Journey of a Brand: Sarah Kjorstad on the Evolution of Her Hat Brand, JW Bennett

JW Bennett partner Lara Azria-Reucassel and founder Sarah Kjorstad. Photography by Della Frederickson.

Who: Sarah Kjorstad
Location: Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Park City, Utah
Occupation: Hatmaker and founder of JW Bennett

THE STORY: Sarah Kjorstad grew up on a ranch in Wyoming, where she learned the importance of strong values, connection to the land, and grit. In search of an outlet for her creative expression, she began creating custom-made hats and beaded hat bands as a reflection of her classic style and cowboy heritage. Today, the JW Bennett brand is an expression of Kjorstad’s family’s ranching roots, as well as the creative and professional path she has forged along the way. “My business name and logo combines Bennett, the maiden name of my grandmother and middle name of my father, while recalling the upside-down ‘JW’ of my family’s cattle brand,” she explains. The beautifully crafted hats are as stylish as they are functional, and are favorites among locals and out-of-towners.

THE BEGINNING: Kjorstad started JW Bennett in 2019 as a way to help provide for her family and put her creativity and business acumen to use. “I’m passionate about expressing my creative side, and this business was the perfect marriage of my creativity and business sense,” Kjorstad says. She understood the dedication and time required to make a business successful, and if it was going to take away from precious family time, she wanted her work to be both authentic and inspiring. “My mission has always been to provide visitors and locals alike a contemporary and fashionable way to connect with Jackson Hole and western heritage,” she explains.

“I believe that nothing worth doing is easy.”

Kjorstad found every step of the process in becoming a female hat maker a challenge. In this age-old art form, it can be difficult to find someone willing to teach you, especially if you’re a woman. “There are some makers, but not all, who believe you won’t be strong enough or have industrious skills in order to start making hats,” she explains. Additionally, it can be challenging to find the requisite materials, like sweatbands and liners, and equipment, as there are few suppliers, and those that exist don’t necessarily have an online presence or the bandwidth to take on new clients. “Pretty much nothing is easy, from learning the trade to finding supplies,” Kjorstad says. “It’s a challenge every single day, but I love it. And I do believe that nothing worth doing is easy.”

Kjorstad shaping a hat. Photography by Shannon Corsi.

While the journey to success can be fraught with challenge, it’s also important to celebrate accomplishments. Shortly after Kjorstad started making her hats available to the public, she sold a hat to a woman who owns a major, national fashion brand—one she personally wears and loves. “That was the moment I pinched myself in disbelief and started believing in myself at the same time,” she says. At first, she found it difficult to trust that her business was a success and that people loved her work. And while Kjorstad is several years away from that first major sale, she still experiences what she describes as a mix of “pure grateful astonishment” every time she sells a hat or band.

THE JOURNEY: Since launching to the public in 2019, JW Bennett has evolved at a lightning pace. “I first worked out of a warehouse south of Jackson, but felt I needed a nicer space to see clients, so I moved into a small space near Town Square in Jackson,” Kjortstad says. Her retail orders have consistently gained momentum, and she’s added lucrative wholesale accounts in Jackson, Sun Valley, Park City, and Bozeman.

The biggest year for growth was in 2020, when Kjorstad changed the name of her company from Crown & Brim to the more personal moniker of JW Bennett, which she trademarked. She also opened a second store in Park City and took on a partner, Lara Azria-Reucassel. “As we grew, it was imperative to bring on a partner because I just couldn’t keep up on my own,” she explains. Azria-Reucassel, who possesses a business degree and a background in growing small business and fashion, heads up the Park City store.

Kjorstad steaming a hat. Photography by Shannon Corsi.

THE FUTURE: While the past two years have been a whirlwind, Kjorstad plans to keep growing and riding the wave as long as it will carry her. As a creative individual, her wheels never stop turning; she has plans to expand into new markets and is always thinking about possible new product lines. “As long as I have the energy, we’ll continue to grow,” she says, hinting at a yet-to-be-announced new venture.

“The community really wants to see businesses like mine and other locally owned stores succeed.”

Photography courtesy of JW Bennett.

THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY: When Kjorstad started out, her brand was an answer to the need for a more contemporary, unique, and authentic fashion experience. “The vibe for hats was very traditional and ‘cowboy’ style,” she says. “There wasn’t a lot of diversity in the look. You’d pretty much wear them on the ranch and not feel comfortable wearing them back home to a more urban setting.” Her beautiful, versatile hats were instantly embraced by both visitors and the citizens of her community, and through their enthusiasm, JW Bennett succeeded.

Kjorstad’s dedication to craftsmanship and authenticity, coupled with her appreciation for the local small business community, made her business a perfect fit for The Scout Guide. She instantly connected with the guide’s beautiful and contemporary print aesthetic and found it to be the perfect marketing partner for JW Bennett. “The reach of The Scout Guide has been great for me and instrumental in getting my hats in front of the right customer,” she says. 

THE SECRET TO HER SUCCESS: Without question, Kjorstad attributes the support of her community and clients to her success. “I am beyond grateful to Jackson Hole’s support of small businesses,” she says. “The community really wants to see businesses like mine and other locally owned stores succeed.”

Learn about advertising with The Scout Guide and becoming part of the TSG network of independently owned small businesses HERE