With Royal Ascot back, equestrian clothing isn’t just about top hats and headpieces, as the managing director of Buckinghamshire-based Equetech, Liz Hayman, explains
Tell us about how your love affair with horses started…
I started riding at the age of five, after pestering my mother for months! She took me to a local riding school. I fell off the first time I rode, but it didn’t put me off a hobby, which has turned into a lifelong addiction!
You had a terrible injury after a fall in 2012. How do you reflect on that time?
To be honest, I don’t remember a lot of it. I was on powerful pain medication for some time, but as I emerged from that period, it really made me value the simple things in life; family, friends, and not to take life for granted.
It has taken nearly ten years to build my confidence back in the saddle, but you cannot force these things. I thought it would be more about physical limitations, but I suffered terribly from severe PTSD for many years. I am certainly not the rider I once was, but I wouldn’t change who I have now become.
It’s nearly 30 years since Equetech first launched. What’s the story behind the company?
It was launched in 1992 and specialised in padded underwear and an ice bandage. I acquired the business in 2005, and for the last 16 years I have been passionate about designing affordable equestrian apparel that stands the test of time without losing style and functionality.
How has the company evolved over the years?
We started with two product lines and now produce over 300 styles. We launched tailored products, such as tweed jackets and competition jackets, in 2007, and we are now one of the strongest brands in this field in the UK. We also launched our factory in the UK in 2019, which is going really well.
Today, what does Equetech offer?
We design stylish riding clothing and accessories for all riders, young or old, riding school riders through to top international riders. We create garments that combine function and fashion, clothes that will look and perform in the saddle, but will equally look stylish on the school run or yoga mat. Riders live busy lives, so I design with the mindset that your riding wardrobe doesn’t have to be kept exclusively for the stables, but enjoyed elsewhere and everywhere. We sell everything from rider sports underwear, competition wear, everyday riding attire and specialise in sourcing and incorporating the most advanced technical fabrics into our garments.
How do you find the balance between functionality and fashion?
As I rider myself, I know what demands and expectations riders have regarding their kit. Our products are rigorously tested throughout the conceptual design process and up until the final product design. We will not launch a product that will not stand the test of time, and there is no reason that function cannot be stylish.
Equestrianism is quite timeless and classic. How do you stay true to that classic nature, while still keeping things modern and fresh?
I think it helps to be a British heritage brand with a long-standing passion for quality and design. The perspective that overseas markets hold of Britain, especially in the Far East and the US, means that equestrianism in the true sense anchors the brand and gives us a platform to introduce new fresh designs without veering too far away from our roots. We have a wealth of equestrian history and association in our country, and that has been documented over time. Our tweed tailoring for the show-ring remains true to its classical past. However, we have tailored for a more flattering fit and picked lightweight tweeds that pay homage to the traditional with a contemporary twist. Our collections embrace the relevance of classical yet with added modern elements embracing the fantastic developments in sustainable and technical fabrics – all with a subtle nod to fashion today.
What is your design process?
The design process for me always starts with a brainstorming session with the team. I am always thinking about the needs of riders and what is not being met. I’ll look at high street trends and colours for the season ahead and create concept sketches in the first instance. These will then be made up into samples tested by a panel of riders and further tweaked. Once we have the final prototypes, these will go into production. Seeing the end consumer wearing and enjoying our collections is a buzz I will never tire from.
Do you find your clothing being worn by non-riders or non-competitors?
Yes, that happens a lot as equestrian wear crosses over into country wear very easily, especially for those all-weather dog walkers. Because our coats are designed for the harshest conditions and freedom of movement, it makes a lot of sense. We also have seen a significant pick-up on our new riding tights. Whilst designed for wear in the saddle, they have been enjoying life on the yoga mat, cycling and running.
How long have you lived in Aylesbury?
I was born in Aylesbury (The Royal Bucks Hospital), before it was privatised. I lived in Tring until the age of 20. Since then, I have lived in Aylesbury with my now husband for 21 years.
What do you love best about the area?
We are so lucky to live in such a beautiful county. We have the best of both worlds, being close to London, but we also have the countryside on the doorstep. It also has some fantastic venues for equestrian competitions.
Has the local community come together over the past year?
Yes, I think community spirit has held us all together; be it the neighbours checking in on more vulnerable neighbours or people supporting local restaurants by buying take-outs or shopping more local.
How has the lockdown period been for Equetech?
It was very tough initially, as we rely on riders competing at horse events during the summer months. Because they were suddenly not competing and, in some cases, unable to even ride their horses, there was a direct hit to us. However, with so many riders having more time on their hands to research brands and our “all hands on deck” approach from my team, we have now emerged from lockdown in a much stronger position.