When she’s sporting one of her creations, it’s nearly impossible to miss Asia Hall. That’s just how she wants it. Since 2014, Hall has been designing and creating works of millinery art for her brand, Neon Cowboys. Though they retain the traditional crown and brim of a cowboy hat, the brand’s signature hats are made of translucent plastic and feature a bright strip of neon wire that traces the hat’s shape in colors like green, purple, blue, and pink. There’s a battery pack built inside to keep the hat glowing for up to twelve hours.
The fashion tech brand now also makes matching neon boots, glowing face masks, Western-themed apparel, and decorative neon signs. Over the past six years, Hall’s brand has exploded in popularity, leading to her products being featured in performances at the MTV VMAs, HBO Max’s Legendary, and in multiple collaborations with Texas native Kacey Musgraves. Hall and Musgraves recently worked together on the musician’s holiday merch drop, releasing a custom blush-pink limited edition Neon Cowboys hat as well as an LED phone case, which quickly sold out and was restocked within one week. Hall spoke with Texas Monthly about her brand’s beginnings and the future of Neon Cowboys.
Texas Monthly: Tell me a little bit about how you first got the idea for Neon Cowboys.
Asia Hall: I went to the Stagecoach Festival back in college and fell in love with it. Being a Black, Asian woman, I’m a minority, especially at places like Stagecoach. Looking out at the crowd, there weren’t really a ton of people who looked like me. I wanted to embrace that I was different and just stand out. I was inspired by neon bar signs, and I knew that the technology, the EL wire, was already on the market, so making a neon hat wasn’t too much of a stretch. The next year, my friends and I all went back to the festival wearing prototypes of the hat.
TM: What was the reaction from other festivalgoers? Did you know immediately that the hats were a hit?
AH: People really loved them, they were losing their minds. It’s a festival, so people are drunk and rowdy. There were some people trying to steal them off of our heads, someone else offered two hundred dollars for one, and some of them were pissed that they couldn’t just run to a booth that night and get one for themselves. That was how we tested the market. It was absolutely wild, because we really didn’t know if people were going to respond to them.
TM: Your father has his own fashion label, and you have a background in computer science and art history. Did you ever think that you were going to combine those things to start your own business?
AH: Growing up, people were always asking me if I was going to follow in my father’s footsteps. I’d always reluctantly say no, just because I saw what my parents had to put into it and they work nonstop. In college, I was studying computer science and ended up starting a clothing line with my younger brother. By my senior year, I wasn’t really present in college anymore and I had just really fallen in love with designing and manufacturing. I never really set out to go that route, but my college was very much about bridging disciplines, so I think that was ingrained in me without realizing it.
TM: So after you saw that your light-up hats were a hit at Stagecoach, what was next? Did you have a plan?
AH: It was all really intense. I drew up a business plan that helped me secure an investor, who gave us the money to get a mold for the hats. From there, I was trying to find milliners who could make a transparent cowboy hat. They all told me that we would have to use plastic because there wasn’t really a clear fabric that could mold to the shape we needed. It was a lot of trial and error, and we were really trying to rush because Miley Cyrus was our first customer.
TM: Miley Cyrus was the first person to place an order?
AH: Yeah, it was such a nightmare. Miley’s team saw a photo of our first prototype and wanted it for her tour. We were panicking because our first hats from the mold ended up weighing three pounds. There was no way to get that down unless we redid the mold and used thinner plastic. I mean, technically, the neon hats existed, but you can’t wear a three-pound hat. I still shipped them to her because I’d told them that we’d be able to pull it off, but it was just so embarrassing. Eventually, we were able to redo the molds and make them lighter.
TM: Tell me a little bit about your collaborations with Kacey Musgraves.
AH: We love working with her, she’s phenomenal. Her team emailed us a few months before Kacey went on her Golden Hour tour, and we started brainstorming what we could do. We made a thousand of our smoke white hats with her happy and sad logo on the front. On the inside, the battery said “Kacey Musgraves x Neon Cowboys,” which was really awesome of her to make sure our name was still included. We started shipping them to every location for her tour, and there was always a huge line for them.
TM: There’s been a huge uptick in interest for Western wear in general, but there’s also been a big wave of Black and Latino kids reclaiming cowboy culture. What has that been like for your business?
AH: I didn’t necessarily see a wave coming, but I’ve been doing this since 2014, so it’s really awesome to see the passion and the interest in cowboys pick up. It’s so cool to me that more minorities are claiming that cowboy culture for themselves. On the flip side, we have had to deal with online trolls who have accused us of appropriation, which is crazy because the original cowboys weren’t white. So I’m really happy that celebrities like Megan Thee Stallion, Beyoncé, and Lil Nas X are identifying with this culture because at the end of the day, being a cowboy is so American and it’s not fair to think that only white people can have that identity.
TM: Stagecoach is where you first got the idea for your hats, but what was your relationship to cowboy culture or country music before then?
AH: I have family in Texas, my father is from Detroit, but his mother is from Tyler. We would go down for big family reunions, where a hundred of us would go from church to running down to fish at the pond. But growing up in L.A., I basically said I would listen to anything but country. It was cool not to be interested in it at all. But by the time I got to college, I realized that a lot of my favorite songs when I was younger were from the Chicks or Faith Hill.
TM: What are your plans for the future of Neon Cowboys?
AH: I really want us to do movies. I think we’re really good at costumes, but we really haven’t had the opportunity to do something like that, maybe for a space western or something like that.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.