Sunday, February 28, 2016

Dream Jeans: An interview with Désirée Johnson

Archived Freelance
Dream Jeans: An interview with Désirée Johnson
Archived Freelance: Florida Equine Athlete Volume 113

Désirée Johnson knows horses...and jeans! As an accomplished 3-day event competitor, trainer, and instructor, she knows the value of comfortable riding jeans. Now the proprietor of Smooth Stride Riding Wear, Désirée talks about riding, horses, and horsemanship…

GM: How did Smooth Stride Riding Wear begin?    
DJ: I have been riding since the age of six, showing at seven, followed by years of instructing, eventing and coaching. I also spent a decade in the corporate world. Being a very disciplined rider, I ride several horses a day depending on the business flow. Several years ago I began a search for practical riding jeans. I wanted a Western Riding Jean that was functional and comfortable in the saddle, but also appropriate for cleaning stalls, or running to the grocery store.  As an English Rider I really thought that I would find what I wanted in a Western Jean, but I discovered that even the most popular of brands are not really riding jeans at all!  They are advertised as such, but how can they be when there is that lump in the middle of the seat area!  I finally made my own pants merging a store-bought sweat pants pattern with Jodhpur pattern.  I knew I didn't want an inseam, but didn't want skin-tight riding breeches either - owning many of those already.  I had a sewing machine and knew enough to sew my idea up in corduroy… and loved the result: "The most comfortable, practical pair of pants I've ever had".

During this time, my husband, Eric, and I had researched the market need and began research and consideration of starting a riding pants company from scratch.  While searching for a commercial solution, I came across an old product review article about Smooth Stride riding pants.  I reached the interim owners and purchased pants to try.  After learning that the interim owners did not intend to continue with the business, we bought the Smooth Stride business in February of 2013.

In February, 2013, we created a Limited Liability Company (Designs by Desiree, LLC) in our home state of Washington and obtained the requisite business and tax licenses.  Eric re-created the Smooth Stride website completely from scratch, teaching himself e-commerce and basic web design in the process.  The website went live in May 2013 and we began selling some of the inventory that was purchased along with the other assets of the business.  Note that a quality and fit analysis deemed more than two-thirds of the purchased inventory unfit for sale and hence it was written off.  Also in February 2013, the company contracted with Apparel Technical Services of Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the re-design of the riding jeans and general business consulting.  Proprietor Ms. Kathleen Fasanella is the author of The Entrepreneur's Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing operates the Fashion Incubator website and blog and, with 30+ years’ experience in the fashion industry, is an acknowledged world expert in pattern making, the clothing designer industry, and clothing and fashion start-ups.

GM: What’s different about Smooth Stride Riding Jeans vs. the popular brands?
DJ: We all love blue jeans. We wear them all day long at work, for fun and yes, for riding horses.  But you can't really ride horses in blue jeans.  But that is a crazy thing to say, right?!  You think of John Wayne, Rodeos, Cowgirls, Barrel Racing, Trail Riding, and I could go on.  But what those brave souls are wearing not only have the potential to harm sensitive parts of the body, but also expensive saddles.  If you look you can find 50 different styles of Western Riding Jeans and not one of them can tell me that they have a "Seamless Inside".  I can't ride in any of them and it is because when you are in a saddle the cross seam creates a lump of material, which directly is in between you and your saddle.  OUCH!

Smooth Stride Riding Jean was designed with the specific purpose of giving Mature Women Riders with curves a supremely comfortable “Real” riding jean.  Not some urban cowboy western style jean you wear country and western dancing, but a performance jean that can be utilized for hours in the saddle.  Endurance Riding, Trail Riding, Western Dressage, arena schooling, and not come home with a raw area that burns, or a sore on the inside of your knee from the inseam. 

Eric and I created a comfortable stretch denim functional riding jean with a built in cell phone pocket on top of the thigh.  The phone will not fall out when mounting and unmounting, and best of all a waist that is designed specifically for riders - higher in the back for coverage when you are mounting, bending over to close a gate, or bending over to fill a water bucket.  The front rise is lower for comfort, very much like a bicycle pant for additional comfort in the saddle.  And the best feature of all is the fact that there is no lump in the crotch area unlike 99% of all other blue jeans on the market.  Now these are not to be mistaken for English Riding Pants.  They are a Classic Blue Jean that out around town, no one would know.  No more are the days of having to change pants when you happen to go for a ride and then need to go shopping or clean the barn.  This is the perfect, stylish, all in one, functional Durable, Classy, Blue Jean that you can really ride in. 

GM: What materials do you use? 
DJ: We use a ten-ounce high quality denim, American grown and milled.  It is 84% cotton, 14% polyester, and 2% Spandex.  The polyester provides durability and shape retention, it significantly reduces the relaxation normally experienced during the first hours/day of wear.  The Spandex provides just the right amount of stretch for riding and for a great fit on a wide variety of body types.

