Pioneers of the Next Generation

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When pioneer John Batterson Stetson ventured west in the 1830s to heal his tuberculosis and explore the wilderness, he invented a product that became an icon of the frontier. It was a favorite of miners, cowboys, and cavalry officers. It was a sweatband, an umbrella, a sunshade, a fan, and a bucket. It kept heads warm in the winter and cool in the summer. And it was made proudly in the United States.

It remains all of that and more. Stetson hats are for women and men who make bold choices: to reclaim land, to resurrect the bones of decaying buildings, to restore broken-down vehicles, and to go play when the work is done. And, in Asheville, North Carolina, we found the spirit of Stetson as vibrantly alive as anywhere else in America.

We met homesteaders in the hills who had left behind their city lives as musicians and sommeliers, instead forging a new life on 300 acres of abandoned farmland. They cleared roads, recovered pastures, tilled the earth, encouraged wildlife to return to the woods, withstood arsonists, and built a home for themselves and their children.

Inside city limits, we discovered a group of renegade skateboarders who had hacked their own skatepark on the foundation of an abandoned warehouse in the industrial district along the French Broad River. Foundation parks like this are sprinkled throughout the country, the product of determined skaters who challenge themselves to transcend the limits of their busted environment—or even use it to their advantage.

We found a man called “Maniac,” who restores vintage motorcycles. He and his friends work in an upstart garage where self-sufficiency, creative problem solving, and a do-it-yourself ethos are the golden rules. Over on the desk inside the cluttered office, you wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a grease-stained coffee mug bearing the words “A failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.” These guys are here to do a simple thing: tune their bikes and hit the road.

Asheville plays hard, too. Wayfaring in the woods has been a pastime in Appalachia for generations, and over the years groups of friends have spent their free time exploring these mountains, compiling a list of secluded waterfalls and hidden swimming holes. There’s an air of secrecy around places like these; you have to know the right people before their locations can be revealed. But keep your ear to the ground for the sound of water thundering down and laughter ringing in the hills—you just may find the way.

One thing united these homesteaders, skaters, mechanics, and waterfall-hunters: They were all wearing Stetson hats. When it first hit the marketplace in 1865, the Stetson—by now practically a synonym for "hat"—became inextricably linked to the American West because that happened to be the frontier of the day. Today, however, the name is worn proudly by those who trek past boundaries far and wide.

For these pioneers of the next generation, the old call of “go west” has become “go everywhere.” 

Made proudly in the USA, Stetson hats are for men and women who make bold choices: to reclaim land, to resurrect decaying buildings, to restore broken-down vehicles, and to go play when the work is done. In Asheville, North Carolina, we found that American spirit vibrantly alive in the hearts of the new pioneers.


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