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Fashion Focus: An Interview with Laurie Sharma

This month we are thrilled to welcome Laurie Sharma, Head Designer and Co-Owner of JPC Equestrian, the largest manufacturer of equestrian apparel in the world.  JPC is known throughout the horse community for their brands such as Equine Couture, and TuffRider. 

EQC: Everyone is certainly buzzing about the Equine Couture line of apparel that riders are wearing at Wellington, Florida.  Congratulations!  You have one of the freshest collections around.

Laurie:  Goodness, thanks so much for the compliment.  It sure is a thrill to see how popular our brands have become in the last couple of years.  It wasn't too long ago when I would get so excited to see just a handful of people wearing our clothes! Now it seems that half the people showing here at Wellington are wearing them.  Love it!   

EQC: When did you start the Equine Couture line? What was the idea behind it?

Laurie:  I started Equine Couture eight years ago.  I had just moved to Florida with my two horses.  While shopping at a booth at the showgrounds, I fell in love with a Lily Pulitzer ribbon belt with palm trees.  I nearly collapsed when I read the $75 price tag!

Looking back, it was the best $75 I ever spent.  A few weeks later I was looking at that belt and thinking how cute it would be to have ribbon trim around the border of a saddle pad.  Keep in mind, eight years ago, everything was plain, plain, plain, and extremely conservative.  When I could not find one to purchase, I decided to make one myself.

Conveniently forgetting that I had basically flunked the portion of my home economics class where we had to sew potholders, I decided on a whim to go out and purchase an industrial sewing machine. It looked like something form grandma's attic, but the salesman assured me it was an oldie but a goodie.  I then went the local fabric store and bought some cute, pretty gross grain ribbon.

Using all my existing saddle pads, I began sewing away!  After about a week, I perfected my stitch.  As I began riding on my saddle pads, fellow riders would stop me and ask where I got them.  Soon I was taking orders.  I then researched overseas suppliers to manufacture my own custom ribbons.  I started making matching pads, ribbon belts, show shirts, and polo wraps.

In November of 2004, I set up a vendor booth at the National Horse Show here in Wellington.  I was pleasantly surprised by the people swarming my booth.  I was nearly sold out in a week.  The following January, I purchased a vendor space at my first wholesale trade show ...     

EQC:  What differentiates the Equine Couture line from the popular TuffRider brand?

Laurie:  TuffRider is our core brand and is known in the industry as one of the best quality breeches on the market for the best price.  TuffRider styles are more basic for the entry level and /or every day affordable use.  Equine Couture steps it ups a few notches, both price-wise and style-wise with more "bells and whistles" while still maintaining an affordable price for high end quality.  

EQC:  When you are designing a new season, where do you get your inspiration?  What is the Spring 2012 collection all about?

Laurie:  I have always looked at current trends in the high fashion market and tailor those designs for the equestrian market.  Especially when it comes to using our custom blends of technical fabrics - we are uniquely able to create these because we have our own factories.

EQC:  Do you design with a certain rider in mind?  A certain age group? Or are you designing what you and your family would like to ride in?

Laurie:  Honestly, I design what I and my family would like.  Timmy, my husband and business partner, is a polo player so I love designing cool, equestrian-type styles for him.  Our daughter, who is six years old, started showing last year.  This technique works well in enabling us to cover all genres and age-groups!

EQC: What do you think your strengths as a designer are?

Laurie: This has been a gift.  I honestly cannot take any credit.  I didn't go to school to study design or business; I was actually a pre-Vet major.  All I can say is that this has truly been a God given talent that I didn't even realize I possessed.  It wasn't until I thought of that one ribbon trim saddle pad idea that the rest just followed.  I do have a unique ability to see certain designs and colors in high fashion garments, displays, bill boards, buildings (really anything!) and incorporate it into equestrian clothing.   

EQC: What are your growth plans?

Laurie: We believe Equine Couture and TuffRider will not only retain their strong positions within the industry, but will further growth within the market's leadership position.  Our efforts will be to bring innovative designs and products at affordable prices to riders at all price points. We have been the largest manufacturer of riding breeches in the world for several years, and plan to extend this leadership position to other apparel areas such as shirts, outerwear and horse clothing.

EQC:  What are some of the unique strengths of your business model?

Laurie:  Our biggest asset is actually owning our factories.  We are able to bring the synergy and strength of a a vertically integrated business to our brand.  Our ability to make custom fabrics and to have a complete design and development facility in our factory in India allows us us to bring new and interesting products to market quickly.  We have a very effective sales team and we are able to market feedback on our products very quickly.  Our strength ha become the reduced cycle time between conception and introduction of new products for our customers.  Plus, we have little or no risk in having to deal with the typical oversees high minimum orders.

EQC:  What you haven't mentioned as you discuss your factories, is your Salvation Tree Foundation.  I'm sure our customers would be interested in it!

Laurie:  When Timmy bought my company in 2006,


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