Laurie Sharma is the founder of long-standing, fashion-forward equestrian apparel brand, Equine Couture. We interviewed Laurie to find out what inspires her, how she started Equine Couture, and how the pandemic has changed the trajectory of her career as owner and designer for Equine Couture. Plus, she gives us a bonus sneak peek into what’s next for the Equine Couture brand.
A busy woman, Laurie jumps off one of her two horses and right into the interview. She splits her time between getting her master’s degree, competing in the show jumping ring, designing for several different brands, and working on new business ventures with her husband and JPC Equestrian founder, Varun “Timmy” Sharma.
Laurie has always been drawn to fashion design, ever since she was a little girl. If something she wanted to wear didn’t exist, she would simply create it. Laurie recalls designing her own clothes as a young girl, “Ever since I was a little girl, I would always say, ‘Oh, I wish I could find something like this.’ And half the time I would take my jeans and sew them how I wanted them because I couldn't find them anywhere else. So I've just always had that natural ability, I guess, to be able to do that. Luckily, when I wear it, people like it and feel the same way.”
It wasn’t long before she applied that natural ability to her passion for horses. One day, Laurie washed a ribbon belt and a plain saddle pad together. When she took them out of the wash to dry, she happened to lay them on top of each other. Noticing how great they looked together, she tried to find a saddle pad with ribbon trim online. Just like when she was younger, when she couldn’t find a saddle pad that matched her vision, she decided to create her own.
Eventually, Laurie was taking orders from horseback while riding at horse shows. Realizing how popular her clothing was, she taught herself to sew and invested in an industrial sewing machine, resulting in what would one day become a hugely influential brand in equestrian fashion– Equine Couture.
Equine Couture’s rags-to-riches backstory is reflected in the brand's mission. From day one, Laurie has wanted to create affordable, fashion-forward outfits that the majority of equestrians can afford to wear. Creating clothing that makes riders feel stylish and confident has always been Laurie’s goal, not exclusivity and high prices.
Like many great designers, Laurie draws her inspiration from the world around her. Even eating breakfast at her local IHOP with her husband, Timmy, is not exempt from talk of new design ideas. As Laurie recalls, “I remember sitting in an IHOP one day, and I looked up and I was sitting across from a picture. I turned to Timmy and said, I just designed next year's whole collection just based on that. And I took a photo of it and the color scheme just illuminated in my head. And I started designing from there using what was on a poster.”
Laurie also pulls her inspiration from her background. Having grown up in Newport, Rhode Island, one year Laurie pulled from her home state’s boating industry to create a never-before-seen motif in equestrian fashion. Her nautical-inspired collection for Equine Couture incorporated sailors' flags into the designs and named the products around a yachting-theme, like Spinnaker.
Unfortunately, not everyone has always been on board with Laurie’s unique and fashion-forward designs. Prior to the pandemic, JPC Equestrian’s three in-house brands, TuffRider, Equine Couture, and Henri de Rivel, had all been focused on wholesale.
Laurie would get a lot of pushback from store owners who believed customers wouldn’t buy her unique clothing. “The store owners would say Oh, my customers will never buy it, oh, they'll never buy it. That's too radical. It's too fashion forward. It's not conservative enough, they'll never buy it. So I found out really early that my business and my ideas were stunted, because we were limited by the owners of the stores that weren't willing to take a chance on it.”
But, thanks to the pandemic, Laurie and Timmy took JPC Equestrian online and straight to their customers. Now, they sell directly to consumers with their website, breeches.com. According to Laurie, the leap to retail sales couldn’t have gone better. “Now that we're selling retail, I'm so much happier. And I knew it would sell. Otherwise, I wouldn't be walking around the showgrounds and have people tell me, ‘oh my gosh, that show coat is so cute. Where'd you get it? Those breeches are so cute. Where do you get them?’ It's always been one of those things where I know what would sell, but the store owners weren't willing to take a risk on it.”
Thanks to the leap from wholesale to retail, Laurie has been able to pursue an elevated style and fashion with Equine Couture and plans to push the boundaries of equestrian fashion even further in the future.
Now that Equine Couture is able to sell directly to the public, Laurie and close friend, Lauren Brody, are working on a new collection for Equine Couture, called the Spicy Girl Collection. With this collection, Laurie hopes to showcase her out-of-the-box, couture style with a line that’s a little more risqué than your typical horse show outfit.
