I met Patricia, the owner of Boot Crowns, at WEG this year. Meeting her and learning about her innovative new product was one of the highlights of a mess of an event. I couldn’t get over how clever of an idea it was! Day after day on Instagram and Facebook I see tens of thousands of dollars of custom boots get posted. I personally love the idea of adding a little flair to my regular old boots, but I cannot abide the idea of spending even more than I already do to add something that won’t last the test of time in terms of style. What looks good today, looks outdated tomorrow. Boot Crowns is the perfect medium, adding in that extra dash of personal style to the perfectly good boots you already own. And it’s temporary! Want something flashy for home…easy. More subtle for showing…easy. Want something to match a specific look for a clinic…get a different Boot Crown! Significantly cheaper (and takes up less space) than having multiple pairs of custom boots laying around! We had to interview Patricia about how she came up with this clever idea and learn more! Enjoy!
What was your inspiration to start Boot Crowns? How did the idea come to you?
My former college roommate, Edie Hirtenstein, moved to Vegas in 2017 from a lifetime in Chicago. I had moved out of Chicago in 2000, but we had lost touch even before that. I was so excited that my old friend was moving to Vegas, I introduced her to my riding buddies (all dressage girls) and of course we sucked her in. Edie rode Hunters as a kid, then Western once a year on a vacation in Montana, but had no dressage exposure. She of course loved it and soon a group of 4 of us took a trip to Omaha for the World Cup, where Edie bought her first pair of custom boots. During the measuring process, the fitter asked her what she would like on the top of her boots for trim. She could not decide! She was scared of making a fashion error she’d have to live with for several years. While she was debating, I noticed a piece of patent sewn together like a cuff with elastic sitting on a shelf. It was set with rhinestones. I picked it up and asked him what it was and he said it was to show how they set the stones. I asked him why he didn’t just make these? So people could pick and choose and not be married to it forever. He told me I was a nut and moved on.
I went home and kept thinking about it. How much fun would it be to mix and match with the same pair of boots? Then my 6 foot tall girlfriend said she’d love a pair to add height to her boots, since they dropped too much. How about older Konigs or Dahners that are still good, but don’t have a Spanish Top? Seemed like a no-brainer!
What year did you open the company?
Edie and I started tinkering with crude pieces of leather in summer of 2017. I would buy leather and trims at Hobby Lobby, glue on rhinestones, etc. I wore a pair of my first rough prototypes to a show and a girlfriend came up to me in the warm up and asked me if I got new boots. I thought that was a good start! We kept messing around, trying to improve fit and function with each new prototype. The initial pieces were very crude and we kept them all for a good laugh. We reached a point where we could no longer make the improvements we needed without professional leather workers and had to figure out the next step. I literally googled “how to produce a small leather goods product in the USA” and came across a great resource for anybody looking to go into production with a fashion product, called Makers Row. Makers Row had free tutorials on the process; from idea manifestation, to prototypes, pattern making, tooling, etc. Once I did the tutorials, I put our idea on their dashboard, here manufacturers can view and bid on your project if they are interested. We had several bids from all over the country. We kept it close choosing to stay in L.A. Fashion District so we could be hands on thru out the process. This was a new product that did not currently exist in the market place and we figured we’d be making a lot of trips and we were right! Getting initial working prototypes took longer and cost a lot more money than we anticipated! We officially opened as a business in 2018 and launched our first professionally made Boot Crowns in Omaha a year after our World Cup trip, at the Omaha International 2018.
What is your background? Is running Boot Crowns your day job?
I have an art degree, a BFA, from the Art Institute of Chicago. I also paint horses in motion as a hobby (and do sell paintings and commissions.) The Art Institute had a great fashion program back in the 1980’s as well, (Halston graduated from there) and I have a love for fashion and fashion construction. Boot Crowns, my paintings and my horses are my day job. I am lucky enough that I was able to sell my financial advisory practice a few years back, so have income coming in from that for a few years. Edie is a marketing manager for a vehicle history reporting company for her day job. She is also much more tech savvy than I, so we compliment each others skill sets.
How do you get inspired? What is your design process?
I do drawings and designs inspired by fashion, equine fashion trends and designer shoes, which I also love a little too much! Going to the leather stores and looking at all the fabulous new leathers coming out is also a big inspiration. Boot Crowns is not quite at the break even, due to multiple prototype development, and lots of marketing expense as we try to figure out the best means of getting our product exposed.
What is your equine story? How have horses inspired you?
