By Katie Navarra
There’s nothing worse than finding a shirt at a boutique and falling in love with the design only to try it on in the dressing room and find out it doesn’t fit right at the waist, in the bust or through the sleeves.
“It can be so frustrating for women to shop,” said Kimberly Barratt, founder of Middy N Me, a line of riding and resort wear based in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, and New Smyrna Beach, Florida.
Middy N Me specializes in producing exquisitely tailored American-made, premium cotton shirts. “The basic pattern of the shirt is magical,” Kimberly said. “It’s flattering on 99.9 percent of women right off the rack. The best part is we can make fit adjustments when needed.”
Once a customer finds a print or color combination they like, they can customize the shirt with one of three collar styles and choose from sleeveless, half-sleeve or long-sleeve. They can request extra-long or slim-fitting sleeves, or even choose a tunic or dress.
Working with a manufacturer based in the United States allows for the customization customers have come to love. “We have a close relationship with the people who do the cutting and sewing at the plant in South Carolina. They care as much as we do,” Kimberly explained.
Beyond the fit, the gingham prints, colorful floral designs, equestrian-inspired prints and bold, contrasting cuff and collar combinations offer styles to complement any woman’s taste.
Furniture to Fashion
Stemming from a lifelong interest in fabrics, Kimberly spent years working as an interior designer at local furniture stores and for Arhaus Furniture, a fine furniture company. At the same time, she ran her own interior design company on the side. Despite having an innate knack for pairing textures, patterns and colors, she had no formal training in the fashion design industry. Instead, she carried her instincts over to fashion.
“I’d go into tack stores and see shirts with contrasting cuffs and collars. I couldn’t help but think, ‘I’d do this or that instead,’” she explained.
Instead of traditional white, light blue or pinstripes, she envisioned a rainbow of bold, stunning colors ranging from fuchsia to tangerine and lime and shades in between, offering riders an opportunity to make bold statements in the show ring.
In 2010, her twin sister, Kelly Walker, encouraged her to pursue the idea. The sisters had been born into a non-horsey family and at age 7, convinced their parents they needed riding lessons. While her sister went on to become a professional dressage trainer, Kimberly continued to ride for pleasure and her genuine love for horses followed throughout life.
Receiving support and seed money from her husband, Tom Barratt, Kimberly jumped into building a business. The first step was finding the basic cut or pattern from which all shirts would be made. Working with a master pattern maker in South Carolina, she spared no expense.
Then, it was time to find fabrics. “At the time I loved polka dot prints,” she reminisced. “I’d spend hours searching the Internet for polka dot fabrics.”
Working with fabrics turned out to be a completely new experience. “I’d talk to suppliers on the phone and they’d ask if I’d be working with woven or knit fabrics,” she said. “As far as apparel went, I didn’t understand the terminology.”
She’d follow up every phone conversation with hours on the computer researching the terminology she was learning. “I don’t know how people started a business before the Internet,” she laughed.
Launching A Business
In July 2011, Kimberly introduced her first offering. She brought 18 samples to the Chagrin Valley Hunter Jumper Classic. “I never dreamed I’d receive the reaction I did,” she said. “I literally didn’t think to bring a pen and paper or change to accept payment.”
She ended up selling about 25 shirts that first weekend and continued attending horse shows to market the shirts. In the beginning, she thought the business would remain small and that wholesaling wouldn’t be a good fit. By 2013, the shirts were so popular she couldn’t keep up with demand at the horse shows, and began attending apparel shows and working with boutiques across the country on a wholesale basis.
Today, customers can choose from more than 16 different options to make the shirt their own. Kimberly handpicks every fabric, choosing styles she likes to wear. She thinks they’re all beautiful but admits her current favorite is the Sweet Virginia collection that features gingham, floral and paisley prints. “Everybody just loves them. They’re beautiful,” she said.
What’s in a Name
Learning all she needed to know about the industry and organizing the business end of operations was difficult work. “It was like birthing a baby,” she said. It took countless hours of research and decision-making for Middy N Me to officially launch.
Choosing a name was perhaps the easiest decision along the way. The name Middy N Me was inspired by her four-legged partner, a 14-year-old Belgian /Quarter Horse named Middy. She bought the buckskin mare sight unseen and with little details about the then-3-year-old’s background. When the horse arrived, Kimberly said, she was a “fire-breathing dragon.” The mare distrusted humans and had few manners.
Later, Kimberly learned Middy was a PMU rescue. Details of where Middy had come from or how she ended up with the horse trader Kimberly bought her from were unclear; shady at best. “It was heartbreaking to see it first-hand. She’s the horse of a lifetime and now that she’s out of that environment, she’s the sweetest mare ever,” Kimberly said.
Patience, love and training has transformed the mare into a gentle and steady mount on foxhunts, cross-country rides and in the dressage arena. “She’s the horse of a lifetime and it’s an honor to be her mother,” she added.
Combining her lifelong love for horses and fabrics, Kimberly has found a way to bring two seemingly different industries together in one successful business. “It’s fun to be able to offer women clothing that makes them feel beautiful and fits them perfectly,” she concluded.
About the writer: Katie Navarra has worked as a freelance writer since 2001. She has been a lifelong horse lover and competes in ranch horse events with her dun Quarter Horse mare.
Photos by Kimberly Barratt