out of the blue. A Hollywood film-costuming company. They want a bunch of sample hats. As in they want them tomorrow. What the … ?

Actor Woody Harrelson, on location in rural Georgia in early 2009 for initial shooting on an upcoming film he was starring in, had spied a Real Deal Brazil hat perched atop the head of one of the cameramen, who'd actually borrowed the hat from his brother, a Texas drilling expert heading out for an extended job on a deepwater oil rig. (For the full story, visit our blog)

Harrelson really loved that hat. He loved its atypical looks. He loved that it was a true recycled product. He was so crazy about it, in fact, that he sent the film's costume company on a mission: Find out who made this thing, and get us some! In the end, Harrelson wore an RDB hat, dyed darker and expertly shaped by his costuming crew, in nearly every scene of that movie.

Which was, of course, Zombieland. Released in October 2009, it became one of the year's most successful films, that rare blockbuster that also quickly became a cult favorite as well.

Sales of our RDB hat went nuts. There was coverage in Entertainment Weekly, even, and among the growing legion of zombie-crazed bloggers, the Real Deal Brazil was routinely declared an essential part of any zombie-killing uniform. (So when the dreaded zombie apocalypse finally comes to pass, it seems pretty clear what you should be wearing to protect the tasty brains inside your still-living head.)

Within a few months, our original RDB hat was also featured as a key costuming prop in a second major Hollywood film, The Losers, an action-adventure adaption of a popular graphic novel.

Those totally unexpected bursts of early success allowed us to consider branching into other products that might work wonderfully if also handmade in Brazil from recycled truck tarps. Soon after, we were introducing a small, varied line of bags, as well as a couple of additional hat styles, to the Real Deal lineup. We've since added several handmade accessories, too, most of them also hailing from Brazil, but all of them with recycled origins in common.

The wayward early life of those canvas truck tarps, combined with the rustic handmade craftsmanship of our Brazilian sewing team, result in some truly one-of-a-kind features in our hats and bags:

Real Deal Brazil

Holes, stains, fraying
Being a truck tarp in Brazil ain't easy. Punctures, tears and stains are common from all manner of routine abuses, with tarp ends getting noticeably worn and frayed over time. Yet those very things that become eventual liabilities for Brazilian trucking companies actually are the source of the incomparable individual character of our RDB hats and bags.

Patches, patches, patches!
At the Real Deal Brazil, scraps aren't scraps, they're soon-to-be-extra pieces of other RDB hats and bags! Brazilian trucking companies frequently sew round canvas patches over tears and holes in their own tarps that are still being used as truck coverings. Then once our sewing team acquires some of those old tarps for use in hat- and bag-making, more patches are added still. Some are stitched on to repair further breaks in the fabric, though far more are applied simply because our sewing team thinks it looks cool to do so. Those patches vary in size and shape, and also are often noticeably different in color from the original section of tarp.

Portuguese writing, trucking logos
Bits of Portuguese words in thick black ink, as well as symbols and logos from Brazilian trucking companies, now and then show up on our hats and bags. The original lettering or graphic is often large, so only a portion of it typically ends up on any particular piece of tarp that's been cut up for sewing. Printing can thus pop up anywhere, on any RDB product, from hat brims or crowns to bag flaps or pockets. These haphazard ink marks are often greatly prized by longtime Real Deal Brazil customers, not only because the printing can be quite striking to see, but also because it's fairly rare to find.


Go on, bend that brim to suit your whim!

Recycled from old, dead truck tires in Brazil, the thin, heavy wire that runs through the brim of our original Real Deal tarp hats lets you shape your own RDB pretty much any way you please. We've included a few suggestions here.

These proposed styles are meant simply as starting points, however – there's no right or wrong way to wear an original Real Deal Brazil recycled-tarp hat!

The more dramatically shaped styles you see here (The Pinch, for instance) require a harder, firmer bend. Slow, steady shaping works best, however, in achieving a more-rounded look (The Woody style, for example); lift the sides of the brim to where you want them to end up, release, and then repeat, repeat, repeat! After a short time, you'll start to notice the desired shape starting to take hold. Patience, young RDB Jedi; gentle force will win out in the end!

View some of our creative customers' own unique styles!

If you wind up achieving a particularly wicked bend, something unique and new and completely you, then send us a picture already! Got a fabulous name for your new personal style as well? Tell us that, too! Include a note to us with your own name and where you're from, and we'll likely have you Real Deal stylin' on our Facebook page, or even on this very website, in no time!