Fort Worth company shows how the West was worn — and will be in the future

Jamison Hochster, Lenny Hochster and Jeff Hochster are the businessmen behind the Panhandle and Rock & Roll brands.Joyce Marshall - jlmarshall@star-telegram.com

If you’ve attended a rodeo recently, or a bull riding competition, major stock show or country music festival, chances are Jamison Hochster took note of what you were wearing.

Spotting trends is an important part of his job, and he logs serious miles across the West and Southwest every year to see firsthand what real people choose to put on with their boots.

Hochster isn’t a fashion blogger, style editor or a TV personality, although he easily could be on camera with his dimpled smile and dark wavy hair. He’s actually co-owner and vice president of Fort Worth-based Westmoor Manufacturing, and he helps to direct design and marketing for some of the biggest brands in Western clothing.

Westmoor is the company behind Rock & Roll Denim, Rock & Roll Cowgirl and the heritage Western wear brand Panhandle. It’s a family-owned business helmed by brothers Jeff Hochster and Lenny Hochster and Jeff’s son, Jamison. Last year, the company celebrated its 70th year in the Western wear business, and it’s been an integral part of the Cowtown business scene for more than 40 years. It currently occupies some 100,000 square feet of commercial space in two buildings off of Interstate 35 with about 100 employees between the two facilities.

The company was founded in 1946 by Martin and Ernest Hochster, Jewish immigrants who had fled to the United States from Nazi Germany in the 1930s. The brothers settled in Minnesota in a community composed largely of farmers with German backgrounds, and it was there that they launched a business to design, manufacture and sell casual men’s shirts. Among their many offerings at the time was a line of shirts with Western styling.

When customers suggested they add snaps to one of their Western-influenced shirts, the brothers complied, calling that first new style “The Gambler.”

It was an instant hit, and before the brothers knew it, they were in the Western shirt business. A salesman suggested they dub this new line “Panhandle Slim,” and everything took off from there.

Eventually, the family decided to move operations to Fort Worth, in part to be closer to their target customers — ranchers, cowboys and other folks who worked land and cattle.

SO MUCH OF WHAT HAPPENS IN THE WESTERN WEAR INDUSTRY STARTS IN TEXAS.

Jeff Hochster

“So much of what happens in the Western wear industry starts in Texas,” Jeff Hochster says. “The population of Texas and of Fort Worth has been growing exponentially, and being so close to that significant customer base definitely has helped us build relationships and build our brand.”

Today, that original Panhandle label is still going strong (minus the “Slim”), and Westmoor has since added additional collections for men, women and children to its catalog, most under the umbrella of the Rock & Roll brands.

Rock & Roll started eight years ago, first with a women’s line called Rock & Roll Cowgirl. Jamison Hochster spearheaded the new design direction in response to changes he was observing in the Western style scene. “There was a new generation making different fashion choices,” he explains — choices that mixed old and new, high and low, heritage and hip. Hochster knew that the company could reach them with the right approach. Jeff and Lenny were quick to sign on, and they mobilized their teams to design and produce the new collection.

Sales were so strong that the Hochsters followed up with Rock & Roll Denim.

“We were a bit hesitant to enter the denim market because there were so many bigger players,” Jeff Hochster says, noting global brands like Wrangler and Levi’s. “But you have to innovate, you have to try new things.”

WE WERE A BIT HESITANT TO ENTER THE DENIM MARKET BECAUSE THERE WERE SO MANY BIGGER PLAYERS. BUT YOU HAVE TO INNOVATE, YOU HAVE TO TRY NEW THINGS.

Jeff Hochster

He needn’t have worried. Success was swift — a result, he believes, of hands-on, grass-roots marketing and simply having a terrific product. “We really got our retail partners involved [in the brand] and also our end-users, the people wearing the denim,” he says. “It was very important to us to get it right.”

Rock & Roll Denim has since expanded to add even more styles, plus boy’s clothing, a men’s underwear line called Base Essentials, outerwear and a range of clothing made with technical fabric for moisture wicking, SPF protection and wind and moisture resistance.

Late last year, Westmoor launched Slate, a new men’s label with an entirely new look. The debut collection includes premium denim and button-down shirts, all with a decidedly un-Western design direction.

“Slate is something different for us,” Jamison Hochster admits, but he’s eager to use the Slate label (and its slightly higher price points) to develop denim styles that can be manufactured in Los Angeles and proudly bear a “Made in the USA” label.

What’s next for Westmoor depends on the market — on the loyal customers who head to work in their Panhandle gear, and on the young people who continue to keep Western style vital and chic by mixing Rock & Roll with Converse or Christian Louboutin.

Whatever that next style direction may be, the Hochsters will remain dedicated to keeping the company rooted in quality, loyalty and customer service.

“We will always go that extra mile to make sure the customer is satisfied,” says Jeff Hochster. Jamison agrees. “We will continue to grow and make products that our rural, Western-lifestyle folks are drawn to,” he says. “We have a special brand, and we will continue to honor that as we have for the past 70 years.”

 

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