Mountain landscape and farm

Mother-daughter duo behind some of America’s best Wagyu beef

MOTHER-DAUGHTER DUO BEHIND SOME OF AMERICA’S BEST WAGYU BEEF

Continuing the family tradition at
Skagit River Ranch

By Jayme Moye
Photography by Sara Forrest

In verdant northwest Washington, down a rural road named “Utopia,” hundreds of cattle graze in a riverside pasture. Hogs happily snort around in the sod near a historic wooden barn, free-range chickens cluck and coo. Just beyond, a densely forested hillside rises to touch a cerulean blue sky. Welcome to Skagit River Ranch, a landmark organic farm owned and operated by Nicole Hoffman and her mother, Eiko Vojkovich.

Nicole & Eiko portrait

“Running a business together with my mom is incredibly special…we have a strong bond that unites us.”

Together, the mother-daughter team runs Skagit River Ranch according to its founding principles: organic production, humane treatment of animals, and sustainability. Their organic meats, particularly the 100% grass-fed Wagyu beef, are highly sought after and sold to notable farm-to-table restaurants like Restaurant Marché on Bainbridge Island, retailers including Seattle’s premier organic grocer PCC, and local farmers’ markets including Ballard and the University District Seattle, as well direct to local families.

Vintage photo of mother and child

“I wholeheartedly believe in what we do and how we do it,” Nicole says. “Not many people get to say they are truly proud of what they do every day.”

Nicole was a toddler when her parents started Skagit River Ranch 25 years ago. They achieved organic certification from the USDA in 1998 and were, for a time, Washington’s only certified organic beef producer. Since then, the farm has received numerous awards from Skagit Conservation District for its soil, water, and environmental conservation.

Nicole enjoyed growing up on the farm and partaking in the bounty of healthy, organic meat and vegetables from the family garden but wasn’t initially interested in the family business. Instead, she studied political science at the University of Washington in Seattle, intending to work in the field of national security. By the end of her degree, Nicole felt differently.

“I didn’t like the city as much as I thought I did,” she says, “And being in college, you realize that not everyone eats the way you do—I was passionate about food much more than I thought I was.”

Mother-daughter

In 2019, when her father had to retire due to health reasons, Nicole stepped into his shoes as Operations Manager. Nicole’s mother continued in her role managing the business side of things. At 65 years old, Eiko says she loves the work and will keep doing it as long as she can. “I consider myself very blessed to be able to do this with my very own daughter,” she says.

Portrait of Nicole

This spring, Nicole and her husband sold their home in the nearby town of Sedro-Woolley and moved to a home on the farm about a mile from her parents’ place. She’s pregnant with the couple’s first child and can’t think of a better place to raise him than at Skagit River Ranch.

Stetson hat

Stetson hat

Stetson hat

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Vintage Stetson advertisement "The Last Drop from His Stetson"

The Story of John B. Stetson

MAN OF MANY HATS

THE STORY OF JOHN B. STETSON

It was summer 1862. Storms were brewing over the Colorado Rockies. And when the rain hit, John B. Stetson and his colleagues went scrambling for shelter.

Thinking quickly, they fashioned coverage from the animals they had shot for food. First, a tent, which Stetson created using the felting process he had learned from his father’s business. Then, a hat. Wide-brimmed and tall-crowned, it featured a silhouette familiar today, but back then, the shape was so unusual that the other members of his party gave him grief for it. That is until a passing bullwhacker bought it from Stetson for a five-dollar gold piece.

IT WAS THE FIRST HAT
JOHN B. STETSON EVER SOLD.

Nearly 200 years after his birth, John B. Stetson, and the company he founded, are synonymous with innovation, independence, and handcrafted American headwear. His name appears in novels by Hemingway and Steinbeck, in iconic folk songs like “Stagger Lee,” and in more recent tunes by such varied artists as Steely Dan, The Roots, and Lyle Lovett, who sang that “My John B. Stetson was my only friend” in his classic, “Don’t Touch My Hat.

Clint Eastwood wearing a Stetson in the 1960s Western
trilogy ‘The Man with No Name’.

