With worldwide financial crises regularly making the news, launching a new business in the current climate could be seen as a questionable move. However, a new face on the equestrian clothing scene has not stopped growing in profile, in the short months since its inception.
Canadian brand Asmar Equestrian® burst onto the equestrian scene in North America in January 2011, and has since grown steadily, picking up some high-profile admirers on the way.
Based in Vancouver, British Columbia, the company is owned and operated by lifestyle brand designer Noel Asmar, of Noel Asmar Design Inc®. This established garment manufacturing company has been producing clothing for some of the world’s most elite hotels and spas around the world for nearly a decade, and has recently added to their portfolio of brands with the Asmar Equestrian® apparel collection.
CEO Noel Asmar is a passionate advocate of innovative clothing design and started designing high-end uniform apparel for the wellness industry in 2002. “As the uniform business grew and expanded, I started designing fitness garments for men and women,” Noel explains. “Our attention has always been on style, innovation and function, and we quickly became one of the most recognised brands in our industry – we now keep over 8000 stock keeping units, which include uniforms, fitness apparel and a resort-wear line. The introduction of Asmar Equestrian® in January 2011 was a natural progression for the business, as the choices for stylish outerwear specifically designed for riders have, I believe, been somewhat limited,” Noel says diplomatically.
Talk of the trade
The company’s equestrian outerwear range spent the first three months of its infancy showcasing at international equestrian trade shows. The first show, and the new company’s debut, was the AETA (American Equestrian Trade Association) International trade show in January 2011, with Canadian sales rep and Grand Prix rider Rochelle Kilberg in attendance. “I personally road-tested the garments for several months before agreeing to become an official representative of the range,” explains Rochelle, of Hazelmere Equestrian Center in Surrey, British Columbia. “There seemed to be a void in the equestrian market for high-performance clothing that mixes European styling with a core understanding of what riders need. Noel has impeccable taste and style, and this translates to cutting edge trends that respect the tradition of the sport; I particularly appreciate this, as a dressage rider. Noel’s garments are known for their functional attributes as much as they are for their timeless style, and she has really helped to fill a gap in the market,” Rochelle states.
The outerwear range was well-received, and the team, including designer Noel Asmar, went on to enjoy further success at the 2010 CEEAA (Canadian Equestrian Equipment and Apparel Association) trade event in February, quickly followed by the UK’s BETA International Trade Show, where Asmar Equestrian® was awarded Best Stand In Show Under 32 metres. “Every mannequin and hanger looked the part, even though the stand was small,” Noel recalls.
Asmar also took home a hotly-contested innovation award for Most Innovative Rider Apparel of the Year at BETA. The winning product was the range’s ‘hero’ product – the All Weather Rider™ Jacket, judged to be ‘an elegant, multi-functional garment, and well-tailored to allow plenty of movement and flexibility’.
Fashionable and functional
Like all truly innovative products, the jacket was born when Noel, a keen horsewoman, became frustrated that she couldn’t find a riding jacket to meet her needs. As a successful designer of technical clothing for some of the world’s most elite hotels and spas, Noel was used to creating items of clothing that, while they looked smart and fashionable, were first and foremost, functional. “Busy people need sophisticated, technical fabrics and tailoring that work with their lifestyles and jobs, rather than work against them,” observes Noel. “I knew from my spa uniform experience that comfort and technical performance should be the basis of all functional clothing – there’s no use in a product that looks great, but doesn’t withstand the rigours of regular washing, and the physical requirements of riding, for example.”
Noel was inspired to create the Asmar Equestrian® collection at the time when the family built their home with a barn for their own horses in an equestrian estate community. As a keen rider, Noel wanted a warm, lightweight coat that would stretch, breathe and withstand the elements, yet couldn’t find one that met her own exacting requirements; so she set about designing a prototype that became the All Weather Rider Jacket™. “I wanted something that would get me from the house to the barn, and then out riding, regardless of the weather. Having horses forces you to be outside! With this jacket, I knew that I would not get drenched or ruin my saddle, and could also move comfortably,” Noel explains.
“I won’t design a garment unless it has a purpose”
The waterproof, windproof jacket, which is patent pending, features a hidden zipper gusset at both the back and front of the garment that unveils a waterproof skirt to extend over the saddle. It solves the issue of riding with wet thighs and also protects the saddle from the elements. “I firmly believe in starting from the point of asking what problem a product needs to provide the solution to. I won’t design a garment unless it has a purpose. In today’s crowded apparel market place, it isn’t enough to rest on one’s laurels, and just provide pretty items,” continues Noel.
It was clear that the combination of design, technicality and sophistication was a winning one, and Noel quickly set about designing an outerwear collection that included a shorter riding jacket and a gilet, and was designed firmly with horse riders in mind.
“Owning horses is a lifestyle choice, and we feel it is important to wear clothes that reflect your lifestyle, or even the lifestyle that you aspire to,” Noel says. “If you are serious about your riding, you need sport-specific clothing that offers extreme functionality. Riders also multi-task; they buy horse feed in their riding wear, they may clean out a stable in it, even do the school-run – we are busy people, and many of us have families and careers to juggle. Your riding wear needs to be functional and must do as many jobs as you do! So, an item that is, for example, breathable, anti-bacterial and resistant to dirt and hair, quickly becomes very good value for money. It is thrilling and inspiring to design for a lifestyle and sport that I am passionate about,” she adds.
Asmar Equestrian® has recently launched a show apparel collection with coordinates, which while featuring playful twists, has its heart in traditional equestrian show wear.
