Kennewick equestrian takes a Smooth Stride into the apparel business
Désirée Johnson, of Kennewick, was an early bloomer when it came to competing in the equestrian arena.
She started riding when she was 6, and within a year was in the show arena. When she was 18, she was selected to be part of the U.S. team that competed at the first three-day Eventing World Championship to be held in the U.S.
That was in 1978 in Lexington, Ken.
She’s an accomplished world-class event competitor, trainer and instructor.
And she’s applying everything she’s learned into her new role as an entrepreneur.
Johnson is the owner of Smooth Stride, an online company that manufactures and sells jeans without inseams for equestrians.
The business stemmed out of a search for the perfect pair of riding jeans.
Eventing is akin to an equestrian triathlon. The first day riders compete in dressage, followed by an cross-country endurance course on the second day. The final day is show jumping.
As a coach, Johnson, who grew up on the East Coast, struggled to find attire that was comfortable for riding, but still allowed her to work. Jodhpurs were good for riding, but little else. They are hot and prone to snagging.
“I couldn’t set my jumps in the English riding breeches and had to change into jeans,” Johnson said.
She headed out to Ranch & Home on a quest to find good riding jeans that were durable and comfortable enough that you can ride all day in them.
She was disappointed, and a little surprised. Even the most popular and expensive brands she saw were not what she would classify as riding jeans.
She knew from experience that riding all day in a pair of jeans with inseams that created a lump at the crotch where the seams met would not be comfortable.
So she decided to make her own.
She bought a Butterick pattern design for some seamless sweat pants and made a pair out of corduroy material. They were exactly what she wanted.
With the urging of her husband, Eric, Johnson decided to start her own company. The couple began researching the market, reading about the clothing manufacturing business and making a business plan.
Then she read about a company called Smooth Stride, which was making the riding pants she had envisioned. But when she tried to get on the website, it was down. She discovered the Smooth Stride owners had sold the company. Within a year, the company folded.
Johnson and her husband saw that as an opportunity and bought the defunct company in early 2013.
Johnson resurrected the company, starting from the ground up. In her first hard business lesson, she discovered the inventory she received in the sale was flawed and couldn’t be sold.
But the cowgirl in her didn’t let that become more than another short fence to jump.
She redesigned the pants with the help of an apparel contracting company. She used comfortable stretch denim with no inseam and added a cell phone pocket on the top right thigh area, where the phone would be accessible, but wouldn’t fall out or be prone to damage. The front rise is lower, but the back of the jean is higher for coverage when bending over or mounting.
They are durable, well-fitting jeans you can ride in all day and still look good enough to wear out that night.
She created three different styles: the simple but durable Real Riding Jean; the Full Seat Jean, which features a synthetic black leather on the seat and inner thigh; and the Extended Knee Patch Jean, which has black microsuede synthetic knee patches, for extra grip and protection.
The microsuede is the only part of the Smooth Stride brand that isn’t American made, Johnson said.
The jeans come in 11 sizes with three different lengths.
She did a Kickstarter campaign and raised $30,000 so she could restock her inventory.
And her husband taught himself about e-commerce and basic web design and rebuilt the Smooth Stride website.
“He took all his business savvy and took it on as a bit of a personal challenge,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t have done any of this without him.”
And they have learned a lot along the way, listening to customers. Johnson said she strives to give great customer service, because her customers are some of her best advertising.
For instance, because many women are reticent to order online and/or measure themselves, she offers the “Colt” special. Smooth Stride sends first-time customers two pairs of jeans, each a different size. The customer keeps the one that fits and sends back the other, free of charge.
Johnson said she is enjoying learning to jump new hurdles as an entrepreneur. But she is still riding, coaching and training at a world-class level and coaching. She is just far more comfortable in the saddle now that she’s created the perfect pair of riding jeans.
For more information, go to smoothstride.com.