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Stetson Looks to Hipsters to Move Beyond the Cowboy Hat

To keep the company relevant, CEO Izumi Kajimoto can't rely solely on cowboy culture.
Stetson brand cowboy hats are displayed on a wall inside the showroom of the Hatco Inc. manufacturing facility in Garland, Texas,
Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

On the 10th floor of a building in New York’s Garment District, above fabric shops that peddle rolls of silk and Spandex, Izumi Kajimoto is looking at a wall of 40 hats that make up her company's current offerings. The designs run the spectrum from straw Panama to cloth newsboy. To Kajimoto's right, dozens of hat boxes are stacked to the ceiling. Across the room are even more hats, vintage pieces that span 150 years and are displayed on individual stands that line the loft's industrial windows. Among them sits the one Kajimoto’s company is known for around the world: the cowboy hat.

Kajimoto is chief executive officer of Stetson Worldwide, the scrappy remainder of a hat kingdom that once served as both a paragon of American manufacturing and the frontier culture represented by such movie stars as John Wayne and Roy Rogers. Those days are long gone: As cattle jobs faded, Western shows vanished, and fashion trends changed, Stetson has struggled to survive. While the privately held company doesn't release revenue numbers, it acknowledges the need to diversify its clientele to stay relevant. Under Kajimoto, who took over in 2012, the company is trying to attract a new kind of customer — more hipster than rancher.