As they prepare to take part in next year’s Great Yorkshire Show catwalk, the founders of equi-leisure wear brand Huff Equestrian talk to Stephanie Smith about creating clothes that work from stables to shopping.
You’ve been out riding on your horse all morning, and now you simply want to nip out to the supermarket without looking, well, horse-less. The trouble is, most traditional riding clothes are so horsey; not quite what the stylish woman around town wants to be seen in in the chilled aisle.
It’s a problem that equestrians the world over will recognise. Certainly, this was an issue for friends, fashion-lovers and fellow horse-riders Melanie Hunter and Zoe Kiff, and so they decided to create their own brand of stylish, transferable equestrian wear.
In February, they launched Huff Equestrian as the first equi-leisure range, a hybrid of equestrian and leisurewear, allowing equestrians to move from horse-training straight to the gym, or the supermarket, or pretty much anywhere.
“It’s something that we felt was missing from the market,” says Mel. “The equestrian market is quite archaic. People don’t have quite so compartmentalised lives.”
First and foremost, they wanted quality, technical fabrics. “So you don’t slip around in the saddle,” Mel says. “They had to be strong and hard-wearing enough so you could actually train your horse in the saddle and then hop off and go to Tesco without looking like you’ve just hopped off a horse.
“We wanted to make sure that everything we design and produce and sell not only has that athleisure edge but is also technical enough so that you can actually get in the saddle and ride.”
Mel and Zoe point out that the athleisure market has grown by eight per cent in the last year (as opposed to 2.1 per cent in the clothing market), making it a £2.5bn market in the UK in 2017m, according to GlobalData.
They have done their homework, of course. Mel and Zoe have 20 years’ experience in marketing with high-profile brands such as O2, M&S and Honda. They met just 18 months ago through work, when Melanie was head of creative and content at O2. Zoe joined as a contractor and they worked closely together on a major project.
Zoe says: “We went to one meeting and we both struggled to get home, and we had horses to ride, and we both said: ‘Let’s do it, the time is now’.”
Mel adds: “We really connected, not only over the horses but also over our way of working. There was a lot of trust there. We had the same shared view that it was our ambition to get out of corporate life and run our own business and follow our passions.
“In our heart of hearts, we love fashion, we love looking good and making sure that you have that professional appearance about you, whether you’re at work or play.”
They left their careers (Zoe still freelances two days a week) and took the plunge. They work together and separately. Mel lives in Wiltshire on a farm with her husband, Adrian, and has two mares, Flo and Bo. Originally from near Sunderland, she competed extensively as an eventer in North Yorkshire as a youngster. She still competes at BE100 level and is campaigning for a 1* in the future (although she is just about to have a baby).
Zoe lives on the south coast with her husband, Tom, and has dressage horses Jester and Trevor, with the former campaigning at Small Tour level.
Mel and Zoe design all the pieces themselves, working closely with a manufacturer in India, one in China and a couple in the UK. “That has been the hardest part of this journey, trying to find manufacturers,” says Mel.
Zoe says: “We were able to give them an extensive brief about what we did and didn’t want, and they were able to articulate that brief into a set of patterns and a design for us.
“It’s been really exciting because it’s given us the opportunity to rethink the clothes that we wear and the fabrics they use and, hopefully, what we have managed to achieve is something that is really different, that ticks a lot of the boxes that are missing from that market.”
Huff has just launched its AW 2017 collection with a range of breggings, base layers, jackets and accessories for both men and women. The brand campaign, which features international riders Danni Dunn, Sam Dempsey, Matt Frost and Cara Haywood, was shot by French photographer Maxime Gautier.
There are also accessories including headbands and riding socks. “People spend a lot of money on riding socks and they still don’t deliver,” says Mel. “You need something that keeps your foot warm and has good wearability, but needs to be fine around the ankle so no bulk.”
The base layers and zip layer tops are all designed to work together and the breggings are styled like leggings but with secure silicone knee-pads and pockets for phones when riding. “When you hop off, you can change your boots for trainers and look like you are going to the gym,” Mel says.
Mel and Zoe have even addressed the issue of the horsey smell which can attach itself to equestrian wear and spent time with Swiss company Schoeller, whose fabrics are sweat wicking. Zoe says: “If you’ve been mucking out in what I can only describe as a deep litter, then you’re not going to get around that, but what we are aiming to avoid is that musty, slightly sweaty smell.”
Also part of Huff is HonestRiders, a range of sweatshirts costing £50 each, with £5 from each sale going to horse charities. Mel and Zoe aim to create Huff not only as a clothing brand but as a community, recognising the passion and hard work involved with equestrian sports, and building partnerships with physios, vets and other horse professionals.
Next July, Huff Equestrian will take part in the Great Yorkshire Show fashion show. By then, Mel and Zoe will have developed their technical breeches and there will be more colours and designs in tops, tees and breggings.
If you are not a horse rider, don’t feel excluded. These are clothes you could wear for yoga or running and a host of other leisure activities, say Mel and Zoe. Zoe says: “We’ve been sharing our product development with some of our friends who aren’t necessarily horsey – and they all love it.”
All clothes and accessories are available at www.huffequestrian.co.uk