The son of a hatter, born in 1830, the seventh of 12 children, Stetson grew up in the family business until he was diagnosed with tuberculosis while in his 20s. Seeking relief—and perhaps a bit of adventure—he headed West. He first landed in St. Joseph, Missouri, where he worked his way up the ranks of a local brickyard, becoming an owner before the factory, and his fortune washed away in a river flood. From there, he fell in with the gold rushers and cowboys of the era, making frequent expeditions to Pike’s Peak in Colorado in search of gold, which led him to that fateful Colorado rainstorm.

While in the Rockies, Stetson had noticed the shortcomings of the coonskin caps Westerners often wore. They were prone to fleas, they didn’t provide much shade from the sun, and they didn’t hold up in the rain. His invention fixed all that, and as news of this new breed of headwear took hold, Stetson headed back east to Philadelphia, launching his business in a one-room workshop with $60 he borrowed from his sister.

There, he developed The Boss of the Plains, based on his Pike’s Peak creation, a lightweight and all-weather fur felt hat with a high, creased four-inch crown and a wide four-inch brim. Instantly iconic, the hat sold far and wide, equally renowned for its quality and practicality. Working with different shapes and materials, he created hats for city and country, eventually selling millions of hats per year in the half-century that followed, including many styles that we still make today.

Stetson’s entrepreneurial skills were matched by his passion for the well-being of his workers. In an era of meager workers’ rights, Stetson, a devout Baptist, paid good wages and offered extensive benefits to the thousands of people who made a Stetson a Stetson. He provided a robust profit-sharing program, created a building and loan that helped countless workers become homeowners, and built and operated a hospital for employees and the community. He even had an intramural softball league that played during working hours on Wednesday afternoons, among other athletic opportunities. Stetson also helped find the YMCA in Philadelphia and was an early benefactor of Florida’s Deland University, renamed John B. Stetson University in 1889. Its School of Business Administration and College of Law, founded in 1897 and 1900, respectively, were the first of their kind in the state.


Stetson died in Deland in 1906, but his legacy endures. Throughout the 20th Century and on into the 21st, the Stetson has remained an icon of purpose-driven American style, from the dusty ranches of West Texas to the sidewalks of New York. It’s no wonder everyone from the silent film star Tom Mix (who has a hat named after him) to presidents from Truman and LBJ to Ronald Reagan to countless actors, musicians, entrepreneurs, and other modern pioneers have made a Stetson their signature.

They come from all walks of life, but all are bound by a shared appreciation for the quality, character, and a spirit of adventure—and one man’s ingenuity during a fateful Colorado rainstorm more than 150 years ago.

Lon Megaree’s 1922 painting, “The Last Drop from His Stetson,” embodies the cowboy ethos of compassion, integrity, and respect at the heart of every hat we produce today—many featuring a liner adorned with Megaree’s iconic artwork.

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Art & Memories with painter Shane Miller

ART & MEMORIES WITH
PAINTER SHANE MILLER

By Jayme Moye

Photography by Brent Whaley

Nashville-based artist Shane Miller paints landscapes the way they appear in human memory, in fleeting thoughts, or in the recollection of dreams. On his canvas there’s a focal point, but then the opening in the forest, or the bend in the stream, begins to blur and fade. “I feel like that’s how a lot of memories and dreams are,” Miller says. “There’s always one little part that’s in focus, but everything else you can’t really grasp.”



Shane wears the Dune 5X Gun Club Hat in Silverbelly.

“A lot of people will say they bought it because it reminds them of home, or a particular memory.”

Miller, 30, grew up in western Maryland, in the foothills of the Appalachians. His mom homeschooled him for most of his education. He started drawing in early childhood and painting in high school, although playing guitar was his greatest passion. Miller moved to Nashville a couple of years after graduating college, lured by close friends living there and by the music and art scene. He soon got a gig playing guitar for a country music artist, which left his daytime hours open for painting. And once Miller started doing it regularly, he couldn’t stop.

“You know that Picasso quote?” he says, “Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.’ It’s really applicable to me. The act of painting, of producing these works, is what keeps me feeling good.”

