See-through pants. Tops that come untucked. Blouses and breeches cut for the smallest sizes on the rack. There are a million ways to go wrong with riding clothes, and for the majority of female equestrians, they’re issues we’re all too familiar with.
Thankfully, these are also the annoyances that inspired amateur riders, friends, and entrepreneurs Andrea Vogel and Dana Schwartz to found Free x Rein: a line of equestrian breeches, shirts, bodysuits, and accessories designed not for size-0 mannequins, but actual female riders.
Andrea Vogel (left) and Dana Schwartz.
“Andrea and I have completely different body types, and yet, we were finding similar issues [when] shopping for clothes,” says Dana. “You have to be, like, a string bean, and short, to really be the prototype for [the typical riding] clothes.”
Andrea can share her own horror stories about shopping for show clothes. “I remember I was trying on a pair of white pants for myself in Wellington, and they were completely see-through in the butt,” she says. “I remember the man that worked at the store came out and was like, ‘Those look great!’ and I was like, ‘No, you can see my butt, literally.’ He was like, ‘That’s how they’re supposed to look!’
“It was all those frustrations and small moments that came together,” Andrea continues. “There are no brands out there that have people that we could relate to behind them. There’s all these [male designers], but we never felt that there was anyone designing for us.”
(c) Free x Rein
Nine months ago, Dana and Andrea—former professionals from the documentary film and finance worlds, respectively—took fate into their own hands, launching Free x Rein’s debut collection. The line features soft, breathable bodysuits for riding and pants inspired, not just from their personal shopping trials, but trends they observed at home on the streets of New York City. Today, Free x Rein also features an accessories line of hip bags and belts (great for riding with your cell phone!), a Moto Shirt for those looking for an alternative to the bodysuit, and breeches for the show ring and for schooling.
“We’re still really new, but we have learned a lot in [nine month’s] time, adapting our products and our messaging and branding accordingly due to customer feedback,” says Andrea. One example: the fall Free x Rein breeches collection will feature new colors requested by their customers.
“Being at the shows and doing these pop-up [stores] has been so helpful to get feedback. Having those candid interactions—there’s nowhere else you can get that but in person,” says Andrea. “Something else that we’ve learned is that people really want to touch and try on and feel the products before making a purchase, and that makes sense.”
Andrea Vogel (c) Ashley Neuhof
Though Free x Rein doesn’t carry a full range of plus-size pieces, it now offers sizes 24 through 34, and each piece in the line is designed with real female bodies in mind. “The bodysuits are really forgiving, and we made sure there was access fabric for people with very long torsos, or a bigger chest, or wider hips,” says Andrea. “The fabric, itself, is very stretchy and soft, and the sizing is forgiving. Nothing we have was made to be skintight, except for the Moto Shirt, which is made extra large, so it stays with you when you’re riding.”
All that is to say, in less than a year, Andrea and Dana have achieved what they set out to do, creating not just a better-fitting option for riders, but one that’s receiving rave reviews from its customers. Still, it didn’t happen overnight.
(c) Free x Rein
“We had a lot of fits and starts. We made some really bad clothes,” says Dana. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, we decided to make pants!’ It was two years before we ever ended up making something [we were proud of]. It’s not easy, but I think if you believe in something enough, [you] keep at it.”
As equestrians, themselves, Andrea and Dana are quick to add that unique brand of persistence to a list of lessons that translate from the riding ring to the entrepreneurial fashion world. “Building a business takes a lot of time,” says Andrea. “That’s the great thing about riding, [as well], is the longevity of the sport—a lot of the top riders are in their 50s and 60s. If you’re building a business thinking it’s going to be an instant success, that’s just not reality.
“I’d also say, [learning to celebrate] your wins when they happen, and then getting back to work the next day. With riding, you can win one class and fall off in the next, and business is very, very similar,” Andrea continues. “You don’t know what’s going to happen in the next minute, or day, or month, or year.”
Dana Schwartz (c) Diana Hadsall.
For Dana, the connection is a personal one. “There’s something about riding that I still always have to focus on, which is not comparing yourself to other riders. You and your horse, you’re the only two that matter. Once you look around and start comparing yourself, that always affected my performance,” Dana says.
“I take that into our business strategy as entrepreneurs as well. If you start getting sidetracked and comparing yourself to other people, you lose sight of your vision, and what you set out to conquer.
“For me, that’s a lesson from riding that I take throughout my life, but it’s been very applicable to starting and running a company.”