How Neon Cowboy Hats Helped Make Country More Inclusive

Sometimes you need to stand out to fit in.

Photo Courtesy Neon Cowboys; Design: Davianna Absera/Thrillist

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Why shouldn’t a cowboy hat symbolize inclusivity and equality? For Asia Hall, the classic Western accessory absolutely should. And it does, thanks to her Orlando-based brand Neon Cowboys, which makes futuristic, colorful cowboy hats that purposefully stand out in a drag bar or country music festival — in the best way possible. 

Now, with celebrity clientele and a never-ending demand for her unique product, Hall can rarely keep the hats in stock. Her explosively popular brand is almost a natural progression from her roots growing up in a fashion-forward family. “I was a kid on the cutting table,” Hall remembers of her childhood growing up in Los Angeles with a fashion designer father and his business partner, her mom. “I was really involved at a young age,” she says.

Hall’s passion for design, and entrepreneurship, continued in college, when she started a screen printing t-shirt company with her younger brother. Capitalizing on a new image-based social media app — Instagram — Hall popularized her designs and “fell in love with running business.”

Simultaneously, while in college in Santa Barbara, she was falling in love with country music and line dancing. She and her friends would learn the dances on YouTube and head to a bar in San Luis Obispo, where it felt great to belong to a group who all knew the same choreography. Not so great: The racist attitudes on display towards Hall, who is Black and Chinese, and her friends, who did not fit the heteronormative, white mold some country bar patrons believed to be intrinsic to the genre. Hall felt “othered,” a feeling that continued while attending country festivals across the US, including StageCoach in California. “I would walk around and people would count me. That’s very rude!” Hall says of being a person of color at a country festival, noting that California wasn’t “as aggressive” as the racism she experienced in other states. 

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After winding down her t-shirt business so her brother could focus on college, Hall was without a major creative outlet. At the time, she was using her art and computer science degrees to design video games, but she missed the thrill of running a business —making clothes, taking photos, packing and shipping her items, and being constantly on the run.

As Hall saw a newer, more diverse wave of country music being popularized, she was inspired to assert herself in the community. She loved the culture, and she belonged. “I wanted to lean into that, embrace the fact I was already standing out,” Hall says. “The cowboy is such an American icon, but it’s not fair to think that only one cultural group or race has ownership of it.” Even though Hall herself doesn’t identify as LGBTQ, she resonates with the importance of creating a fully inclusive brand, noting that she believes everyone is “on a spectrum” when it comes to their gender identity and sexuality.

“The cowboy is such an American icon, but it’s not fair to think that only one cultural group or race has ownership of it.”

That’s why for StageCoach in 2014, she made a futuristic, neon cowboy hat that had a little more LA flare than typical country apparel. “Wearing a cowboy hat that was already on the market could make me feel like a poser,” Hall says. The hat received extensive compliments, and the next year she made about a dozen for friends — multiracial, queer, diverse — to wear. 

“People went absolutely crazy for them,” she remembers. “Chasing us down, trying to steal them off our heads, offering us hundreds of dollars. People were mad they couldn’t get them at the event.” From there, Hall made a business plan, secured an investor, and sold to her first Instagram client, Miley Cyrus. And her brand, Neon Cowboys, officially launched. 

Now, Neon Cowboys rarely has hats in stock, even though Hall’s moved on from hand-gluing thousands of hats herself. She’s proud that the brand has been embraced by people from all walks of life, from places all around the world. She’s worked with country artists like Kacey Musgraves, who shares the safe, loving mentality of the brand, and drag queens like Willam, Shea Coulee, and Jada Essence Hall. She also designs size-inclusive shoes, from 5-15, which are great for drag, so that anyone who wants to wear her designs can access them. 

“Neon Cowboys is for anyone who feels that they’re other in any aspect,” Hall says. “It’s dangerous when people feel alone. We want everyone to feel safe and happy and loved.” 

More than that, she wants her artistic designs to just help people have a good time. “Neon Cowboys is supposed to bring happiness to people,” she says. “It’s supposed to be joyful and lighthearted.”