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The Architect

The Architect of The Brand:
Matt Hardy

Most people view who they are through the lens of the question, “And what do you do?”

But for many of us, answering that question doesn’t come close to fully explaining who we are.

Besides, any of us creative types will likely have a series of experiences, resulting in a shifting landscape of jobs or duties that we perform at any given time.

I’ve found that so often, my life seems to have been punctuated by events and undertakings that have required a lot of hard work and resilience.

As such, when writing this section, I’ve divided my experiences into different sections that have been fairly constant throughout the whole journey.

At least up until this point.

I’ve always been a voracious reader, and over the years, that’s translated into writing.

I’d say that I’ve often felt compelled to write, as opposed to having a specific love for writing itself.

The process often starts with a unique thought or discovery that gets recorded for future reference.

From there, the idea may stay archived in a journal, or it might evolve into something bigger… where curiosity sets in, and I follow the idea down the rabbit hole.

One example would be how I played the architect in designing, writing, and assembling the story about the CC brand.

I was wondering if I could pull together a few of my varied interests into one arena, using a story to connect them so I could document and share some of the things I’ve learned in my travels along the road of life.

I thought it would be an interesting experiment to see if I could fuse different elements (physical products, digital products, web documents, pictures, websites, email, web-based tools, news articles, historical facts, etc.) together within a fictional story to give it a life of its own while lending a certain credence and backstory (albeit fictional) to the CC brand itself.

As I will offer various different physical products through the Cowboy Customs website (which may not be directly connected back to the story itself), I realized this site could function on its own—independently from the story and fictional world I created.

By doing this, people could engage directly with CowboyCustoms.co itself, or they could find their way to it through the fictional world on ForThoseWhoWearTheBrand.com.

Either way, I felt that people could engage as much or as little as they like.

This all came about because I was wondering what a brand really is.

After all, there’s a huge spectrum.

From mega-corps with billion-dollar ad budgets to independent people pushing their own products on social media with a faceless photo.

I thought, “Why not try to make a brand according to what I can do rather than what all the so-called experts say you need to do?”

So what if I didn’t have a billion-dollar budget and A-list celebrities shilling my stuff? Or that I didn’t post videos of me dancing?

What if I created a brand to reflect the principles that I value and the current skill-set that I can use to achieve it right now?

What if a brand could exist on the basis of text and largely static images without a consistent talking-head-style spokesperson?

And what if we could lean into the idea of not using a spokesperson by making our creatives in a way that they are virtually nameless and faceless—but still fit within the brand narrative?

Like I said… I thought it would be an interesting experiment.

If you’d like to join in and experience the experiment firsthand, you can do so here.

Overall, I did about 90% of the work and hired others along the way to help along the way where needed for things like: tweaking or securing code, formatting images or performing a final edit on my writing.


Early days playing hockey

Like many other Canadians, I grew up playing hockey.

Unfortunately – unlike so many other Canadians – I got a late start playing having started at age 8.

I still remember going to my first week-long conditioning camp.

I could barely stand up on skates, but it didn’t stop me from going.

I finished EVERY drill well behind everyone else, and my feet were basically one big blister after the first day.

I remember how hard they worked us with 2 on-ice sessions and dryland training in between.

Even though I was obviously in over my head, there was no quarter given.

Not that I would have asked for it.

Seeing how rough I had it, my dad said I could quit if I wanted to…I was determined to see it through.

No matter how badly my feet were blistered, my muscles ached or how far behind everyone else I was.

And so began my 15 years of playing.

Up until age 17 I played minor hockey, and then when I was cut from Junior B, I went on to play premier men’s league hockey.

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Overall, I’d say I was a solid defenseman with a good first pass who chipped in offensively once in a while.

If asked, I’d sum up my game as being characterized by hard work and effort rather than a high level of skill or finesse.

The off-season was always spent playing hockey, running, and lifting weights.

And once I stopped playing three to five times a week with minor hockey, I took more of an interest in lifting weights.

Here are some example videos dug out of the archives showing me lifting in my parents basement back in the day…


This was an early attempt at the lift, a few months later I was squatting this for 3 reps.


Here you can see the bar slipping out of my hands and having to adjust part way through the lift. For the last 5 reps I started using lifting straps.


This was the one and only time I moved this weight.


Dips with this weight was standard practice for quite a while towards the end of my heavier lifting days.


Calf raises …sure, I did some. Nothing to write home about.

My lifting consisted of heavy reps, partial reps and negative reps.

Sometimes the weight moved a lot, sometimes just a little, and other times it didn't budge.

But if it didn't move how I wanted, I hit it that much harder the next time around.

All of this translated into lifting three to four times a week—every week—until I hit my max lifts at age twenty-two.

At that point, it was either make lifting more of a priority to continue improving or call it good.

During the time I made those lifts, I had a pinched sciatic nerve in my back, and I could feel the tendons in my triceps and shoulders wanting to snap.

While I’m no doctor, I figured that if I wanted to progress further in my lifting, I’d have to start from scratch and make sure my form was rock solid before chasing heavier weights.

But as I wasn’t getting paid to do it, I figured the risk of injury wasn’t worth it.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome to lift heavy …but the awesomeness would evaporate pretty quickly over the years if you blew a disc or snapped a tendon or something.

I decided to shift to lifting slightly lighter weights.

To that end, though, lifting weights and training has been something that I’ve done fairly regularly, even to this day.

