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Hawk + Hatchet: Brian Knapp Interview

Let’s just pretend for a moment that we’re out in the middle of nowhere. Dizzy drunk and disoriented in where to go without a map. Miles of foliage (yeah, we’re talkin’ the thick stuff here, folks) and the sun has clearly settled over the horizon. You trudge forward, howling into the night sky like some wild coyote trying to get the attention of his pack. Waiting on some universal sign from Lord Paul Bunyan with the hope of getting back to a place where you feel resilient, purposeful and safe.

As we embark in life, oftentimes we feel that sudden fear of becoming foundered, lost pirates in the high seas of the Great Lakes. The chase to find purpose is a common feeling that permeates within us. And boy, does it sure like to linger. Like our newest MWG, he too found himself howling loudly, hoping to discover his own destination where he could run wild and confident with the ideas swirling in his head. It was in that “middle of nowhere” moment that Brian Knapp redrew his map, rethought his plan and officially molded what has come to be known as Hawk + Hatchet.

For the last few years, Brian Knapp has had a special way to create nostalgia. He creates memories by giving us a calming aroma, like that of a roaring campfire. A fire that ignites a sense of wanderlust in those who surround the flame. He does so by masterfully crafting candles and apothecary. Which means, if you sport a weathered beard and want to have a constant reminder about your time in the backwoods, he’s the man you want to seek out. We feel we would’ve let all of you fellow Midwestern Gentlemen (and women) down if we kept his work a secret. His mission and purpose drives us to do what we do and we’re beyond humbled to share with you his story.

MWG: How did Hawk + Hatchet come to exist?

BK: H+H was birthed out of a very difficult and stressful season. I worked for a company in the Body Shop industry. The job I was working had me sort of in a holding pattern, kind of on call. I would be on the road one week and off the road at home the next. Never really knowing what was next or what to expect. I wanted to find another job, but it paid well and had great benefits so I just stuck it out. I was stressed out of my mind plus being at home and trying to be productive all the while my wife and four kids are home too! I felt I was in a life crisis season where I needed to ask myself some hard questions. Do I want to work for another company or work for myself? I thought if I was to start my own company what would I want to do?”

“I love building things with my hands. I wanted to be creative. I’ve always had a fascination with scents even when I was young. I loved different men’s colognes – even though I couldn’t afford them I would love to smell them as I would wander around in a department store. I’ve found scents to be powerful at recalling memory and nostalgia. I started toying with the idea of making candles.

Where does the name Hawk+Hatchet originate and what does it mean to you?

I wanted a brand that would be a genuine extension of my personality and the things that I love. Outdoors, adventure, masculinity, etc. I’ve always had a particular drawing and fascination with the red tailed hawk. I thought yes, that fits perfect and what else that starts with the letter H could be masculine and a good representation. Hatchet. When I decided on the name, things started to make sense and fill out for me a bit. So, I started with scents that made sense to the brand. Campfire, easily my best seller really encompasses the spirit of the brand. Outdoors, build a fire, with friends, great stories, great memories, etc. And from there, I had some ideas with some travel inspired scents, also some staples like Uncle Lloyd’s pipe, Tannery and Cabin which is more of a cedarwood scent. Earth is a scent that I’m particularly fond of as it is the smell of fresh turned soil. People either really love this scent or they don’t but I’ll never stop carrying it as again, it speaks so much to the spirit of the brand. For me H+H is the perfect umbrella or outlet to give room for so much of what I love and also to be creative. I can dream all day about new and fresh possibilities. It’s an escape from normal everyday. It’s an adventure waiting to happen – creating products that are for everyday use and products like a candle that tell of a story and make you smile. That’s really satisfying.

What about the Midwest helped define you?

I grew up in a town of 5k people in Nebraska. Ogallala is a Sioux name. Playing Cowboys and Indians was normal for me when I grew up. I grew up hunting ducks and geese and with a 4-10 shotgun and a Golden Retriever. I grew up learning to work hard by helping my dad with his drywall business, we had a huge garden that required lots of labor, I split firewood, changed oil in my car, and never tired of visiting my cousins on their farm full of cows, horses and hogs – surrounded by cornfields and pasture land. At home we had Lake McCounaghy, the state’s resevoir. Summers were spent camping on the beach and water skiing and jet skiing. When I began to drive, my parents let me take my friends to Keystone/Breckenridge, CO to go snow skiing. Seeing and being in the Rockies with your best friends when you are 16 was one of the most amazing memories I’ll have. This was how I grew up in the Midwest-outdoors, adventures and being with friends and family that I loved.

What, if anything, has surprised you the most about starting H+H?

I’ve learned that being a creative type is awesome and so life-giving. Working the business side and learning all the things that you are NOT good at is a definite challenge. I completely understand why so many small businesses fold within the first few years.

Outside of your craft with H+H, what’s your escape?

Traveling, easily. I’m on the road now more than ever with doing American Field shows, Northern Grade and Renegade shows. I’ve met so many amazing people in this world of makers and artisans and all the people surrounding them that make events and interviews like this one actually happen. It’s such a privilege. Traveling with my wife and 4 kids is becoming more and more doable as my kids grow older. They are ages 7-12. 3 boys and a girl. They are such a handful and it’s incredibly challenging and stressful at times but that’s part of it. They are only this young once and we want to make the most of it and expose them to as much culture and different parts of the world as we can. We have friends and relatives in the U.K. and Ireland and we are hoping to take them next summer for a month to explore all they have to offer.

What’s on the horizon for H+H? Any new products or experiments?

Ideas are endless but what I’m hoping next is to continue filling out my apothecary line with hair care and more shaving products. After that I’m hoping to tap into more paper products such as stationary, cards, postcards, etc – giving guys inspiration to step away from the email and actually write a note to their mom for Mother’s Day – recapturing that lost art of communication. Eventually I would like to tap into more outdoor gear as well – bags, etc.

 

How would ‘you’ define a “Midwestern Gentleman”?

I think that a guy who appreciates the value of working hard, a family man who takes on responsibility but also has an insatiable desire to escape and explore. But also wants to look good. Rugged and Refined. Appreciates getting cleaned up and taking his lady out on the town for a date.

Hard hitting questions:

Favorite local brewery? Milwaukee Brewing Co.
Coffee of choice? Kickapoo Coffee, Milwaukee
Sasquatch vs. Paul Bunyan – bar fight – who wins? Paul. Axe.
PBR or MGD? Pabst.
Which is the Greatest Lake of the Great Lakes? – haha – I’m three blocks from Lake Michigan – so that’s def the one.


Thank you to Brian Knapp for taking the time to answer our questions and give us a glimpse into his world. Be sure to visit www.hawkandhatchet.com to purchase a candle or 3 and become immersed in the brand through his Instagram page @hawkandhatchet.

Cheers…