PROFILE: MATT HACKETT

WHO IS MATT HACKET AND NOTES FROM RALPH THOMAS
I have a friend who owns a jewelry store here in Austin, Texas called Rewards that specializes in high end sterling silver and 14 K gold belt buckles and high end belts (among other high end jewelry). This friend called me up one day and asked me if I'd like to come down and meet and have dinner with a fellow from Richardson Texas by the name of Matt Hackett who is quickly becoming one of the most famous silversmiths in Texas History. Matt Hackett has been quietly making belt buckles and badges for the Texas Rangers for quite some time. Real Texas Ranger badges are hand made from silver Mexican coins. You can spot a real one by looking on the back of it since mint stampings of the original Mexican coin is kept intact. Matt Hackett also makes high end belt buckles and again, his first customer base was the Texas Rangers. Many people outside of Texas do not understand the focus on belt buckles, but here in Texas, they have become a status symbol just like an expensive watch or ring. We spent a lot of money on them and we don't rightly care for cheap ones. Matt Hackett has a really unique story. In his younger years he was addicted to drugs and ended up in prison like a lot of addicts do. It was in prison where he first learned his jewelry making skills and how he first started making badges and belt buckles for the Texas Rangers. When Matt got out of prison, he developed his skills in fine belt buckle making. He's now becoming internationally known. His story is a story of how someone can turn their life around and he should be an inspiration to us all! Even President George W. Bush had Matt make a custom belt buckle for him. The Matt Hackett story is as unique as his products.

You think I'm Joking When I Say Texans Are Serious About Belt Buckles?
Take a look at the buckle by Matt Hackett called The Morning Star. It's 3/4 inch
sterling silver 4 piece buckle set with with heavy 14k overlays in yellow and rose gold
with 4 mm rubys. Price is $6,210 . This buckle is called a ranger type buckle.

The above type buckle is called a Trophy Buckle. It's called the George W. Bush Trophy Buckle because it was designed by President Bush and made by Matt Hackett This buckle is 2 1/4 inch x 1 1/2 inch sterling silver trophy buckle with domed ranger star actually cut from an old silver quarter and with 14k gold rope edge around star. Price is $480.00

 

Below is a re-print that originally appeared in the Houston Business Journal.

SLIVERLINING
After transforming his life, Matt Hackett has turned his craft of making specialty belt buckles into a top-notch business
Kenneth R. Pybus


When Matt Hackett first sought a bank loan to help finance the growth of his small silversmith operation, he was turned down flat. One lending officer told Hackett his bank couldn't grant a loan to a person of "questionable character."

That didn't surprise Hackett. He had spent much of his adult life in Texas prisons, including a 10-year stint for aggravated robbery.

But Hackett was undaunted. He had sold hundreds of belt buckles and other silver and gold accessories throughout the state since his release in early 1995 and knew an untapped high-end market still existed for his products.

"I told them, `You may not give me a loan because of my past, but I'll get one somewhere,' " Hackett says.

In May, after being turned down for bank financing and loans backed by the Small Business Administration, Hackett landed the financial backing of Frost Bank.

"I knew initially he had a wonderful product, but financial strength was the issue," says Gloria Kopycinski, Hackett's loan officer at Frost Bank. "We had to look at the whole picture and strategize."

The funding is allowing Hackett to add a second silversmith and manufacturing shop behind his house in Richmond. And its giving him a chance to step up production of his handiwork, which is already for sale at five retail outlets in Texas.

Designs by Matt markets a wide collection of handmade sterling silver and gold products -- from cufflinks and key rings to money clips and pendants. But his most sought-after designs are the intricate silver belt buckles he has produced during the five years since his release from the Texas penal system.

"When I got out, I didn't know much about the market, what people on the outside were interested in," he says. "It's been an education."

RANGER CONNECTIONS
Hackett grew up in an upper-middle-class neighborhood, the son of a Fort Bend County dentist. But he began experimenting with drugs as a teenager and soon developed a heroin addiction. A high school dropout and incarcerated by age 19, Hackett was in and out of jail and finally ended up in a state prison in Rosharon for a robbery committed while trying to finance his drug habit.

"I was a drug addict," he says plainly, "and had fallen into the whole routine. I've really put all that behind me."

Hackett was already familiar with jewelry-making materials when he got to prison, so he soon set out to teach himself the trade.

He began making belt buckles, rings and other jewelry out of a low-cost nickel and copper alloy and selling his work product to prison employees and to members of outside police agencies.

"The average customer in that market can't afford silver and gold," Hackett says. "Instead, you make something that costs $3 or $4, and it looks like it costs $3 or $4."

He learned to set stones, got his high school diploma and earned a degree in diamonds and diamond grading. He also quickly found there was interest for higher-class product.

"There was a market for something different, something personalized or with special logos," he says. "That really got my attention."

He made his first belt buckle for a member of the Texas Rangers in 1987. The buckle bore the star symbolic of the legendary Texas law enforcement agency. Over time, Hackett was able to acquire more precious metals, and his reputation as a belt buckle craftsman grew among various law enforcement agencies.

In fact in February of 1994, about a year before his release, a member of the Texas Rangers was featured on the cover of Texas Monthly magazine wearing two of Hackett's handmade buckles. The magazine cover has proved so popular, it's now sold as a large-sized poster, and it only heightened the interest in his products inside and outside the Ranger community.

ON THE OUTSIDE
Even before his release, Hackett was making marketing preparations. He knew he wanted to make a go of his craft and take advantage of the interest in his work that already existed. He had business cards already printed up with his pager number and had sent them around to potential customers. And he had begun to look for places to market his wares.

"I was really networking the best you can in that closed environment," he says.

He received orders from various trailriding associations and regularly visited the Texas Ranger Houston headquarters to take orders from the officers there.

And he found some retail interest in his work. Hackett visited western wear store Maida's on Westheimer just to get a feel for what was available in the high-end market. And he was surprised to find co-owner Jason Maida was already familiar with his work from the cover of Texas Monthly in 1994.

Now, Hackett's buckles are for sale at Maida's and Stelzig's in Houston as well as Rewards, a western wear store in Austin.

Last spring he visited a reunion of Texas Rangers and their families in Austin and sold a number of his buckles to attendees. He also saw dozens of buckles being worn by attendees that he had made throughout the years before and after his release.

Hackett says he's been encouraged by family and faith to turn his life around and focus on building up his business. His wife Irma encouraged him to seek expansion financing in the first place.

He says the hardest part of the silversmith operation is balancing the time spent on his twin goals of creating a market and filling it.

"It's a lot of hard work, but it's rewarding," he says. "I haven't got a lot of horror stories, believe it or not. There have been fewer obstacles than I anticipated."

Hackett has gained a broad base of support in the five years since he's been out of prison and working to establish himself, even from some unlikely places. Not long ago he sold a belt buckle to Sugar Land Police Chief Ernie Taylor, who knew Hackett before his incarceration and rebirth as an entrepreneur.

"He used to chase me from the time when I was a teenager," Hackett says with a chuckle. "It was nice to meet on more pleasant terms."

Kenneth R. Pybus, Houston Business Journal managing editor, can be reached by e-mail at krpybus@amcity.com.


Matt Hackett Buckles and Accessories
5026 Mourning Dove Dr.
Richmond, Texas 77469
Phone: 281-341-9620
Email: info@matthackettbuckles.com
Web: http://www.matthackettbuckles.com