For PJ Sedgwick and Angela McCaffery, nothing beats bonding with your horse while connecting with other riders. The two met during riding jaunts and training sessions, and eventually, they ended up in the same barn as first-time horse owners. Their friendship and enthusiasm for the equestrian life led them to an entrepreneurial quest to reboot conventional riding pants into stylish, modern performance wear.
But where to begin with their “stable-to-street” vision?
“We had the concept but no idea on what to do to make it happen,” McCaffery recalls. “We decided to get students involved to help with design sketches.”
The pair began contacting local universities to connect with fashion and business students on product development. Mark Sunderland, director of the textile materials technology program at Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University), responded right away.
“I liked their concept and thought it would be a great opportunity to get fashion design, engineering and commerce students involved,” says Sunderland, Jefferson’s Robert J. Reichlin High-Performance Apparel Chair.
After discussing their concept with Sunderland, the women knew it would be no small feat. Introducing something new to a conservative sport topped the list of challenges. However, they felt they had a product that spoke to the modern female equestrian, who wanted riding attire that was less formal, had a higher performance level, and could easily transition from riding to personal life.
The project launched in fall 2014. Seven University students worked on the process at varying times, encompassing three consecutive semesters. Taylor Larson ’16 M’17, then a fashion merchandising and management student, who also received her iMBA at Jefferson, served as the initial project manager. Gina Ferrero ’15, then a fashion design student, helped with the research and prototypes. Other team members conducted surveys and distributed questionnaires, all done with the hopes of processing how to most effectively approach the product objective.
“The students were so professional and treated us as clients,” McCaffery says. “They had us present our objectives, which helped them understand the marketplace and the learning curve of the riding world and its vast industry.”
“Mark and the students were really helpful,” Sedgwick adds. “They took the time to educate us on all facets of the product line development process, including milling and manufacturing.”
When developing the prototypes—one for cool weather, one for warm—they made many adjustments from the original concept.
“In the beginning stages, we constantly tested out different fabrics and had to adjust the fit quite often,” Larson notes. “It wasn’t until the first prototype that everyone felt really confident in the way the pant fit and the fabric felt. We also got great feedback from test riders who became some of our first customers.”
“We were doing really grassroots marketing and processing,” McCaffery says. “We ended up educating each other in the various stages of the product line development.”
By the second semester, the team moved into the production process. Sedgwick began working on the user experience aspect with the students, while McCaffery partnered on developing production and final cost projections. Ferrero, who enjoys working in functional designs, drafted the design and coordinated directly with a Philadelphia-based pattern maker. Marketing students examined tack shops to discover where shoppers might purchase riding apparel, and finance students researched formation options, such as limited partnership versus LLC. They conducted different design trials for women of all sizes and body shapes and made adjustments accordingly.
While not all their original design objectives were attainable, the student teams consistently connected with the women to make sure their prototype aligned with the majority of their expectations.
The finished prototype achieved a majority of the original product objectives: all-day wearability for riding or activities; comfortable and flattering movability features; breathable, technical fabrics; mid- to high-rise fit; and suede knee patches for just the right amount of grip needed in the saddle. The pants also feature a super slim mesh pocket to hold a cell phone securely allowing a rider to check her phone without removing it. The elastic band was eliminated at the ankle, replaced by a double layer mesh cuff at the bottom that’s cooler and more breathable. The fabric is easy to clean and resistant to dirt and hair.
Named BOTORI (for born to ride), the company launched two pant designs—the Taylor and the Gina, named for the two students most influential in the development—in early 2018. The company is on its third product run, with plans to include sunshirts and new fabrics in a lighter color palette. (In an amicable split, Sedgwick bought out McCaffery this past November.)
The students not only enjoyed working on BOTORI, but they learned more than they had anticipated. “What I loved most about the project was the team dynamic and having my hands in everything,” said Ferrero, who hand-stitched the first prototype and helped with the marketing, branding and client prospecting. “It was great to build a product from the bottom up and learn how to keep focused.”
Larson couldn’t agree more. “I gained great communication skills when working with teams and industries, time management, how to work with a manufacturer and how to react quickly to make important decisions,” she says.
Sarah Devine ’16, a fashion design major, was amazed at seeing how much goes into product development. “Working on BOTORI showed me how complicated it is to build a startup company, from creating a name and logo, to developing a marketing strategy,” she says.
McCaffery and Sedgwick felt they learned more than they ever thought possible from the experience and are grateful to Jefferson for helping them achieve their dream.
“If it weren’t for Mark, the students and the University, we would have given up,” McCaffery says.