Tuesday, July 23, 2024

‘Sleep Rock’: Diné hatter creating finest hats in the Southwest

‘Sleep Rock’: Diné hatter creating finest hats in the Southwest

By Nicholas House
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK – It’s about home, family, and tradition.

That’s how Geri James describes her hat company, the Sleep Rock Company.

‘Sleep Rock’: Diné hatter creating finest hats in the Southwest

Courtesy | Geri James
A Sleep Rock Company hat goes through a felting process.

James, who is Tsénahabiłnii and born for Tábąąhá, operates the Sleep Rock Company in her home studio in Gilbert, Arizona. She started the company when small businesses nationwide were shutting down amid the coronavirus pandemic.
But the timing couldn’t have been better, said James, whose hat company makes some of the highest-quality headgear in the Southwest and honors the region’s “cultural richness” and her family—the Tsénahabiłnii clan, originally from Prewitt, New Mexico.

“It took a lot for me to decide on why I wanted to call it Sleep Rock,” James said. “I thought about who I was, what I wanted to put in the company, what I wanted to get out of the company––and at the core of who we all are is where we come from.

“In our ancestral system, our clans are passed down from generation to generation through our mothers,” she said. “And a lot of my creativity comes from my mom, who got creativity from her mom and so on. So, I really wanted that to resonate through why I was calling it Sleep Rock.”

The Sleep Rock hat

Norma James’s creative influence inspired her daughter, Geri James.

“She (Norma) loves to wear hats,” Geri said. “She’s a pretty creative person. Anything from jewelry to making clothes. She makes Navajo dolls, which are beautiful. At one point, she was starting to put a lot of flair into the hats that she already owned.”

One day, Geri told her mother jokingly that she would learn how to make hats because Norma was spending a great amount of money on blank hats to customize and sell to people. That’s when Geri decided to look into custom hat-making, the method, and the tools to create a hat for any person with any style.

‘Sleep Rock’: Diné hatter creating finest hats in the Southwest

Courtesy | Geri James
A model wears a Sleep Rock Company hat embellished with a feather and concho buttons.

“And it kind of just steam-rolled from there,” said Geri, whose customers are from all walks of life. “We don’t cater to one specific person. I think that’s what I love––the art. It’s not focused on one particular person. It’s really diverse.”

Geri James’s hat company has become a destination for anyone who wants to crown themselves with the finest a Diné woman makes. She says that gives her freedom for creativity, reflecting on what her customers want.

Each Sleep Rock hat is crafted with eight cross symbols that represent not only Na’ashjé’ii Asdzą́ą́ but also “home.”

“When you look at a hogan, you think of home,” James said. “That’s where my business is.”

She also draws inspiration from the music she listens to, which motivates her to add more feathers to a particular hat.

“So, the inspiration is drawn from any part of my life,” she said.

Healthy rivalry

Geri James knows competitors are everywhere, but she knows how to handle the competition by talking with the entrepreneurs, getting to know them, and being courteous. She says she’s even gained some friends out of a healthy rivalry.
“Everybody has been wanting to collaborate,” James said. “They’ve been encouraging.

“There are other hat makers in the business,” she added. “But we all bring something different to the table, which is why I think we all work so well together.

“We all grew up in small communities, so we’re not wanting to pull anybody down. We’re doing anything we can … for all of us to succeed. We don’t want just one person at the top. We’d rather bring everybody else up there with us.”
Information: www.sleeprockcompany.com


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