Sadly, my equine story did not begin in earnest until I was 42, when I took a class “Everything about the Horse” thru a local Community college. Turns out the instructor was nuts. I mean literally committed not long after and I ended up with her “lesson” horse, a 10 year old Arab who had just been gelded. Not a beginners horse! But what did I know? We forgive much for beauty and he was beautiful, still is and I still have him. He’s 30 in June and he taught me much as matter of survival, for both of us. After 10 years of trail riding, obstacle courses, and Parelli training (it helped immensely) I was looking for something to keep his busy brain occupied and saw my neighbor doing a dressage lesson. That was the beginning of that. Of course she talked me into buying a horse, as the Arab was too flighty to show and not going to change at 20. I bought a 17 yr old Dutch WB mare, who had competed thru PSG. Of course, she had to start all over with me at Training Level and here we are 8 years later and about to show PSG. In the meantime, I also purchased a drop dead gorgeous palomino QH mare to ride trails and obstacle courses. And then I bought a horse property, a husband horse, and recently, a Lusitano gelding who is 5 and beginning his dressage career. I go all in! I still have every horse I’ve purchased (all five) in my back yard.
I believe horses are the closest thing to the divine here on earth. They have taught me patience, how to communicate better, body awareness and on and on. Painting them is much like painting a human figure, in terms of basically putting down the skeletal structure and draping with whatever coat they may have. Their expressions are as intricate and unique as a humans, but I find their grace in movement inspiring. I don’t think I could pick a favorite horse, they all are dear to my heart for their own different reasons.
My partner Edie, bought her first horse just about a year and a half ago. A very lovely chestnut Hanovarian Gelding, who is now 7. He was imported from Russia and has amazing cadence. He is built like a tank, and so forgiving and sweet. Edie rode hunters as a kid and then didn’t ride but once a year at a ranch in Montana for the past 35 years. Now she rides several times a week and will start showing dressage this season. We sucked her in!
A typical day is getting up early and shipping out orders from the website or an order that comes through a retailer or Custom Saddlery rep. I have a workshop separate from the house where I store the inventory. We’ve also taken over part of my husbands garage! I try to get orders out the next day, and unless I am waiting for inventory, I pretty much do. The best part is designing the new Crowns. I start by looking at the new leathers coming out, looking at show coats and breeches, and of course shoe and boot trends. Going to the Fashion District is a blast and I never have enough time down there. It’s a hustle bustle place with all kinds of people doing business. Tons of leather suppliers, fabrics, notions, lace and so much more. I could easily spend a week there for inspiration.
What are the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of running a business? What has been your biggest hurdle?
We’ve been around for almost one year now and our big challenge going forward is how to get the word out. Hence doing shows such as the WEG, The Omaha International, and the Arab Show. The shows are expensive to do, take a tremendous amount of time and labor and are completely hit and miss. You never know when a hurricane will strike (literally of course)! At this rate, Edie and I will both be geriatric by the time it’s profitable, so we are searching for another way. We did hire a Social Media company to help build our presence and it was beneficial for a while, but it plateaued so we let them go. We may try another company down the road as our online presence has certainly generated sales. We have shipped to Morocco, Poland, New Zealand, Colombia, and across the country from Facebook and Instagram exposure. Our challenge is to figure out how to use it more effectively. “More engagement” if you will.
The other big challenge of today, is the fate of the brick and mortar tack shops. Everywhere we go, they complain about losing sales to the internet. They cannot stock everything and can’t compete with free shipping/no tax/lower prices because of no stocking overhead. There are fewer and fewer shops. Most are individually owned and they are struggling. So this is a big challenge going forward. Especially asking them to take a chance on a new concept. Because of that we have to support them, often with some consignment in addition to a purchase and this of course, costs us money to front that inventory. Even the American Equestrian Tack Association has cut their trade shows in half. There are just not enough stores. Our other target is the Dover style retailer or Dressage Extensions. Apparently a couple of people have reported to me they went there and asked for them. Maybe if they hear that enough, they’ll give us a try (go ask your Dover to stock us)! We would love to find some up and coming pro riders to sponsor as well.
We are trying to keep the product Made in America, but this is a big challenge as well. So far, we’ve gone through 3 different manufacturers, but are very happy with our current company based in LA. He has been willing to try new ideas we throw at him in order to make the product better. We are very small runs for them, but they have been great. We run 300 pairs at a time as a minimum, but their normal runs are 10,000 so we feel lucky they are even working with us.
For the next year or two, we will be concentrating on our visibility. Invariably once we get in front of our target audience (the dedicated AA in both Jumping and Dressage) we get great enthusiastic response. Getting our product in front of them is the challenge we face at this point in time. We are hopeful that within the next few years we will develop a retail network, that can work hand in hand with our online presence. We’d also like to be a staple in one of the big mail order companies and online retailers as well.