BY LIZ CRUMBLY
When Nicci Kirby, owner of Southern Equestrian apparel company, looked around a horse show in Atlanta last summer, she noticed something odd: most of the young people were wearing brand-emblazoned clothing, but the brands didn’t represent anything remotely horsey.
Salt Life, Simply Southern and Southern Marsh made frequent appearances, but those brands didn’t indicate the equestrian interests of the young people who were wearing them, Kirby noted with dismay.
Kirby thought she had a good idea as to how this phenomenon had come to be: teenagers, especially girls don’t necessary want to be seen by their peers as horse-obsessed.
“They don’t want to be categorized as ‘You still play with horses,’” she explains.
Yet Kirby knew young people who dedicate most of their spare time to the stables need to be able to express their passion. Southern Equestrian, which she launched in June of 2015, “gave these girls kind of a voice … an avenue to wear something that’s not campy, that’s not juvenile,” she says.
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Southern Equestrian shirts often feature trendy patterns like multicolored chevrons and sayings – “It’s not a phase!” Kirby even came up with a “Whip and Neigh Neigh” design featuring crossed crops and horse shoes. One of the unique things about the designs is that there’s not a horse on every
shirt. Yes, horses are the prevalent theme, but as Kirby points out, “We try not to throw horses in people’s faces – we try to keep it discreet.”
The result of that effort has been the prominent feature of the Southern Equestrian fox mascot, which holds special significance for Kirby and for the brand. The sleek rendition of a fox’s head finished with a bowtie graces the company logo because Kirby, who has worked as a hunter trainer in the Atlanta area since college, felt an innate pull to the creature.
Aside from the fact that they embody the hunter tradition, foxes are loyal to their packs and adaptive to change, she explains. She found these qualities to be representative of equestrians who travel from show to show.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s freezing weather or hotter than hell,” she says, “We do it with class and we do it with finesse.”
The hats and long and short-sleeved shirts are designed to be gender and discipline-neutral. Kirby has also tried to make the brand attractive to middle-aged female riders and even show dads by keeping the designs “a little classier, a little more mature,” she says.
Expansion is coming
A year into the endeavor, Kirby is seeing her hard work pay off. She’s in talks with store owners who want to carry the apparel, and she’s made appearances at several large events throughout the Southeast this year, including Pony Finals and the National Pony Club Championships.
The products are already stocked in The Tack Room in Camden, S.C., as well as Mags Mobile Tack in Georgia and another mobile unit in Alabama.
Kirby has kept her production process small business friendly. Her neighbor, a graphic designer, produces her designs, and a Coosa Creek Printing in Blairsville, Ga., transfers them to the shirts. The shirts themselves are produced by a South Carolina company on comfort cotton with “soft ink” that can be layered without resulting in an “armored vest” feel, Kirby explains.
Her entire aim has been to present the equestrian lifestyle in a more stylish, wearable light. Now she’s setting her sights on bringing that concept to consumers outside the horse world. Kirby is piecing together a marketing plan that will allow her to reach people who don’t necessarily ride but who are interested in projecting the horsey culture.
Although her focus is still largely on consumers in the horse world, she’s already looking at making a shift toward what she calls “moving to the future of really selling that lifestyle.”