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The most famous cowboy hat in the world today


Kemo Sabe is certainly not the only western themed store in AspenColorado, but it is perhaps the best known, thanks to the influencer Alix Earle.

While on vacation in Aspen last month, Ms. Earle purchased custom hats from Kemo Sabe with some friends. Shortly after going out, she was approached by a local who seemed skeptical of her new look.

“So we all made hats at Kemo Sabe, because we’re trying to get into the western spirit of Aspen,” Ms. Earle said in a statement. Tic Tac video recorded moments after his shopping trip. “And this girl comes up to us and she’s like, ‘I like your Aspen costume.'”

“We were humiliated very quickly,” Ms. Earle added, drawing out the word “real” to emphasize her point.

The video, which has been viewed nearly 4 million times, sparked an online debate about the difference between authenticity and cosplay. Some commenters also brought up the cost of Kemo Sabe’s hats, which ranges from $350 to several thousand dollars.

Founded in 1990 by Tom and Nancy Yoder, the boutique-meets-bar – which also sells belts, boots and other Western clothing items – has since expanded to six locations, including Vail, Colorado, Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Park. City, Utah.

In 2020, the Yoders sold the store to Wendy Kunkle, a zoologist from Ohio who had moved to Aspen and risen through the ranks of the Kemo Sabe company, and her brother, Bobby. A month later, the pandemic hit the United States.

The Kunkles managed to keep the store afloat with the help of salespeople who presented them with products to sell on the promise that they would be reimbursed. Their gamble was rewarded. With Europe closed to travel, customers “flooded our stores, so when we opened to the human onslaught that hit the mountain towns, it was incredible,” Ms. Kunkle said in a video interview.

Business continued to boom with the help of celebrities and influencers. Ms. Kunkle and the brand’s vice president of marketing, Kate Valdmanis, noted that the recommendations were entirely organic: Kemo Sabe doesn’t pay celebrities or online influencers for product placement.

Ms. Earle, who visited the ski resort with her boyfriend, NFL player Braxton Berrios, followed up her “Aspen Costume” video with another TikTok post showing her and her friends making personalized hats at the store.

“She made this video on her own,” Ms. Kunkle said. “She paid for her hat. We didn’t promise him anything. She did this organically – which is crazy to me, because she’s one of the biggest influencers in the world and she gets paid for everything.

Ms. Kunkle doesn’t even really like social media.

“Social media scares me,” she says. “I don’t understand. I’m older, almost 54. So, for me, I didn’t grow up with it – I don’t understand it. So I was always kind of the asshole in the room where they were like, “Oh, an influencer, let’s give them a hat tip!” I’m like, “No, no. If they don’t believe it already, why the hell should I pay someone to speak highly of us? »

“It’s not real,” Ms. Kunkle added, “and I want us to be real.”

Since Ms. Earle’s “Aspen costume” on TikTok went viral, Ms. Kunkle’s son has been following the conversation online on Kemo Sabe. When he read her “all the terrible things said on TikTok,” the owner said she started crying.

“It’s a real store,” Ms. Kunkle said. “Real people work here. We’re hard-working locals and they think we’re big, celebrity-backed companies. But we don’t pay for celebrities. We don’t do any of that. We never did it.

Ms. Valdmanis, the marketing director, shared this view. “People have this view of Aspen — and it’s true to a certain extent — that we’re like Rodeo Drive in the mountains,” she said. “But we were a mining town. We were cowboys first.

The name of the store is another point of contention. “Kemo sabe” is the nickname given to the protagonist of “The Lone Ranger” a long-running radio and television series that began in 1933, by his Native American sidekick, Tonto.

There is no conclusion accounts about the origins of the phrase and whether or not it is a term that descends from a true Native American language. Either way, that’s certainly not how you would advise a white couple to name a store in the 21st century.

“People are also angry because of us,” Ms. Kunkle said.

The store’s name, chosen by Mr. Yoder more than three decades ago, does not appear to have affected his business, especially when it comes to the rich and famous. Loyal customers include Beyoncé, Shania Twainthe Kardashian-Jenner family, RihannaAnd Kevin Costnerwho owns 160 acres of land vacation home in Tremble.

The store’s popularity increased when it served as the backdrop for the so-called “tequila-gate” episode of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” The 2022 episode featured Kyle Richards introducing the cast to Kemo Sabe and her “VIP bar”. On margaritascomrades Lisa Rinna and Kathy Hilton fought over which tequila was better, Kendall Jenner’s 818 brand or Ms. Hilton’s Casa Del Sol.

“It was really fun to watch in person and it was very real, I’ll tell you that,” Ms Valdmanis said. “It wasn’t written.” Ms. Kunkle declined to say which tequila is most popular with her customers, describing them as “very different” from each other. And now some “Real Housewives” fans are heading to the store to see where the “tequila-gate” fight took place.

The increase in cowboy style has also made hats a fashion staple, especially among a certain group of young, well-paid city dwellers with social media accounts who flock to Aspen to ski and go to bars.

A recent TikTok downloaded by Austin-based content creator Hannah Chody showed more than a dozen women — including herself — at the Aspen airport, each wearing a custom Kemo Sabe cowboy hat.

“Skipping Kemo Sabe would be criminal,” captioned Ms. Chody, who purchased her own hat in Park City.

For Ms. Chody, the hat is a fun souvenir. “People are acquiring them just to have the experience of making them and crossing them off their bucket list,” she said, “especially if they’re from New York, Chicago or Los Angeles.”

And while big-hatted influencers may annoy some TikTok commenters who find their style inauthentic, Ms. Kunkle says she embraces all kinds of customers.

“They want to feel romance, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” she said. “And really, it’s terrible when people look like the ‘Aspen suit.’ It’s not that. These are people who want to taste and feel the West. Why can’t everyone have this feeling without people making fun of it? »


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