Hats off to Pedrotti Ace

It’s almost an inevitable challenge for Mike Hampton: convincing a client that, basically, you can’t fit the details of the Sistine Chapel on a postage stamp. Hampton is a 42-year-old graphic designer for Bart Bridge, a growing ball cap company born out of owner Luke Fraser’s Vallejo garage. It’s Hampton who helps create – if not completely creates – an eye-catching patch for hats that typically represent small towns or a small business. Or special events – like the 100th anniversary of Pedrotti Ace Hardware.

A hat’s impact must be immediate, Hampton says.

“You want it to be easy to read and recognizable in relaying that image of the essence of what the company is. People see it from a glance. They’re not going to stop walking to inspect the hat,” Hampton says.

Unfortunately, Hampton continues, “people want details in a small space and embroidery is a whole other medium. You don’t want it to where you can’t tell what it is. It’s a tricky thing. As a designer, your job is to take your knowledge in the process but still help the client get what they want.”

Bart Bridge is unique, he says, because of that “vintage retro feel to it.”

“It’s something you might have seen in the late ’70s or early ’80s,” he says. “And that’s kind of what our approach is.”

Bart Bridge has churned out more than 800 different hats, Hampton says, immediately thinking of a hat for the city of San Carlos as one of his personal favorites. “I did the digital artwork of a train station there that is an iconic building,” he says. “With the colors and simplicity of it all … that’s one of my favorite designs.”

In creating the Ace patch, Hampton says he gained a quick admiration for Pedrotti, a person “who is very passionate about the business, his work ethic and care to details.” With the hardware store an important aspect of the Benicia community, “we want to get this right, and I think we did,” Hampton says. “To do something for someone’s family legacy that’s been in the community so long has been an honor.”

Pedrotti couldn’t be happier.

“He nailed it,” Pedrotti says. “It was clear from all his work that Mike is very talented and also patient as I pushed hard. But this is such a special time for a company and community that it was essential we capture the essence of the moment.”

Hampton has worked with Fraser since 2012 after answering an ad for an artist/graphic designer on Craigslist. The two initially created Golden State Warrior-themed T-shirts, selling them on the overpass between BART and the Oakland Coliseum – thus, “Bart Bridge” was hatched.

One other vital member of the small Bart Bridge crew, Ashley Muller, met Fraser in 2011 and now handles accounts and much of the marketing and social media.

“In the beginning, I was just helping at pop-up events,” she says. “It was just on the fly. Now it’s transitioned into becoming a bigger situation and I have more responsibility.”

Nobody imagined how big Bart Bridge would become, says Muller, with a recent relocation to a bigger space in Vacaville.

“We had joked about our Vallejo garage as ‘a cave of mistakes,’” Muller says, acknowledging that Fraser “has tried so many different things, and not all took off.”

Ah, but that retro looking hat caught on. A niche was found.  “I didn’t think my life would be surrounded by hats,” Muller says. “I don’t think any of us thought it would catch on the way it did. I love our hats.”

The hats’ success, she believes, is in their homage to small towns and small communities.

Bart Bridge doesn’t sit back and churn out a million “San Francisco” hats with a patch of the Golden Gate Bridge.

“People have pride in their own community,” Muller says, with a key to the hat’s success: “our artwork looks good and it speaks to the place.”