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While he still enjoys making music, in 2017, Miller officially traded the guitar for the paintbrush as his full-time job. Now, after five years of proving he can earn a living from his landscape painting, Miller’s turning his attention to the pursuit of mastery. “I think it’s important to always try to push yourself to be better,” he says. “I’m hoping to achieve a higher level of discipline with my craft and to keep understanding my painting more and more.”

For Miller, the dream appears to be very much within his grasp.

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Dorset Maple Reserve

Dorset Maple Reserve:

The secret to world-class maple syrup and a better quality of life

By Steve Schwartz

Photography by Maaike Bernstrom

In the Green Mountains of Vermont, the transition from winter to spring means one thing: sugaring season, when the trees are tapped, the sap is boiled, and turned into some of the finest maple syrup in the world.

On a 500-acre piece of land in southern Vermont, Austin Felis II and Lauren Felis are drawing their life and passion from the land, quite literally. As the husband-and-wife owners of Dorset Maple Reserve, they’re producing 5,000 gallons of maple syrup every year, by hand, and operating the entire business by themselves. We headed north to pay their farm a visit and learned the secret to creating a top-quality product while also building a better life for generations to come.



“The quality of working in the woods, taking something from nature, and then refining it into a finished product is pretty rewarding, in my opinion. There’s a lot of self-satisfaction in it. It’s a different world from most and I prefer this one,” Austin said.

AUSTIN FELIS TAPS A MAPLE TREE ON HIS FAMILY’S 500-ACRE MAPLE SYRUP FARM IN SOUTHERN, VERMONT.

Starting in mid-January, he and Lauren clean out 137 miles of tubing around their land to prepare for tapping the trees, where they then strategically drill a 6/10th-inch hole to prevent harming the sugar maple. Then, they put the entire system under a vacuum, which triggers higher production from the tree throughout the tapping process. Then, after reverse osmosis, aeration, and evaporation, they come away with a finished bottle of Dorset Maple Reserve Syrup.

“It’s a different world from most and I prefer this one.”

As Austin explained, the beauty of the syrup doesn’t necessarily come from the process, but moreso from the trees themselves. Much like grapes to wine production, a sugar maple tree is the keystone of a syrup’s flavor, color, and richness. Dorset sits atop a natural marble deposit (it contributed materials for The New York Public Library and many monuments in Washington D.C.), as well as a limestone belt, which gives Dorset syrup a “very soft, almost buttery flavor.” A product from Ohio or Canada may be wildly different from one in Vermont or even neighboring New York.

In other words, every tree and every bottle of syrup is unique, and the same could be said for the people who make it. As for Austin, he opted to return to the farm, which has been in the family for more than 40 years and create the entire syrup operation from scratch. After earning a degree in Management of Technology from Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston and owning a custom motorcycle shop in Bridgeport, Connecticut, a severe motorcycle crash—along with the birth of his children—prompted Austin and his family to move to Vermont to enjoy a change. “As a younger man, I had zero responsibilities and a lot of freedom. I loved it. As I became a family man and had some real responsibilities when my children came along, my attitude shifted,” Austin said. “I wanted us to live basically a better quality of life.”

Lauren Santagata CHECKS THE GRADE OF THE MAPLE SYRUP PRODUCT. it can only be one of four: Golden, Amber, Dark or Very Dark.

And now a decision for change is the foundation for Austin’s work at Dorset Maple Reserve, something that’s reflected in the product itself. Throughout the course of a season, maple syrup will shift from very light and sweet early on to something much darker and richer and more vibrant in later months. It’s never the same, always taking on more complexity and flavor. This personality and unpredictability is something that Austin and his family have fallen in love with over the years. You could say they’re maple evangelists at this point. One of their most pointed efforts: Giving maple syrup a place beyond the breakfast table. 

“When we first started going direct to the consumer, I noticed that I was having a problem. I would always offer a sample and people would respond, ‘Oh, I don’t eat pancakes.’ My wife and I decided that in order to get to expand people’s ideas, we were going to have to come up with recipes and show people other ways to use it,” Austin said.


