Hooked on hats
Sheepshead Wear features lawyer by day, hat designer by night
You wouldn’t think you needed a law degree to sell hats, but that is just what Vincent Bruner Jr. did.
“I started Sheepshead in 2013 when I got out of law school,” he said. “Being in law, you don’t get to do a lot of creative stuff. It’s kind of my alter-ego. I sit at a desk during the week and then on weekends and lucky weekdays, I get to do Sheepshead.”
As a Fort Walton Beach native now living in Destin, Bruner said Sheepshead Wear is more of a lifestyle then a business.
“The more fun I have with it, the better it does,” Bruner said. “If people see you having fun they want to have fun, too.”
What started off as a few hat designs sold online four years ago has grown into a nationwide clothing line that is very popular on college campuses. Bruner said he has representatives wear his hats, shirts and tank tops, and that in turn gets Sheepshead Wear’s name out there.
“From day one we knew that for this to really go somewhere we needed to make a dent regionally, or even nationally,” Bruner said. “College kids love to get free stuff, so I knew a few kids in college and sent them some free hats, and shirts and before I knew it I had 100 reps. It just kind of spread. Everyone wants to know what the new thing is.”
Bruner takes the Sheepshead Wear lifestyle with him on his days off as he and his girlfriend like to road trip regionally in their 1989 Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia that they have nicknamed Sheila. The van — wrapped with a vinyl print of the Sheepshead logo and a retro sun and surf motif — gets noticed wherever it goes.
“It’s really the company mascot,” Bruner said. “It’s like a mobile billboard. And the name Sheila, Sheepshead ... it kind of just goes together.”
As for the name of the company and the logo itself — a sheepshead fish smoking a pipe — Bruner said that’s a two-part story.
“The very first hat I designed — the reason I chose hats — was because I was wearing a hat on the beach one day and the under visor was white. I was thinking, We have white sand here and the sun just reflects right off of it, so this hat is completely worthless. I found out that NASA makes a material that blocks 99.9 percent of all light, but it’s not a fiber. I thought what about black velvet because it blocks 99.8 percent of light, but that’s just weird — velvet on a hat — so I went with wool. Wool is a porous, dense material and wool comes from a sheep, so if you take it and put it on your head, well now you’re a sheep’s head.”
If that wasn’t a good enough reason to name his company Sheepshead, Bruner added that growing up in Northwest Florida around Destin and the fishing industry, he also wanted to showcase local fish.
“We thought, we’ll do a fish that doesn’t get a lot of respect,” he said. “Everyone else does mahi-mahi and blue marlin, but sheepshead isn’t promoted much.”
So what about the pipe?
“We don’t really want to give away too much, it needs to remain a mystery,” Bruner said. “It’s not a hidden drug reference, I will say that, but just like music, it’s kind of however you interpret it.”
As for the hats, they come tons of different colors, prints and materials, and all are backed by Sheepshead Wear’s lifetime warranty. And if you don’t see a print or design you like, you can always enter your own design into the annual summer contest to see if your idea makes the cut.
“We do all kinds of crazy hats, and every hat is supposed to have a special design feature to it,” Bruner said. “We have some waterproof hats, some have a hidden wallet in them, and we have American-made hats, and fan-created and fan-approved hats.”
CHECK IT OUT
Sheepshead Wear sells hats, T-shirts, tank tops and other outdoor accessories in local retail stores such as Rent Gear Here at 4042 E. County Highway 30A in Santa Rosa Beach, Captain Rex's Charters at 135 Fisherman's Cove in Miramar Beach and at Islanders Coastal Outfitter located at 1450 Miracle Strip Parkway S.S. No. 201 in Fort Walton Beach. Find them online as well at www.sheepsheadwear.com. Each hat purchased comes in a wooden box with, a lifetime guarantee, and a portion of each purchase goes to the Catch and Release Fund to help protect and maintain local saltwater habitats. Sheepshead hats range in price from $38 to $44.