Have you ever dreamt about launching your own equestrian fashion brand? 20 year old Team GB young dressage rider, Erin Williams has done just that whilst juggling her dressage competitions and studying for a Business degree!
Totally Horse & Pony Magazine caught up with her to find out more about her journey and the Black Heart Equestrian fashion business she has just launched.
Erin, what made you decide to launch an equestrian fashion brand?
I have always wanted to run my own business and as I spend my life in either riding breeches or gym leggings it was the perfect choice. Fitness brands are a multi-million pound business but none of them actively market to the modern horsewoman.
Can you describe the types of clothes your brand offers?
Black Heart Equestrian is aimed at young riders (13-30) across the disciplines who have busy, active lifestyles. Many of our products are designed to be ’stable to street’ with wardrobe staples ideal for both riding and leisure wear.
Tell us about the process of launching your brand.
As a 20 year old rider myself, I have a good idea of what works well and looks good. It’s an expensive sport and equestrian wear is usually highly priced so I wanted to create a range which is affordable as well as extremely practical. I am a qualified ski instructor and have used high quality technical fabrics from the skiwear industry into our range. I am also the ‘leggings queen’ with my own substantial collection of gym wear.The brand is aimed at young female riders like me, who like to mix their favourite equestrian sport with their busy lifestyle without having to keep visiting their wardrobe numerous time a day.
Where are your clothes made?
It has been a huge learning curve but I have had great support from a number of sportswear manufacturers in sourcing production. I have tried to go for British made where possible but China is the leader in technical sportswear manufacturing and can do the specialist finishes such as silicone printing on the seat of the breeches.
How long did it take to get it all ready for launch?
I didn’t appreciate how long everything takes – the lead time for brand new design from start to finish is about a year! I have worn and ridden in all the samples along the way to make sure they are right! But it is frustratingly slow!
Why did you call it Black Heart?
Well, I wanted a brand that was different from others and it centers around my beautiful black stallion who has the biggest heart. He features in most of the photos!
How are you selling your products?
We are selling online which helps keep the prices down as we don’t rely on retailers. Our social media following is growing rapidly and we are starting to see pictures of riders wearing our products which is so rewarding! As a young student I do spend quite a bit of my time on social media and as I am in the same age group as our customers it comes quite naturally to me! I hope to have a stand at some big horse shows and we have just found out that we will be exhibiting at Olympia this December!
Tell us about your brand launch in August.
The actual launch was the easy bit and it was such a relief to actually be online and see that people like our brand!
It was exciting but a little bit frustrating starting out with a small percentage of our range. The technical range of breeches, leggings, base layers and show shirts are in production and coming soon (not soon enough).
What was the secret of your success to getting so many orders at launch?
I think it was engaging with followers on social media and trying to offer what people want. As an expert online shopper myself, it was important for Black Heart to have as low delivery costs as possible which has been appreciated by our customers.
How are you managing to combine university with running the business and riding your horse(s)?
It’s been quite easy this summer – horses in the morning and then into the office or meetings after lunch. I am now in my second week back to uni and its been a bit hectic! Last week it was freshers week, I rode in two classes at the British Dressage Nationals Championships (2 x 4.30am starts!) plus it was my 20th birthday! On top, Black Heart had it’s busiest weekend of orders so far 🙂
Describe a typical day.
So far there is no typical day – it all depends on my timetable and when I can get home to ride. I usually manage at least 3 training days a week during term and the horses are hacked or lunged on the other days. Last year I worked as a Hostess at Twickenham Stadium for rugby and NFL events but I don’t think I can fit it in anymore. I am currently working on the spring/summer 2018 products which is crazy considering its only September!
What are the best parts of the job ?
Definitely wearing my own designs for the very first time! Then seeing someone else wearing them!
What are the challenges?
Just fitting it all in. I love to be busy and want to do it all so it means long days. This week I have my first VAT return to do and finalising the stock for Olympia. The feedback has been great but everyone is asking about the breeches and leggings – I wish I could just hurry it all up! I seem to spend my days emailing and chasing!
What are the next steps for developing the business?
I am happy to have found some great manufacturers and people to work with so the next step is to expand the product line and keep working on brand awareness through social media and the industry press. I am not sure that people took me very seriously in the beginning but now the business is ‘real’ I feel more confident in leading meetings and making decisions.
Best piece of advise to someone considering equestrian fashion as a career?
It is early days for Black Heart but I would say be prepared for everything to cost more than you expect and for it to take twice as long!