Hat designed by John Legend’s dad going national

At least that’s his word for it — and, because of it, home economics has never sounded cooler.

A year ago, the lifelong Springfield resident took an old straw hat and cut off the raggedy brim. He took a baseball cap, chopped off the bill and encased the bill in black leather.

Then, in an act of inspiration that now has hatters all over the nation doing a hat dance, he sewed the bill onto the straw hat. Retailers nationally want to carry it.

“The concept,” Ron Stephens explained recently, “is taking a dress hat and putting a bill on it.”

At first, the 62-year-old — whose son, North High grad John Stephens, is the Grammy-winning soul singer known as John Legend — was content to just wear his new hat around town.

“I’m a hat person. I almost sleep in ‘em,” said Stephens, an artist known in the community for his pencil drawings.

But, no sooner had he stepped out in his “remixed” hat than people were asking where he got it.

So, he raided his closet and did the same to 10 more full-brimmed hats. People kept asking.

In January, he officially incorporated Popz Topz, with himself as CEO. The company’s first hat, the Pop Legend Remix, is expected to be ready for retail this month.

“This is fresh. This is new,” he said, sporting the hat dubbed the PLR, or the Player. “This will go.”

Stephens has visited hatters and men’s fashion shops from here to Hollywood with his business partner, Charles T. Sampson III, of Yellow Springs.

Retailers are waiting for the first batch of 500 hats to roll off the manufacturing line at the Bollman Hat Co. in Adamstown, Pa.

“I thought it was a wonderful concept,” said Paul Wasserman, owner of Henry the Hatter in Detroit. “He’s on the right track.”

Wasserman said he told Stephens he wants to be among the first to carry the PLR, which will come in three styles and multiple colors.

Rick Linkwald, owner of The Executive Shop in Atlanta, is on board as well.

“It was new and different,” Linkwald said. “Nobody else has it … Some of these hat companies have been in business for 100 years and have never come up with an idea like that. It’s such a simple idea.”

Stephens initially thought the same thing — that it’s too simple.

“Surely,” he recalled thinking, “someone has done this before.”

But no one has rocked a hat like this since the Union Army.

“If you look at the old Civil War hats,” Stephens said, “you might get that flavor.”

Only the PLR has a feather on it — dig that, Gen. Grant.

“If somebody did it,” Stephens said, “it was in days gone by or it didn’t fly. It wasn’t time for it.”

Linkwald, whose Atlanta shop has been in business since 1965, predicts the PLR will appeal to younger generations, for whom traditional fedoras remind them too much of their fathers and grandfathers.

In fact, Stephens calls his hat a “dress cap,” or, as his motto puts it, “The hat that bridges the gap.”

“You can wear it dressed up or dressed down,” Stephens said. “You can put a tuxedo on with one of these hats and still be fashionable.”

Each time he’s visited a prospective retailer, like Hollywood Hatters in Los Angeles, which caters to the stars, he’s shown up wearing a suit with a regular baseball cap — two things that don’t go.

“Then I pop on a Popz Topz and it’s on,” he quipped.

Son Legend, 33, is one of a dozen investors in the new company.

“We’re going to get John into one of them,” Stephens said, “as soon as we find one that fits him.”

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