If you browse through Dorset’s website, you’ll see recipes for everything ranging from maple-roasted garlic to maple chia pudding and this incredible Cast Iron Bourbon Apple Crisp. They’ve even introduced a bourbon barrel-aged syrup and smoked and spicy syrup, which make up more than half of their total sales. Austin and Lauren see maple syrup as much more than an alternative to sugar, though. As something that’s loaded with zinc, magnesium, and riboflavin, maple syrup is a vegan-approved way to boost your immune system, much like honey. There are even some studies that link maple syrup with a reduction of heart disease and certain cancers, Austin said, and it all comes from a 6/10th-inch hole drilled into a tree. 

MORE MAPLE RECIPES

It seems that the world at large is beginning to take notice, too, as Dorset has seen steady growth since opening its doors in 2013. Call it a farm-to-table movement or just people recognizing a great product when they see one, but a change for the better seems to follow Austin and Lauren. Now, with their three children getting older, Austin said he hopes this 500-acre maple syrup farm will be something he can share with generations to come. 

“I want to build a future for my kids. This farm is one of the most beautiful pieces of property I’ve ever seen. I want my children and my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren—I want everybody—to enjoy it,” Austin said.

Until then, they’ll keep drawing inspiration from the land. As of March, Austin and Lauren were hard at work, preparing their maple syrup for their growing customer base. Each bottle represents something new and unique, a flavor growing more rich and complex with each passing week, much like the lives of the people who are producing it. And soon, after hours of hands-on production and attention, people around the world will get a taste of this positive change for themselves, one bottle at a time. 

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The Open Road Story

The Story of the Open Road

Widely imitated, never replicated, since 1937

By Paul Underwood

Every now and again, form and function intersect to create something somehow both useful and beautiful, purpose-built yet iconic. The Coca-Cola bottle. The denim work shirt. The Porsche 911. To that list we would add: The Stetson Open Road, a style so classic and time-tested that it’s hard to believe there was ever a world where it didn’t exist.

The hat, with its western crown and shorter, town-friendly brim, dates back to 1937, a time when the open road itself was a relatively new concept. Route 66 was just over a decade old, and the top-of-the-line V-8 in the latest-model Ford cranked out a whopping 85 horsepower. Unlike today’s sturdy, hard-wearing Open Road, the 1937 iteration was more of a lightweight, western-inflected fedora.

It wasn’t until 1948 that the Open Road as we know it—with its iconic cattleman crown, narrow grosgrain ribbon, and that perfectly proportioned brim turned up just so at the edge—entered the world. It was an instant success, thanks in part to a marketing campaign that blanketed Texas and other Western states, proclaiming the hat’s versatility as a dressy option at home in town or country, in the West or back East. (“Almost as popular on the Avenue as they are on the Open Road,” as one ad later put it.)

Advertisment in The Saturday Evening Post, 1950

Advertisment, 1952

Advertisment in Time, February 1953

Before long, the Open Road was adorning some of the most famous heads in the land. Presidents in particular seemed to relish the style—Harry S. Truman was an early adopter, as was Dwight Eisenhower, both of whom wore it with a suit. 

LYNDON B. JOHNSON IN HIS SIGNATURE OPEN ROAD, 1966

Lyndon B. Johnson’s affinity for the Open Road inspired both a Stetson ad campaign (touting “The L.B.J. Look”) and a wave of knockoffs in the mid-’60s. (You can still buy your own—authentic—Open Road at the LBJ Ranch near Johnson City, Texas.) Winston Churchill wore one; so did Hank Williams. The hat played a supporting role in films like Smokey and the Bandit and From Dusk Till Dawn, while modern luminaries including Jeff Tweedy of Wilco have helped ensure the hat’s legend endures in the 21st Century.

Before long, the Open Road was adorning some of the most famous heads in the land.

In the early days, Stetson ads declared the Open Road “a hat that will proclaim your distinctive individuality to the world”—a sentiment that rings more true now than ever. You can get an Open Road in straw, hemp, or, of course, fur felt, each one adorned with our new 1865 pin. As it has been for decades, the Open Road is made by hand in Garland, Texas, meaning only a handful are in production at any one time.

Quality takes time, as we like to say, but, as the Open Road proves, quality also endures.

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OPEN ROAD IN ACTION: HIGHLIGHTS FROM OUR SPRING/SUMMER 2022 CAMPAIGN  

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