We use a synthetic suede - microsuede, made from extremely small polyester and nylon fibers (1/500th a human hair!) which are not woven, rather formed by a highly patented and secretive process that includes ‘web forming’ and ‘needle punching’.  This amazing stuff looks and feels like real suede leather, but it breathes and wicks moisture away…and its machine washable and extremely durable! The microsuede is the only input that we use which is not made in America - there is none made in America.

We have three different styles: Real Riding Jean Plain (no leather), Extended Knee Patch (leather starting above the knee and extending all the way to the floor), and Full Seats (Leather in the seat area and going all the way down to the floor).  Three different lengths, 31”, 33” and 36”.

GM: I love the names of your riding jeans:  Mustangs, Fresians, Palominos.  Very clever!  What are your sizes? 
DJ: Our sizes range from 4 to 24, which would be our Arabians, Mustangs, Paint, Andalusian, Lusitano, Appaloosa, Morgan, Friesian, Palomino, Lipizzan, Nokota.  I am a rider not a numbers person so I did not want to deal with numbers all day long so I thought this would be a fun way to list my different sizes, after all we all love our horse breed names!

GM: Do you ship anywhere in the world?  
DJ: I see no reason why not!  I have learned how to fill out both types of customs forms!  So far Canada is the only Country I have shipped to other than here at home.

GM: What are your future plans for Smooth Stride Riding Jeans?   
DJ: We have a five-year goal broken down of course.  This next year I will be concentrating on “Trunk Sales”.  This means I am taking my jeans on the road.  In January of this year, we were accepted to show our jeans at the National Western Stock Show January 9-24th in Denver Colorado, the largest Rodeo in the U.S., 15 days of selling jeans to the public.  By the end of the year I plan on having two East Coast Teams and Two West Coast Teams working all over the country taking our Smooth Stride Vendor Booth to all sorts of large horse shows for gals to try on.  Having a mobile dressing room helps a lot.  Eric is also working on showing our jeans to potential buyers for stores, Ranch and Home styles of stores.  He is attending WESA also this January in Denver Colorado.  We are lucky to have a great team of people helping us; one new addition is my own sister Gigi Suzette Marechal! 

GM: What is your horse history?  
DJ: I am an accomplished three-day event competitor in her teens, and was a member of, and competed with the U.S. Equestrian Team at the 1978 World Championships in Lexington, Kentucky - the event known today as Rolex, which the very first International Eventing Competition held on U.S. soil.  Desiree was the youngest woman at this Event and held that record up until 2013 and still may…..I have been riding, training, teaching and competing all of my life.  Recently while living in Washington State surrounded by state of the art Western Riding I became certified as a Mountain Trail Judge and extremely well-schooled in Behavior on the Ground.  Eventing is still my passion and a move back to California is a certainty early in 2016, where I will have more access to start of the art instructors for my own continued education.  One can never think that they know it all.  Teaching has always been a passion and will most certainly be fit into a very busy Smooth Stride work schedule. 

GM: What does Horsemanship mean to you?  
DJ: Hmm this is a very fun question for me to answer.  And I think the most important thing about horsemanship is to listen to your horse.  They are not….just horses….as one person recently said to me.  I don’t even know what that means…just a horse.  If I put a brush on a horse and they don’t like it, I get a brush they do like.  I don’t force them to deal because they are just some dumb animal that has to submit to me.  That does not work in the long run anyway.  Some horses have skin that is extremely sensitive and if I want them to be happy with their work well I would really like for them to be happy while I am grooming them.  I even had a horse once that did not want to be groomed until he was warmed up on some days.  He had so much energy that he needed to move a bit before he could settle down and let a brush go on his body.  And I was happy to listen to him when he told me that!  I care, I really care about how they feel.  Now that does not mean that I will allow them to walk all over me, but some sure do try.  They are huge happy well fed fit animals and they need intelligent, fair, caring, constant attention and training.  They can’t talk to us in words, sure, but they feel, have moods, fears, attitudes just like we do.  Finding the job that suits them, makes “them” happy is important.  You might have a horse that just screams Eventing all over it, but all he really wants to do is stay safe and cozy in a little ring jumping three-feet and nothing you can do no matter how good of a trainer you are can change that.  You might have a classic Quarter Horse bred for cows and trail who is so spooky and I mean really afraid of things, that you take your life in your hands just going for a hack.  You might have a Pony with the heart of a lion and if they were bigger could be famous!  Making sure that they have good dental work, proper fitting bits and saddles, worming, feet and correct feed for their body and workloads.  Enough work that they are not going out of their mind with boredom or jumping out of their skin with access energy is key.  Knowing when they need a prep day, or a push day or an easy day and not just “using” them because they are ….just a horse….that is what Horsemanship means to me.

Connect with Désirée
Gina McKnight is a freelance writer from Ohio USA

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