Oftentimes, the best business ideas stem from seeing "a hole in the market," wanting to disrupt a particular industry or simply the need for something better. Free x Rein, a new, direct-to-consumer equestrian apparel brand, is the result of all three.
Friends and co-founders Andrea Hippeau Vogel and Dana Schwartz have spent the better part of their years living in New York balancing work — Vogel in venture capital, Schwartz in filmmaking — with their hobby of riding horses, which often involves traveling over an hour from the city to a farm in North Salem. The long commutes not only called for efficient time management, but also for an efficient way to dress. If athleisure eased the transition of one's wardrobe from office desk to boutique fitness class, then why can't this apply to equestrian athletes as well?
"The idea of Free x Rein evolved from complaining about how our shirts were always untucked and sloppy, or how the fabric wasn't comfortable," said Schwartz. "We had nothing in general that we would ever wear to an event because the clothing just wasn't that nice."
Schwartz's comment is pretty bold considering that equestrian dress has become a classic style trope, from inspiring a slew of runway collections to being the very foundation of a historic luxury fashion house like Hermès. Not to mention the appeal of horseback riding among the fashion community, including models Gigi Hadid, Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner and Edie Campbell, among others. "Equestrian style is the most classic, perfect-looking outfit," added Schwartz. "Why can't we find something that looked seamless and felt comfortable; that was good for our athletic needs and also our style needs?"
According to Vogel and Schwartz, Free x Rein, which launches on Wednesday, is entering a "weird, dated industry" that's dominated by legacy brands. "Everyone was wearing one or two brands and they would only update their styles every maybe 15 years. There was no motivation," said Schwartz. "Innovation was new colors," added Vogel. A popular brand that the two mentioned, for example, offers low-rise breeches that feel synthetic and cheap with silicone instead of suede patches. "Pants start at $430, so not only are they ridiculously expensive, they don't feel good and they don't last long," said Schwartz.
And while direct-to-consumer brands are popping up everywhere in the fashion space — from fine jewelry to swimwear — it's nearly nonexistent among the equestrian industry. "It's basically all wholesale or vendors at horse shows," said Vogel. "Having come from the startup world, that's outdated. You would be appalled by the online shopping."
Over the past two years, Vogel and Schwartz have been working hard to create Free x Rein's debut capsule collection. With no fashion or design experience, the duo are quick to recall the challenges they've faced so far, like when their first two prototypes from a factory in the Garment District were "really horrible." "We just thought we needed to throw in the towel," said Vogel. "Maybe we're making a huge mistake. Why is our vision not translating to what is coming out of this factory?"
But the duo found a production manager in San Francisco with 30 years of fashion and retail experience to help guide and consult them through the process, from narrowing down fabric choices to figuring out the perfect fit for breeches inspired by shapewear and leggings. (Vogel and Schwartz learned that riders in their community would sometimes wear Spanx under their breeches.) Two different pairs, priced between $235 and $260, are available from Free x Rein: a versatile riding pant made from an Italian ponte knit and a structured but stretchable cotton-blend version sourced from India.
For tops, Vogel and Schwartz decided to do away with the traditional riding shirt and create a bodysuit instead — a first for the equestrian apparel market. Free x Rein's versions come in a competition-ready style, a moto-inspired mockneck and a sportier mockneck with zipper details and mesh paneling. All are made from moisture-wicking, breathable modal jersey from Los Angeles and go for $135 or $200 each.
"From the fashion world perspective, equestrian apparel was always this very old school wooly blazer with the high boots — a little too vintage," said Schwartz. "You don't have to look like you're from a Ralph Lauren ad from the '80s. We refreshed that so you feel chic and comfortable without looking too kitschy or costumey."
Vogel and Schwartz plan to add accessories to the range, too, such as keychains made from leftover suede scraps and a leather riding purse belt that could easily carry your phone. "The number-one complaint about riding pants is that your cell phone doesn't fit in them," said Vogel. There's also the plan to make head scarves to prevent messy helmet hair, as well as to create more breeches and tops in different colors and styles, such as a short-sleeve bodysuit and a button-down polo version.
"My whole life I've always heard girls and women say they love riding for the clothes,” said Schwartz. "It got us so pumped up because we've made something accessible to women who ride or don't ride but want to look that way. It's not Hermès where a pair of breeches is $1,200. You're living on a budget and you want to look nice. We created that, which is really great."