This article was originally published in June 2009. It has now been dusted off and re-published as part of November 2011's "You Look Familiar" Series. Enjoy!
Story by Larissa Cox
Coco Chanel said "A girl should be two things: Classy and Fabulous!" Melonie Rainey certainly fits the bill, and from sassy tee's to the beautifully crafted “Dutchess” saddle, she is helping riders of all levels find glamor in their riding through her equestrian fashion line, Riding Couture. Below is her story, from the start of Riding Couture, to advice she has for other entrepreneurial women looking to start an equestrian business.
Enjoy reading and get ready for fabulous deals for Riding Couture products coming to Tack n’ Talk tomorrow!
What is your riding history?
I started riding horses at about 5 years old. My first horse was a Paso Fino named Pixie that tried to rub me off on anything passing by...a tree, a stump, the barn door, you name it. Pixie taught me how to ride well. I spent my first 20 years riding Western, from barrel racing to pole bending, western pleasure, calf roping. I had no formal training, but I was a bona fide cowgirl that could ride just about anything. I broke youngsters in high school for a local Quarter Horse breeder in Louisiana, as well as for friends and neighbors or whomever would let me get on their horse. I didn't really gain the actual "finesse" of riding until I discovered dressage, which happened after college. Dressage is my passion. I wish I had discovered it as a youngster, because it is really my calling as a rider. I now ride and compete in local horse shows in Washington state. I have trained and competed up through PSG.
What inspired you to partner your riding and your fashion flare?
It was really a natural transition. It all started with a stock tie, though. Always on the lookout for a unique stock tie, I shopped and shopped and shopped for something unusual. I found what I could, but nothing really all that special. Anyway, I was horse showing one summer and all the ladies were admiring my stock ties, which were really ties that you could buy just about anywhere, and I had an epiphany right then and there at The Champagne Classic dressage show in Auburn, Washington. I went straight home from the show, bought some fabric, and found a seamstress that could help me bring it to light. By the next summer I had a collection of stock ties, a logo, a little website and was a vendor at where else....the Champagne Classic.
Where did “The Duchess” theme come from?
"The Duchess" came about when I was trying to come up with a name/theme for the dressage saddle that I designed in collaboration with my friend, Karen Borne', of Borne' Saddlery. Actually, Karen said, "How about, 'The Duchess'?" My saddle has the most beautiful nailheads depicting a gold queen's crown set in glossy black. They look like jewelry! I have so many other products with the crown, that it just sort of came natural to call everything with a crown my Duchess collection.
Do you have a favorite product?
I can't really say that I do. EVERYTHING is special. I put my heart and soul into all my products.
What do you feel has been your biggest success with Riding Couture?
The fact that I am still here, plugging away, trying to create my brand in a very competitive market.
What are some obstacles that you have overcome with Riding Couture?
Geesh, everything about Riding Couture is an obstacle! It seems that every single corner I turn lies a road block of some sort. Whether it be shopping for unique fabrics, buttons, quality seamstresses, nailhead makers, creating whip prototypes, finding the right t-shirts for my logos, designing the logos, designing garment lables, mailing lables, creating invoices, picking colors, sizing embroidery, will people REALLY wear a stiletto boot embroidered on a polo, getting the hairnet right for my show bows, updating the website, taking pictures of products, perfecting patterns, sourcing manufacturers...it just goes on and on. I think I have taken the long road around, mainly out of inexperience, trying to learn the ropes and just figuring things out through good old fashioned on-the-job training. I am just trying to grow my little company one sale at a time and hope that my customers like what I do and keep coming back. The obstacles still present themselves, but I just deal with them when they get in my way.
What advice would you give to women looking to enter into the equine business industry?
Well, of course I'm going to say, Go for it! If you have a good idea, then get to work and MAKE it happen. Be prepared to get yourself into some serious stick-to-it mode, though. I am still learning my own way, stumbling around, falling down, dusting myself off and trying again! One thing that I have always done in just about every facet of my life is to take baby steps. Get to know your market, listen to your customers and never, ever forget the people that helped you along the way.
Can you tell us some of your future plans for Riding Couture?
I just plan on growing my brand, slowly, one stock tie at a time. My dream is for Riding Couture to become a household name in the world of equestrian gifts and fashion. Right now the company is still very small, but I hope to grow up one day and find myself with the resources to really tap into some serious creative freedom, as I am literally just bursting at the seams with ideas!
We hope you enjoyed reading Melonie's experiences with riding and with her equestrian fashion line Riding Couture. Remember to check back tomorrow for great deals on Riding Couture products you won't want to miss!