“There’s so much heritage in equestrian competition – the dress code has its roots in formal wear, especially for ladies, and I like to see classic garments that won’t be unfashionable in a few years’ time,” Noel says. “However, there’s always room for clever design features and understated elements, and I like to see experimentation with smart panelling, intricate stitching and pretty buttons – for us, it is these areas that clearly define a brand. I believe that show wear should help you feel professional and positive, and that having the right image can help you hold your head that little bit higher, and perhaps ride more positively.”
Although an advocate of positive riding, Noel is currently out of saddle, as she is pregnant – and she is missing the riding! As an owner of two FHANA (Friesian Horse Association of North American) Friesian horses, Jake and Mozart, Noel is a keen dressage enthusiast, and is looking forward to getting back into training next year. “Horses are so important to me,” she says. “Time with our horses is a moment when life and everything else in your mind is temporarily on hold, while we savour our time and focus on our equine partner. A ride always re-energises me.”
A rewarding experience
Noel has always been involved with horses, and says she was ‘your typical horse crazy little girl, growing up’. “My Mom bought me my first pony when I turned twelve – and I have been riding for pleasure since then,” she explains. Noel is a big fan of the Friesian breed, of which there are two types – the classical Baroque, and the Sport Friesian, which is finer boned. Noel has one of each. “Because of the Lipizzaner blood, this breed generally makes a very good riding and dressage horse – they are very trainable. Not to mention beautiful!” she says. “Our Friesians are really affectionate and cuddly equines. And of course, the more you get to know your horse, the more connected you become as a partnership – owning a horse is very rewarding,” Noel adds.
Supporting up and coming talent
Another rewarding aspect of Noel’s job is the opportunity she has to support riders that are advocates of the range. One of them is 21 year old British dressage rider Sophie Wells, based in Nottingham, who is now sponsored by Asmar Equestrian®.
Sophie, who was part of the Gold medal-winning British team at the 2010 World Equestrian Games Para event, is on the UK’s World Class Para Dressage Performance Squad and also the British Dressage Young Rider (able bodied) Prime Squad – she is the first Para rider to be selected for both teams. Sophie was born with Amniotic Band Syndrome, and despite losing many fingers and having restricted limb movement, is widely regarded as one of the UK’s most promising riders. “She is a talented rider and a great representative of the Asmar brand,” Noel says. “We are delighted to help Sophie reach her sporting goals.”
So does Noel feel that rider endorsement is a requirement for today’s riding wear manufacturer? “It is certainly important to get your clothes out to real riders, to make sure the garments stand up to the rigours of high-level riding, travelling and competing,” Noel says. “However, rider endorsement for the sake of it isn’t something we believe in. Instead, we will continue to work with high-profile people that are actually fans of the brand, and believe in our ethos of fashion meeting function. We are also working with Grand Prix British dressage rider and trainer Sarah Millis, who is an advocate of the range,” she continues. “It is far more important I believe for a rider to build up a level of trust and respect for a brand, than just be swayed by financial gain – a rider’s loyalties may be easily switched when an agreement ends, and more money is offered on the table. Asmar Equestrian® will work hard to support our sponsored riders, and we hope to enjoy long relationships with them, as their careers progress.”
The team behind the brand
With 2012 just around the corner, and the industry preparing for spring trade launches and product showcases, Asmar Equestrian® has an exciting year ahead – of course enhanced by the new addition to the growing team, Noel’s new baby. “It is a busy time for us,” Noel says with some understatement.
A key to any successful business is the team behind the brand, and Asmar is no exception, with its all-female workforce. But what does it take to become a company representative? “We do have a stringent set of core values,” Noel explains. “Our team is small, but resourceful and proactive – we like to think of ourselves as problem solvers, and we are all positively optimistic – and of course, we all appreciate the beauty of horses!”
Asmar Equestrian® is continuing to develop relationships with new retailers, and is currently looking in particular to take on more in Britain – interested retailers can email firstname.lastname@example.org for information. “It is important to us to work with retailers who ‘get’ the brand and its association with an aspirational lifestyle – while we are being selective about the retailers we work with, any company that is internet-savvy, has a focus on customer service, and delivers its promises to its customer base, will be considered. A retailer stocking our clothes, whether online or in an actual store, is representing our brand, so we are keen to work with positive, ego-free people, no matter what the business’s size,” Noel adds.
The company is also leading the way by offering its retailers free social media support. “Social media is a big part of business in the 21st century,” explains Asmar Equestrian’s Marketing Manager, Angela Yard. “We have two blogs and a Facebook and Twitter page, and like to engage with retailers, riders, customers and horse owners in this way. For us, it is about developing awareness of a brand, and engaging with horse riders in real time,” she says. “Retailers that work with us are invited to post on our Facebook page, for example detailing a new product range or line of stock, and we can also help coordinate promotions for particular items and provide promotional videos. In today’s ever-changing market place, it is important for manufacturers to support loyal retailers in whatever way they can, and social media is the perfect way to do this.”
The coming months
With new retailers coming on board all the time, Noel Asmar is very positive about the coming year. “By 2012, we will have a full collection to offer our customers, including outerwear, show apparel, warm up wear and riding breeches. We are exhibiting in the UK, Germany, USA and Canada and also have representation in the South Pacific – we like to speak directly with retailer representatives, pick up and share new merchandising tips, and get the clothes into people’s hands at events,” she states.
“Essentially, we plan to continue working on establishing what is a very young company as an innovative apparel brand that offers excellent customer service,” she says. “With my name on the label, or emblazoned on the sleeve, I am determined to ensure the company and brand is the best it can be.”