"There are not many women who make hats this way in the world,” says Sarah Kjorstad, as she explains how she makes the handmade hats sold at JW Bennett, a custom hat company she founded.
The felt hats, which are made at her flagship location in downtown Jackson, rely on traditional techniques and nearly 100-year-old equipment.
Though the process is traditional, the designs are contemporary. “You start with a hat, but we provide all of the accessories, bands, pins, and feather bands that can be added. It’s an expression of each customer’s personality,” Sarah explains. “I wanted to offer styles people could wear while visiting Jackson, but also take home to the city. Options did not exist, besides a traditional cowboy hat.”
Lara Azria-Reucassel, a resident of Park City, experienced this firsthand while visiting Jackson with her family. “As soon as I put it on my head, I loved the look,” she says, explaining that her serendipitous hat purchase and uncanny connection with Sarah resulted in a new business partnership. “I was inspired by Sarah, her design style, and vision, and knew that I could complement her skills.”
The duo quickly made plans to open a location near Lara in Park City, finding the connection between the two mountain towns a perfect fit for the growing business. The downtown Park City location and new business partnership was perfectly timed — and the perfect fit. “Lara is really the yin to my yang, and she’s become one of my best friends as well,” says Sarah.
Lara joins JW Bennett with a Columbia Business School background and a childhood that included stints living in cities like Paris and Los Angeles. She was living in Houston with her husband and children before landing in Park City in January 2020. “We were ready for a life change,” she says, noting that they’ve been rejuvenated by the Park City lifestyle.
As for Sarah, her childhood was spent in Casper and on a family ranch near the South Dakota border. Inspired by her grandmother, who “was always dressed to the nines,” Sarah developed an interest in fashion and learned to sew from an aunt, all while living a more rural, ranching lifestyle.
“I can use power tools, but also sew the detail of a stitch,” she says. These two skills reflect two aspects of her personality that have served her well as a business owner. The JW Bennett brand and products honor her Wyoming upbringing, her ranching background, and her love of fashion.
The mountain town culture is inherent in the hats found at JW Bennett. Some of the first Jackson residents were beaver trappers who collected pelts to make the era’s fashionable hats. “The history of our area includes mountain men who were explorers and trappers and hunters, and we still build hats based on that tradition, often using the same techniques,” says Sarah.
While certain techniques may remain, JW Bennett is a shining example of a much more progressive era. “The hat industry has long been dominated by men. Having a woman-owned business in a male-dominated industry is unique, as is working with another strong, business-oriented woman,” says Sarah.
Sarah and Lara are excited for the future of their brand and look forward to adding more locations and products. “We are in chapter one of this book that we’re writing,” Lara says. “We are so excited to see where it goes.”