Are you convinced that your wife would appreciate a Clemson football helmet with a black background and Tiger paw filled with pink polka dots?
Would you like to own a South Carolina football helmet with a zebra-striped Gamecock on a chartreuse background?
If such thoughts have ever crossed your football-loving mind, then you’re in luck, because your wish is Shawn Russell’s command.
“Whatever you envision, we’ll make it happen,” Russell said.
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In this game, nothing is out of bounds.
You won’t be penalized for ridiculous requests, absurd color combinations or daffy designs.
“Your team, your dream, your way – that’s what we say,” Russell said.
It was, in fact, Russell’s dream that led to his creation of Hard Hedz Custom Helmets several years ago.
He’s a sports fan, to be sure, but first and foremost he’s an artist, which explains how and why he gave birth to an entrepreneurial opportunity that he’s intent on turning into a full-time gig.
Russell’s helmet creations are hand-painted, which ensures their uniqueness. Each helmet is a wide-open palette awaiting Russell’s brush strokes.
“Anybody can spray paint a helmet and throw a sticker on there,” Russell said. “With me, you’re getting a hand-painted work of art, and I like that.”
The idea for a potential business struck Russell while he was sitting in a church conference in Greenville several years ago.
“It was during a time frame when football teams were starting to use multiple uniforms,” Russell said.
Particularly at the University of Oregon, where the Ducks’ football team wore eight different helmets alone over the course of the 2014 season.
“There are so many people who love college and pro football,” Russell said. “But the average person doesn’t have the amount of money it takes to get one of those fancy helmets.
“When people go online and see how much one of them costs, my phone starts ringing.”
Most helmets sell for between $250 and $500, but Oregon – which essentially jump-started the multi-helmet, multi-uniform craze – often sees its helmets go for up to $1,200.
Russell’s helmets start at $150.
“For me, it was a combination of my love for art, along with desire to serve people,” Russell said. “You can buy a replica helmet with a sticker in a lot of places, but a lot of times for the same price I can do a customized helmet.”
The first helmet that Russell produced went to the pastor of his church in Charleston. It was an attractive forest green, gold and burgundy creation with the church’s logo on the side and a wheat stripe down the center of the helmet.
Russell presented it to the church on Super Bowl Sunday several years ago.
Of the hundreds of helmets that he’s created, his personal favorite remains a Washington Redskins version that required a blending of six different colors to produce the proper color scheme.
“I didn’t use brush strokes, I used a sponge,” said Russell, who's an avid Carolina Panthers fan. “I wanted to give it an old-school leather look.”
Other requests have been more diverse. One client wanted a “blinged out” Troy Polamalu helmet to honor the former Pittsburgh Steelers great, and still another client called from Russia with a rather unusual request; he didn’t have a favorite football team, but he loved Batman.
“So I did a Batman helmet,” Russell said.
One of Russell’s earlier Clemson helmets was done for a young boy who idolized quarterback Tajh Boyd. Boyd’s name was painted on the front of the helmet, which was a big hit with the young recipient.
“His dad said his son loved it so much that he’d put the helmet on with his underwear and cowboy boots and run around the house saying he didn’t want to go to school,” Russell said.
Eventually, Boyd and the rest of the Tigers autographed the helmet, which enhanced its value in dad’s eyes.
“He took it and put it in one of those plexiglass boxes, so I’m not sure his son gets to play with it too much anymore,” Russell said, laughing.
Russell also has created a helmet for clients with split allegiances – his “house divided” helmet features a Clemson theme on one side, a South Carolina theme on the other.
With his helmet creations on solid footing, Russell is looking forward to expanding, with “man caves” high on his priority list.
“We’re able to do man caves, painting and decorating them with customized helmets,” Russell said.
The 44-year-old Russell was born in Connecticut, grew up in North Carolina, and eventually wound up in South Carolina courtesy of the Air Force.
“Charleston was my last duty station,” he said.
He’s worked for the U.S. Postal Service for the past 20 years, including each of the last five after moving to Greenville in 2011, but Russell savors the opportunity to retreat to his garage and backyard workshop to begin work on his next creation.
He’ll move his helmets inside for the detailed painting work. Simpler paint jobs can be accomplished in as few as two days; more complex requests may require five or six days to complete.
Most of Russell’s business is generated online or by word-of-mouth advertising, but he also attends arts and crafts shows and festivals.
Faith has guided his path.
“Yes, I am a believer,” Russell said. “However, I don’t have to go around and tell people, ‘This is who I am.’ Your life speaks louder than your words.
“I’m a person of integrity and I like to treat customers and clients the exact same way.”
And it was prayer, he says, that led him to Greenville.
“We prayed about it and felt like God was wanting us to move and that He would help grow this business,” Russell said. “It’s going to blow up, I said to myself. But we got here and it was like crickets; I couldn’t give away a helmet. But we started meeting people and that became a great foundation for where we wanted to go. Now we’re getting there.”
One helmet at a time.
Want to know more?
On the web: hardhedzcustomhelmets.com
Phone: (843) 480-8424