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Meet Justin Carpenter of El Rancho Carpintero

Today we’d like to introduce you to Justin Carpenter.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Justin. So, let’s start at the beginning, and we can move on from there.
An increasing amount of time in the saddle combined with a lifelong love of surfing had me searching for a great hat to protect myself from the sun. At the same time, I was confirming family stories through genealogical research and DNA testing services because I could not find a hat that was the right fit, I decided to teach myself how to shape my own hat.

As our deep family roots here in Alta~California were confirmed, and family stories were illuminated more and more, I decided to give my sombrero a historically significant shape and family name. I decided to work with a hat body that has a small environmental footprint, is minimally processed and derived from plants, and is durable. It turns out these hats are also re-shapable again and again.

As a few friends, and then strangers started complimenting me on my sombrero and then asking me to shape one for them, I realized that I was going to have to give the style a name. It was at this point that I realized that I could tell personal stories of leading an examined life, environmentalism and my family’s long history in California via the metaphor that is hand shaping custom sombreros.

What I do is an expression of love for self-exploration, community, environmentalism, detailed storytelling, ethnicity, and the act of creation using my hands. Regarding hand shaped sombreros… I was looking for a hat that suited me, and I struggled to do so for a few reasons. Eventually, I found these hat bodies that are reshapeable again and again.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
In general, fear of rejection and anxiety were the biggest hurdles. While I would consider myself a person who loves collaboration, asking for help has been very difficult, I was afraid to ask people for help doing the things that were not intuitive to me.

I struggled to get my website up. I have had a tremendous amount of help from my family, friends, and ever-growing community. I would not be where I am without the love and support of an incredible group of very supportive people.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
I hand shape custom sombreros for people. Customer service is my top priority. In the spirit of collaboration, I sometimes teach a person how to shape their sombrero. Every once in a while, I do this as a workshop in a group setting.

It is in this setting that I get a chance to tell old family stories of our history in Alta~California. I also try to be transparent with my values, so I share stories of connectedness, abundance, health, balance, environmentalism, and ethnicity. I am outgoing, and I like to play with language and accents, so I incorporate these talents and this frisky playfulness into my storytelling.

When I am lucky enough collaborate on a sombrero with the customer, I try to ask a lot of questions in order to put the spirit of connectedness and friendship in to the process of shaping their sombrero. By being open and sharing what I love, I have been so lucky to make many new friends along this path.

What were you like growing up?
I have always naturally created community. I was mostly very extroverted as a child. I am a talker, and I think that my voice is a strength. Friends were really important to me growing up. I always loved being outdoors and moving my body. I have played soccer and surfed most of my life.

When I was a teenager, I rock climbed regularly. I have always had a passion for color and aesthetics. I collected comic books from the ages of 11-17 and was pretty meticulous about it. During that same time, I read the lord of the Rings three times. I saw the film Mississippi Burning when I was 17.

That same year I read Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin and Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, both of which ignited my passion for the study of ethnicity in the United States.

I feel so lucky because I feel like I am finally using so many of the things that I was passionate about growing up… — and synthesizing them at different times in my art.


  • A custom, one of a kind, hand shaped, Alta~California inspired Sombrero, costs between $40 and $220

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Andriya Rances, Josie Elle Farrior, Richard Fusillo, Wonder Tribe, Justin Carpenter

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