Ali Nervis and Henry Dickerson are familiar with mom-and-pop shops: They’ve been running a monthly marketplace, Archwood Exchange, for small Black-owned businesses since 2017. But even that experience didn’t prepare them for what happened when they started their latest venture, the Straw & Wool hat store, in March 2020.
Just weeks after the official launch, the pandemic shuttered many local businesses. Nervis (left) and Dickerson, however, didn’t follow suit. They made the most of their time off. “We went into emergency mode and planning mode,” Nervis says. “We started doing social media and building our website.”
It paid off. Spreading the word about their business helped Straw & Wool establish a strong customer base that supported them once they opened for business again in July 2020. Their first location was on Grand Avenue in Phoenix, but after a few months, the business moved to the nearby Roosevelt Row Arts District.
After some initial market research, Nervis and Dickerson discovered there was a gap in the apparel space as it relates to hats, so they set out to fill it. “I’d love to tell you it was a really elaborate marketing scheme,” Dickerson says. “But it wasn’t. We just wanted to get the word out, and we spent money on marketing.”
Straw & Wool specializes in fedoras and flat caps (or newsboys). “We’ve noticed the resurgence and re-emergence of classic hats,” Dickerson says. “People are wearing them to set themselves apart.”
The hats are designed by 15 to 20 different brands and come in a variety of styles, from simple, toned-down designs such as the Gulfport — a straw fedora in neutral tones, with a classic grosgrain band — to more elaborate and colorful options. “What’s different from what you’ll find in other stores is, we carry stuff that’s for everyone,” Nervis says. “We pride ourselves on working with people, asking them questions and understanding more about their style to help them find the right hat.”
And the customers are as unique as the hats. “When we started this business, we expected hat wearers,” Dickerson says. “But what we found was, the majority of people we ended up getting were first-timers — people who had never worn hats before and wanted to know what would work with their style.”
Figuring out what to stock has been a challenge for the shop owners as they try to understand what their customers like. “The primary thing is knowing our audience, and that’s something we struggled with early on,” Nervis says. “We would only sell hats that we liked, and people would come in asking for different ones. We realized that not everybody thinks like us.”
Now, the two pay close attention to not only what people are buying but also what they aren’t. And they’re keeping an eye on trends through fashion magazines and watching what celebrities are wearing.
The regulars refer to Straw & Wool as “hat heaven,” but Nervis and Dickerson want new customers, too — those people still figuring out their style. “Most people come in and they don’t believe they can wear a hat,” Nervis says. “But that’s only because they haven’t found the right one.”
Straw & Wool
610 E. Roosevelt Street, Suite 144