Asia Hall got the idea for Neon Cowboys at the Stagecoach Music Festival in Indio, California one year. Each time she’d attended the festival prior to that moment, Hall had reveled in watching the Coachella and country music kids come together around something they loved, welcoming each other with open arms. Hall wanted to make something for them that was unique; something that would stand out and signal the beginning of a more inclusive country music culture.
So, she got some neon wire and some cowboy hats, and made 13 prototypes for what would eventually become the wildly popular light-up cowboy hats that have taken the internet by storm. She and some friends wore the prototypes to Stagecoach the following year and got an enormous amount of attention; that’s when Hall knew she was onto something. “Because I’m also a minority, it was one of those things where I was like, I really wanted to embrace the reality that I was going to inevitably stand out [in the country music scene],” she says.
A serendipitous order of events happened soon after. Hall drew up a business plan with the assistance of a family friend, and landed her first investor when her father, who made his career in couture fashion, had a client who showed interest in the idea. Hall kept her printed business plan and stock of prototypes stowed away in her car at all times, so she would always be ready to give an impromptu Shark–Tank-style pitch.
Hall didn’t always want to be a fashion designer — after watching her dad do it for so long, she decided that she didn’t want to deal with the workload that came along with it. In fact, her initial career trajectory before Neon Cowboys’ inception was radically different. After earning bachelor’s degrees in both computer science and art, Hall went straight into the gaming industry, working as a QA Analyst for the massive game publisher Electronic Arts (some of her favorite games include Red Dead Redemption, Doom, The Sims, and Harvest Moon). On the side, though, Hall was funneling her artistic talent into an Instagram-based clothing line with her brother. As it turns out, Hall would end up in the fashion industry in a bigger way than she ever expected.
After that first investment and five years of refinement, Hall’s Neon Cowboys hats started to gain traction — people were buying them and wearing them to music festivals both in the U.S. and internationally, as well as using them for cosplay and just plain fun. Inspired by the plastic toys of the ‘90s (during her design process, Hall specifically pointed to the classic transparent GameBoy and light-up sneakers so many ’90s kids wore), the Neon Cowboys hats were made to exude the energy of a late night out with friends, making memories, and looking for the nearest lit-up “Bar” sign. Since then, the brand has expanded even further, offering neon-infused bralettes, trench coats, and eventually cowboy boots, elevating Neon Cowboys to more than just a one-product company.
Image: neon cowboys
Then something even bigger happened in the form of a surprise DM Hall received from country-pop icon Kacey Musgraves. Musgraves wanted to collaborate with Hall to create her very own Neon Cowboys-style light-up hat, and that’s exactly what they did. “We would ship to every tour location that she was at, and there would be a huge line for the hats. It was crazy,” Hall says.
It was a long journey to get here — the country and western apparel worlds are predominantly white spaces, and Hall knew from the get-go that she would stand out and possibly be met with some pushback. “We want to help build an identity around what American culture, or Americana culture, could and should be in the future,” Hall says. To her, the intersection of fashion and tech is all about pushing boundaries to create more inclusivity in areas that haven’t historically been that way. She says she’s happy to see that this inclusivity is actually starting to manifest in the country scene in a big way — artists like Kacey Musgraves, Lil Nas X, Megan Thee Stallion, and others have helped to usher in a new generation of “yeehaw culture” that welcomes people exactly how they are, especially in the LGBTQ+ and Black communities.
“It’s all about, you know, being a pioneer and trailblazing,” Hall said of her affinity for cowboy culture. For her, part of what Neon Cowboys is all about is bringing light to the history of Black cowboys and cowgirls that has been erased across the media landscape for so long.
But a lot of this forward momentum was challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic. Music festivals, which are Neon Cowboys’ bread and butter, have been canceled all across the world. “That really forced us to think about what makes this brand special. Is it just because people are going to festivals, or is it something bigger? I think what makes us unique and special is that we’re really good at providing a party experience anywhere you are,” Hall said. She mentioned she’s even seen her customers wearing their hats out in regular, daily life — like on trips to the grocery store.
Once Hall realized that we’d all be quarantined for the foreseeable future, she decided to pivot to products that people could enjoy at home, including decorative neon signs, cowboy hats for pets, and — you guessed it — face masks. Light-up face masks, to be exact (as well as non-glow masks; both are totally washable and reusable as to not create unnecessary waste). “We wanted to kind of encourage people to have a little bit more joy even if they can’t leave the house,” Hall says about the new products. The masks have been a huge success, and Hall hopes that will help keep the business afloat until festival season makes its return, whenever that may be.
Image: Andrew taylor / neon cowboys
The conversation surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement has also thrust more attention onto Hall and her brand. “I didn’t really re
alize how much of a voice we had in this space until people started to show more of an interest in seeking out African American businesses,” she said. Even with Neon Cowboys taking a hit from the pandemic, Hall is still dedicated to being a brand that gives back to the community. Recently, they sold a plain black version of their face masks, and donated all of the proceeds to and — the donations totaled just shy of $6,000.
As for the future of fashion-tech, Hall’s hopes for the medium are that it becomes more accessible to a larger audience, both in terms of pricing and availability. “Fashion-tech, in general, is a lot of one-offs, which is fine, but that’s not how it’s going to become a normalized thing. People have to have it in their hands,” she says. Hall adds that while trying to think ten steps ahead (using Google Glass as an example) is great, she also thinks it’s necessary to design fashion-tech that’s just a fun conduit for self-expression that everyone can take part in.
When asked about what keeps her motivated to continue pushing boundaries in the fashion and tech spaces, Hall told Mashable that the reactions that she gets to her products from fans are more than enough to spark the desire to press on, whether it’s a tag on Instagram or a video of a customer dancing around their room with their Neon Cowboys hat on. “It’s just fun to be able to create something that so many people resonate with, that gives them inspiration or just an amazing night out,” Hall says.
“For me, it’s similar to Disney World, where they have the Mickey Mouse ear hats that everyone wears in the parks; something that just makes you lose your inhibitions and have a better time,” Hall added. “You’re not taking yourself too seriously, and you’re not taking the world too seriously. You can be a kid again and just play.”