Lauren is well-known for her risk-taking style. With her purple hair flying in the wind and her risqué show shirts that feature an open neckline and cropped length, Laurie says she has fought with stewards in regards to her attire and has now become an expert on the rulebook regarding her clothes.
“She pushes the envelope and has fought with the stewards about her clothing. She'll wear a collar and then it's all open [at the neckline] with a crop top. And these really fancy jackets, and she wears leggings. So she's completely not the normal conservative rider,” says Laurie, who has been inspired by her friend and fellow competitor.
Recently, Laurie and Equine Couture made a show coat to fit Lauren’s non-traditional style. “We made a lace show coat for her. It's super stretchy lace, but you can see the shirt underneath the show coat. Again, especially in the jumpers, as long as it's a show coat it doesn't matter so much how it’s styled.”
While the Spicy Girl Collection isn’t available yet, keep an eye out for it on breeches.com in the next few months or so.
Laurie doesn’t limit herself to designing for just Equine Couture, although the fashion-forward brand is her top priority. She also helps design new products and re-develop current products for TuffRider and HDR Saddles, as well.
For example, Laurie has been instrumental in revamping HDR saddles to a softer, grippier leather and a more comfortable seat. She spent days being hands-on in the factory, looking at different leathers, testing out different seat padding, and overall revamping the traditional design.
According to Laurie, “I've worked for years with the factory on creating different saddles and, and making sure they use memory foam or like really super soft foam in the seat. Our priority has been to create a nice, quality saddle at a really affordable price that doesn't need forever to break in. Because a lot of times you can knock on some of the saddles and they're just so hard. And it takes years for you to break them in.”
She even found soft and grippy leather, that’s also durable and functional, for the TuffRider line of tall boots. “I was just very focused on creating something that's like super soft, glove-like leather, which is what I did with the riding boots. I sat in the factory for weeks picking out different leathers and trying to find something that’s soft, that just flexes back and forth, and doesn’t have that stiff, awful feeling where again, you have blisters all over your feet, trying to break them in.”
One of Laurie’s biggest priorities outside of the equestrian world is to get her Ph.D. in Apologetics. Currently, she’s working on her masters degree in the subject, which she says is a little like being an attorney.
“It is a little argumentative, which is perfect. And right up my alley. It's like being a defense attorney defending the faith. And I love that because you gather all your information and all the evidence, and then you prove your stance. So, I love that.”
As Laurie is based out of Florida, she’s able to compete year-round. A dedicated showjumper, she uses her show jumping career to test out new products, try on unique designs that she creates just for herself, and find new inspiration in her friends and fellow competitors.
This year, Laurie is able to compete for the first time in two years without the COVID restrictions and she says, it’s her best WEF ever. “This is the best WEF I've ever had, like, literally. I can't even say enough about it. It's been amazing. The year prior was awful. Because it was COVID. And we had to all be covered up in masks. And it was hard getting in and out. Nobody, no spectators could be there. It just wasn't a fun experience. Whereas this year now it’s back to normal. And the show experience itself was amazing. Like I have the best season I've ever had.”
And the fun doesn’t stop there. Thanks to Florida’s warm, sunny weather, Laurie is able to show pretty much year round, with a short break in July.
When it comes to her show jumping outfit, Laurie, unsurprisingly, likes to dress non-traditionally. She has her own line of jackets, custom-made for herself, as she had to tone down her designs for wholesale purposes. However, now that Equine Couture has teamed up with Breeches.com to sell direct to consumers, she’s hoping she can bring these unique outfits to other equestrians who like to spice things up a little bit.
Laurie’s show coats feature beautiful colors, including a dove gray that was gorgeous even in our interview on Google Meets, which, of course, just couldn’t do it justice. Laurie designed these coats with unique details, like contrast stitching and piping. They’re also made to be super comfortable with extra-stretchy fabric and a fitted cut.
However, when it comes to her horses, Laurie likes to keep things a little more traditional with a clean and crisp black and white look. One of her showjumpers wears black, while the other gets decked out in all white. She uses an HDR saddle and bridle, and prefers the HDR bridles with the padded crown piece to keep her horses comfortable in and out of the show jumping ring. Her horses wear EquiFit boots, which you can also buy on breeches.com.
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