BY JESS CLAWSON
Emily Barrett and her twin sister, Laura Santomauro, learned to appreciate horses and nature together. Although their professional paths took different directions, they have merged their skill sets, love of horses, and appreciation for the environment into the one of a kind Oaklyn Tack.
The two grew up in Chester County, Pennsylvania in the heart of horse country. “We had access to some of the most beautiful preserved land and horse farms around,” Emily recalled. “Most of our upbringing consisted of competing at local hunter/jumper shows, low-level eventing, working at farms, and trail riding at the Fair Hill Natural Resource Area in Maryland.”
Being outside was a big factor in their childhoods. “Our mom was and is very environmentally conscious. She raised us to be that way too, so the mindset was ingrained,” Emily said. “Growing up immersed in the outdoors is definitely important to us, and we’d like the future generations to be able to enjoy it as well.”
This eye towards the environment lead the sisters to create an eco-friendly and sustainable fleece lined synthetic girth. They were inspired by companies like Patagonia and H&M who make sustainable options for consumers and offer educational resources regarding the environmental impact of everyday decisions.
“Working in the environmental field, I have seen first-hand the damage caused by industries and everyday decisions we make as humans. Therefore, before catapulting to the cash register, I research whether or not there is a better made, more sustainable, alternative” Emily explained. “When I tried applying that thought process to searching for equestrian tack and apparel, I found very few options. This was surprising given that equestrian sports heavily rely on the outdoors.”
Oaklyn Tack is Emily’s contribution to this disparity. The business started from a transitional moment in Emily’s life. She had recently had her daughter and was working full-time, so riding wasn’t in the cards. “I desperately needed to regain an outlet, so I started listening to podcasts and researching topics that inspired me. I did a lot of this research outside under a massive oak tree at my old house, so when the idea came to fruition the name Oaklyn sounded organic. It was fitting.”
Emily is an environmental scientist and Laura is a businesswoman—a terrific combination for a team making and selling earth-friendly products. “Overall, it’s a good balance! Laura is very good at reminding me this is a business and not an art and science project,” Emily laughed.
“We chose the fleece girth as a starting point because it is a popular choice for both everyday use as well as in the show ring,” Laura explained. “Our goal was to not only use environmentally conscious materials, but create visually distinguishable styles from our competitors, inspired by both nature and equestrian tradition.”
Their revolutionary Terra Plus Fleece Girth, made in the US, has customized webbing sourced from post-consumer plastic waste. The plastic comes from households, commercial, or industrial facilities after it can no longer be used for its intended purpose. Their raw recycled polyester meets the Global Recycled Standard (GRS) and the OEKO-TEX Standard 100 for harmful substances.
“By recycling plastic we are able to divert plastic waste from landfills which can take over 450 years to decompose, or pollute our waterways or lands.” these entrepreneurs said. “Best of all, recycled polyester performs equally as well as virgin polyester and similar webbing products but reduces greenhouse gas emissions and our dependence on petroleum derived webbing products.”
It’s important to horse welfare that the girth fits comfortably. As such, Emily and Laura ensured that the removable and machine washable liner is a blend of ethically sourced wool and recycled polyester. Wool is naturally occurring, biodegradable, and renewable. Its beneficial qualities are hard for humans to replicate in synthetics. “Human-made synthetic fibers are petroleum-based requiring large amounts of energy and crude oil to produce,” Emily said. “By blending wool with recycled polyester, it increases the liner’s durability while maintaining the wool’s breathability, moisture wicking, and naturally antimicrobial properties.”
“Finding and sourcing sustainable materials has been very challenging, especially for a small start-up such as ourselves. To the maximum extent possible, we chose and will continue to choose materials suitable for the rigors of our sport while taking into consideration their entire lifecycle,” Laura said.
“We look at sustainability as a fundamental building block of our business and apply it not only from an environmental standpoint, but also socially and economically,” said Emily. “We try our hardest to reward those who are trying to make sustainable changes, regardless of how big or small, by choosing to do business with them. And all of our products are made in the USA.”
Oaklyn Tack will continue to grow with new styles and products. They have three additional fleece girth styles in production, as well as exchangeable liners so that riders will be able to own one girth for all their needs. The company is one to keep an eye on as they forge a path to sustainable, attractive, quality products for equestrians.
About the Author: Jess is a professional historian and educator who lives in northwestern Virginia. They completed their undergraduate degree in English at William & Mary, and did their masters and doctoral work at the University of Florida. Jess is an event rider with a passion for thoroughbreds, and has extensive experience in community organizing around queer identities, racial marginalization, and labor.
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