BY BLOG EDITOR LAUREN MAULDIN
Horses and fashion are like peanut butter and jelly, peas and carrots… wine and cheese! A perfect pairing. Equally as well matched, partners Andrea Vogel and Dana Schwartz of Free x Rein know a thing or two about fashion and horses. Today they’ve shared a little bit about their background, path to success and advise for young equestrians who aspire to have an equestrian fashion company of their own.
Growing up, did you dream of having your own company one day?
AV: My father is an entrepreneur so I always thought that going to work and having your own company meant the same thing. I would sit in his office with him and ‘play office’ where I ran my imaginary business next to him!
What’s your background with horses and the equestrian industry?
AV: I believe that you are born with a love of horses. My parents got me riding lessons for my 6th birthday and I never looked backed. I grew up riding at a small barn, and didn’t horse show until college where I was on the IHSA team at Skidmore College. I feel fortunate that I have been able to have horses throughout my adult life.
What did you study in college, and how has it helped you run the business today?
DS: I studied Sociology and History in college and went on to earn a Masters in Social Work. The education has proven to be very useful in business. I learned about the importance of communication, cultural differences and conflict resolution among many other things. When you run a company, you’re constantly communicating with your team and other professionals who have various skills and backgrounds. Being able to collaborate and come to mutual decisions is key, and I can certainly thank my academic training for having the skills to do so!
AV: My major in college was business and I have my MBA from Columbia so from an education perspective, I should be very well equipped to run a business. However, I don’t think any amount of school can prepare you for what it is really like to start a company. I have learned more in the past 2 years launching Free x Rein than I did in 6 years of higher education.
Did you have experience with fashion design before starting Free x Rein?
DS: I had no technical experience just a lifelong passion for it, ultimately driving me towards a career in fashion.
AV: Neither of us have any background in fashion design or manufacturing, which is why we thought for so long that we couldn’t do anything about the complaints we had about our riding clothes. We have been very lucky to have great partners and advisors to help us with the technical aspects, and we have learned so much about what it takes to make clothing (the answer is a lot!).
Why body suits?
AV: One of our main complaints about our equestrian outfits was that our shirts would always come untucked or billow at the waist. The equestrian style is so streamlined but in reality, you are doing a sport that requires you to move your arms and bend over. We thought about a lot of different solutions but we realized that we were wearing bodysuits to accomplish the same look in our everyday lives. We spent a lot of time adapting the classic bodysuit for equestrian sport and came up with a design where the snaps sit at the front so it never interferes with your seat and the fabric is soft and stretchy so it moves with you. We hear all the time that riders forget that they are wearing a bodysuit immediately after putting it on which is exactly what we want: you should never have to worry about your outfit when you are riding.
DS: We wanted to give a blouse look and feel, so we deviated from a traditional bodysuit that is more like a leotard, and created a body-shirt. A body-shirt is more flexible. You can really make it as tight or as loose as you want depending on your needs and sense of style.
What’s been a challenge that you didn’t predict or expect?
AV: Given that we came into this with no fashion experience, it was definitely a challenge to navigate that whole world. However, I think we were able to make a better product given the challenge because we tested so many fabrics and designs.
What is your favorite part about developing a product?
AV: For me, it’s when we see a sample of a design that we have been working on for months. There is nothing more gratifying than seeing an idea come to life!
What about your greatest success with Free x Rein so far?
AV: It has been seeing both equestrians and non-equestrians alike wearing and loving our clothes. When we’re down at WEF, we see women wearing our clothes in the show ring and also around the barn. When we’re in the city, women are wearing our Signature Ponte Pant and The Elite Bodysuit to work and The Moto Bodysuit on the weekends. It makes us feel like we are getting one step closer to breaking down the barriers between functional equestrian apparel and equestrian fashion.
How do you envision the future of Free x Rein?
AV: I hope we can continue to make high quality crossover pieces that both the equestrienne and non-equestrienne love. The dream is to go to a horse show during the day and see women wearing FxR and then come back to NYC and see women wearing The Signature Ponte Pants out to dinner or The Moto Bodysuit tucked into high waisted jeans while running errands. We want to bridge the gap between the two markets.
Why do you feel it is important to have women entrepreneurs in the equestrian world?
AV: Specifically for equestrian apparel, we believe it is very important for women to be designing for women. The industry has gone in a direction with low rises on pants and synthetic, see-through fabrics which just don’t work for every body type. We never want any woman to feel uncomfortable in her riding clothes – there are way more important things to be thinking about when you are riding and competing.
If you had to pick three character traits every equine entrepreneur should have, what would they be?
DS: Perseverance, patience and humor, there is a lot of excitement and freedom that comes with being an entrepreneur, but there are equal amounts of failure and disappointment. One needs to be able to keep moving along, maintain focus and laugh despite the challenges that arise.
Do you have any advice for young people who dream of having an equestrian fashion company of their own? DS: Mentorship! Do not be afraid to learn and seek knowledge from those who have come before you, there is so much to take in and learn from any industry, you are not going to know everything, learning from mistakes is essential but seeking guidance is a game changer and can prove to help you in the long run with experience and connections down the road.
Thank you to Andrea and Dana for sharing their insight with us! If you have innovative ideas for equestrian fashion, you never know what you can accomplish yourself through hard work and determination.