One Houston couple knows that small details really matter when it comes to designing the perfect outfit and hats. Because, what you wear tells everyone who you are.
“The best way to express yourself is by what you're wearing,” says Bonnie Kennimer, one half of Kennimer Co., a store she started with her husband Ben. The two run their popular shop out of a small space above Big Kat’s Barbershop on Mid Main. They plan on launching a ready-to-wear line of men’s shirts, and will be kicking off the start of the rodeo season with a Kennimer beer by Holler Brewing Co.
Things have been moving really fast for the small operation that opened in 2019, tucked into a space that’s on one of the funkiest blocks in town. “It’s been great,” Bonnie says of their quaint brick-and-mortar spot. “This is like the dream place we wanted.”
Located right along the MetroRail, this small area really packs a creative punch and represents the unconventional side of Houston filled with good times with the legendary Continental Club; one of our best record stores Sig’s Lagoon, and a handful of vintage and one-of-a-kind shops like My Flaming Heart and The Fashion Time Machine.
“She used this block to sell me on moving to Houston,” Ben tells Houstonia.
Bonnie was raised in Houston, but had lived most her life in Austin, where the couple met in 2011, when Ben was running his own screen printing company. At the time, Bonnie was working at the costume shop, and Austin staple, Lucy In Disguise With Diamonds.
Things took a turn when Ben sadly lost his mother. His grief pushed him to seek more than what he was getting from his business. He followed a desire he had always had to work in three dimensions. “It’s as much sculpture as it is anything,” he says about designing hats. “I always wanted to get into sculpture, but never really had an outlet for it. This is the best of both worlds,” he says.
These days, the clothing and apparel coming out of their small business is getting known throughout the entertainment world.
Kennimer Co. has dressed some significant people in the music industry, outfitting them with cowboy hats and western wear. In just the past year they have created looks for The Mastersons, Nikki Lane, Jonathan Terrell, Khruangbin, and most recently Jenee Fleenor for the Country Music Awards.
One of their biggest claims to fame, however, was providing the American cowboy style that Leon Bridges flaunted for the Met Gala.
“The Met gala was a huge goal for Ben,” Bonnie says.
“I thought it was going to be 20 or 30 years from now, and now it has already happened, and it's crazy,” adds Ben.
Now, the Kennimer’s have become like a magnet for performers and musicians, but that wasn’t their intention starting out.
Ben got his start perfecting his craft by selling hats to friends, and as word spread, he and Bonnie decided to go into business. She had already developed some skills using an embroidery machine Ben purchased when he was doing screen printing, which helped their new venture. They moved to Houston in 2015, and two years later, Bonnie took fashion design classes at Houston Community College, where she honed in on her natural sewing abilities, something she had been developing since she was a child.
She proudly describes living with her grandparents, and how her grandma simply handed her the needle and thread with the request to mend items. “I just learned, and did it over, and over again, and sewed buttons on wrong, until I learned how to do it.”
Kennimer's designs are sometimes punk rock and outlaw country styles rolled into one, a blend of influences that capture the eye, and empower the wearer with the incredible details of their work. “I’m just using rhinestones instead of studs,” says Bonnie about the mix of influences.
Their cowboy hats are sure to be hot commodities this rodeo season. It’s the time of year Ben gets to see his creations on full display.
“I always wanted to make hats,” Ben says. He remembers how much his dad back in Latch, Texas loved his own hats. His father taught him how to shape store-bought cowboy hats over boiling water on the gas stove, using the steam and his hands to create the shape.
“You gotta tweak it a little bit, you can't just wear it off the shelves,” he offers. Ben says he asks his clients questions about themselves to get a better idea of who they are, and what they like, in order to create their custom hat.
He wants his designs to have a homespun flavor, but be functional, durable and aesthetically pleasing. He’s had to create his own tools to give his cowboy hats that authentic look.
“I just want to make the prettiest things possible,” says Ben. “I like making people feel good.”