***This article originally appeared in our Fall 2017 Ranch House Journal. Never miss another issue, subscribe to the magazine here.***
It was curiosity and fascination that originally led Kaci Riggs to the Charlie 1 Horse hat brand, but it was determination and grit that turned this forgotten line into one of the most recognized hat brands in today’s western fashion industry. So recognizable that a Victoria Secret model recently donned one of these iconic hats during a photoshoot.
Kaci began working for Stetson/Resistol after two-years in corporate sales and sports marketing. Her background in rodeo and the western industry made her a logical fit for the job, or so she thought.
“I interviewed for a marketing position and didn’t feel it was a fit,” said Kaci. “They offered me the Product Development Assistant position on my way out the door, instead.”
During her time as an assistant to legendary designer, Bob Posey, Kaci stumbled upon Charlie 1 Horse and was immediately intrigued by the brand’s various hat styles.
“I saw a brand that was rich in history and popularity, but the times had changed,” she said. “People weren’t wearing those beautiful, fancy, feathered works of art anymore. You had to be a rockstar to pull it off.”
RECOGNIZING AN OPPORTUNITY
Charlie 1 Horse was founded in 1978 by a man named Gordon. At the time, all hats were custom made from a shop in St. Joseph, Missouri.
“Gordon did a great job of getting hats on some of the hottest celebrities back then,” said Kaci. “Urban Cowboy was a phenomenon. You saw Charlie 1 Horse hats on Mickey Gilley, Johnnie Lee, Charlie Daniels and other hot acts of that time.”
The Charlie 1 Horse brand was eventually purchased by Hatco and production of the line was moved to Garland, Texas where the company manufactures Resistol and Stetson. Seeing the potential to create stylish, in-demand, fashionable women’s hats, Kaci made it her mission to revitalize the line.
“I tried to create something a cowgirl might wear in the arena or to a western event. Something that would help her express her individual style when a Resistol wasn’t enough,” said Kaci. “I literally tried to marry fashion and function with this line.”
MARKETING THE BRAND
However, this marriage came with its own set of bumps along the way. Kaci recalls having to work hard to prove the hat brand’s value to wholesalers after sales representatives failed to see the vision. During this time she relied heavily on social media, the development of a website and wholesale online store, and a strategy she refers to as “bandit marketing.”
“I was never given a budget, so I tried to give hats and get the most exposure with the smallest product investment,” said Kaci. “I relied on the relationships and what I could do for people in return.”
Eventually, Kaci employed the help of Ranch House to market the Charlie 1 Horse hat brand. From website design to social media management, she is continually impressed with the work ethic and creativity Ranch House brings to the table.
“Ranch House’s wheels have always been spinning the same speed as ours,” said Kaci. “ They helped us identify our customer and their characteristics and helped us maintain visual consistency throughout all marketing campaigns and marketing-related materials. Ranch House made it easy, all of it easy.”
Overall, Kaci has been overjoyed by the response and increase in sales the hat brand has seen. Though it’s taken an army of people to get to this point, she’s very pleased with the outcome.
“I am proud of the brand we have established,” she said. “People know what it is. They recognize the firebrand and people actually talk about it and ask for it by name. That’s pretty big.”
WESTERN FASHION AND THE FUTURE
Today, Kaci serves Hatco as the Director of Product Development for Resistol, Stetson and Charlie 1 Horse. “It is my job to design the raw materials that we trim the hats with each season,” she said. “Bob and I design two lines a year, felt and straw. Basically I try to reinvent the cowboy hat each day.”
This coupled with managing a team of 40 Charlie 1 Horse endorsees, planning and directing photoshoots, coordinating the brand’s presence at events, and providing quality control support keeps Kaci firing on all pistons. But, she wouldn’t have it any other way, especially since western fashion to her “is life,” as she puts it.
“If it weren’t for western fashion, our brands would be irrelevant. I always make the joke that if I can’t wear my boots, I’m not going,” said Kaci. “I’m the girl that shows up to the CMA awards and the Kentucky Derby in a nice dress with alligator boots and my cowboy hat. I’m proud of my lifestyle and who I am.”
It is this same passion for the western lifestyle and the western fashion industry that she tries to communicate and share with the 40 young ladies that makes up the Charlie 1 Horse endorsement team.
“They are the future of our lifestyle and our industry. I hope they always remember where they came from and who believed in them from a young age,” said Kaci. “I hope that makes them try harder and have a ton of respect for themselves.”
After all, there is no one who better understands the western and rodeo lifestyle than Kaci herself. From a young age, she was immersed in rodeo, participating in events like barrel racing, breakaway roping and team roping.
“As long as I can remember, I looked forward to saddling up,” said Kaci. “I can’t imagine my life without the responsibility of taking care of livestock and the gratification of competition.”
She accredits her background to helping her marketing the Charlie 1 Horse hat brand. “I am the consumer. It helps me understand what she wants and what she believes to be important,” she said.
She relies on this knowledge and understanding to brainstorm and facilitate future plans for the hat brand. A laugh is made audible as she explains the importance of furthering the line by embracing “what’s hot,” while still remembering “its [Charlie 1 Horse] beautiful feathered works from days gone by.”
To learn more about the brand and to view hats, visit charlie1horsehats.com. Here, you can shop stock hats and find retailers in your area. But don’t be surprised if you can’t find every hat the line offers in one store. Retailers pick and choose which styles they decide to carry. Kaci offers these suggestions when searching for different looks.
“I personally love what Junk Gypsy carries [www.gypsyville.com],” said Kaci. “Boot Barn and Cavenders are also great customers. We even opened a retail store for our brands in the fort worth stockyards.”