I’ve held more than a few different jobs, from working at a hockey store & doing construction work to project management at a fabrication shop & coding online.

These varied experiences have given me a pretty wide cross-section of skills and interests, which all came into play during a massive renovation my wife and I undertook.

As prices in our local market were increasing faster than we could save a downpayment, we looked a little further out …like a 4.5 hour drive further out.

The goal was to buy a fixer and hire trades to do the work.

In talking to some of the local real estate agents, they thought the house we bought should have just been torn down and rebuilt.

But the bones were good, so we opted to renovate.

The original idea was to hire trades to do the work, but when we started calling around, we found that nobody in the area had the time or the interest in doing the work.

So began an epic renovation that involved an eight-hour roundtrip drive to do the work ourselves on weekends.

My days consisted of working full time, researching how to do the reno work at night, sourcing and buying the materials, loading everything up Friday after work, and then driving into the night so that we could work Saturday and part of Sunday before turning back around and coming back home.

Sometimes, those drives involved fighting icy roads and blinding snow, battling the smoke from forest fires, or re-routing to avoid sections of the highway that had been washed away from flooding.

And, of course, my day job at the time was doing it’s best to crush me under a workload and level of responsibility that extended well beyond my job description.

It was a long, grinding marathon spanning a little over five years.

We did almost all of the work ourselves, including:

 * Removing and installing a new roof (new underlay, shingles, flashing, ridge vent etc.)
 * Replacing all of the doors (interior & exterior) and windows
 * Opening up 2 walls that weren't load-bearing
 * Completely gutting and redoing 2 full bathrooms and 1 half bathroom
 * Installing new flooring throughout the entire house (both floors) and stairs
 * Building, painting & installing cabinets & built-ins for all of the bathrooms and living room from scratch
 * Installing pot lights in the kitchen & living room
 * Replacing all lighting - including the design & manufacture of: a custom wood chandelier, a metal exterior barn lamp, a mason jar and pipe lighting fixture
 * Adding & repairing drywall all over the house - including scraping off the old popcorn ceilings and mudding & sanding it all
 * priming & painting the entire interior of the house, including all doors and cabinets
 * Installing a new living room fireplace and stone on the hearth and feature wall
 * Making custom epoxy counter tops for all bathrooms
 * Replacing the existing kitchen with a new one (all new cabinets, appliances & tile wall and back splash)
 * Replacing the old deck that had failed & installing a custom handrail and set of stairs
 * Replacing a wall on the garage that had water damage and redoing all siding on the garage with Hardie board
 * Removing, forming & re-pouring an external concrete wall and set of stairs
 * The replacement & re-routing of water lines and plubming fixtures
 * Re-insulating the attic, garage walls, and breezeway of the house
 * installing new bathroom exhaust fans in all 3 of the bathrooms & venting them as required
 * Replacing, installing & painting exterior trim
 * Installing shelving as needed in the storage room
 * new baseboards & trim throughout
 * installing insulated sub-flooring in the basement

We did manage to hire some trades to install a new gas furnace, do some electrical work, install the vinyl overlay on top of the deck we had redone, spray the ceilings with a finer drywall popcorn texture, install quartz counter tops in the kitchen, do some septic work and install gutters.

I've documented a few of the smaller projects in a few different DIY articles that you can read here.

Over the years, I've been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to volunteer and help others from time to time.

These experiences have ranged from doing a little work in Mexico (you didn't think I came up the the title "el Jefe" on my own did you?), working as a mentor, meeting with recovering addicts, and supporting different charitable organizations.

As I've done this over the years, I've found that it's really helped to broaden my perspective and learn from some of the experiences of others.

An example would be how I ran into a guy sitting outside a fast food place one day.

He was sitting on the ground beside the front door, and when I walked up to go inside, he asked if I could give him some money so he could get something to eat.

My first thought was that I didn't want to just give him some money ...in case he was just going to run off and buy drugs with it.

So I took a different approach.

I figured if he wanted food, I'd buy him lunch.

He took me up on my offer and for the next hour or so, he told me how he ended up living on the streets.

He talked about how he had hit a rough patch and started using drugs to help numb himself from the difficulites he was facing, which led to him being homeless.

I remember thinking how small a margin of error there is when faced with a situation like that, because the thing he grabbed onto in his moment of need was the very thing that caused him to lose everything

I realized that it could happen to anyone, because we all face difficulties.

And it can be pretty and easy in a moment of desperation to make one wrong decision that could change your life forever.

I remember walking away from the conversation with a new perspective on just how quickly things can change, and how with one decision we could lose it all.

He might've got a free meal but with the life lesson I learned, I came away from the experience with a lot more.

And it's experiences and conversations that I've had just like that over the years that have really opened my eyes to a completely different way of looking at things.

Experiences like these have instilled in me the importance of giving back, which is why a portion of all profit generated through this project goes towards supporting various charitable organizations that help at risk youth and people dealing with mental health issues.

I've heard it said that "A rising tide lifts all ships" and as we grow, we want to ensure that we're lifting up those around us in the process.

For more specifics on that, and our charitable giving from the sales made through Cowboy Customs and ForThoseWhoWearTheBrand.com, please see our vision for the brand here.

Note: The story I told you above was one of the reasons why I incorporated a homeless looking person into "Wallstreet Shadows: A Legacy Unveiled."