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In Design—Fashion Designers, Trendsetters

A Cowgirl in Heels

YK Branded has filled the void in your closet by creating beautiful Western inspired heels and flats to add a country touch wherever you go.

By Lauren Stanley

Bold, bright, beautiful. These simple words convey life and color, but they can also be used to describe the three key players in the budding fashion company YK Branded: Wendy Weems, an American Paint Horse and the company’s wonderfully Western shoes.

YK Branded, a Western shoe company, came to life through the dreams of Wendy and the inspiration of her sister, Kelly, in January 2013. They aspired to create the once-missing staple in every fashionable cowgirl’s closet: a shoe that was fun and flirty enough to wear out, but still as comfortable and practical as well-worn boots. After much deliberation, Wendy put feet to pavement and began a journey that would take her farther than she ever imagined.

Horsewomen First

Wendy, a native Oregonian and cowgirl at heart, began riding before she could walk. Her mother showed at the Grand Prix level and drove chariot horses, and Wendy shared her childhood home with feisty Shetland ponies roaming the yard; horse fever is genetic, it seems.

“We rode about six days a week and had almost any kind of animal that you could ever want,” Wendy said.

When the time came for Wendy to pick her discipline, the choice was simple: the rush of barrel racing called to the youngster like a siren’s song.

“I guess you could say I liked the speed, however my mom told me I couldn’t race until I was 6 years old,” she said.

The cloverleaf was a perfect fit and, at age 6 Wendy never turned back—she was too busy looking ahead to the next barrel.

As Wendy’s involvement in the horse industry grew, her barrel times got faster and her dreams bigger, culminating in nabbing her Women’s Professional Rodeo Association card and raising her own speedy mounts for lucrative futurities.

One special mount didn’t bring home big wins, but helped the horsewoman cash in on a much greater jackpot: a serendipitous friendship with LJ Hammack of Terre Bonne, Oregon.

LJ was working as a vet technician for Wendy’s late husband, Scott, when the women’s worlds collided.

“From the moment I met Wendy I was blown away by how sincere and nice she was! She is a beautiful lady on the outside and has an even more beautiful heart,” LJ said.

Wendy owned a Paint mare named Docs Southern Te. A 1999 bay tobiano with plenty of chrome, “Te” was the epitome of stunning. While her colors were breathtaking, the real beauty came when LJ stepped in the stirrups.

“I had sold all my horses when I moved to Oregon, so I hadn’t ridden in a while. Riding Te after taking a break from riding was amazing. She was really smooth and very willing. We just clicked,” LJ said.

Ties That Bond

When Wendy offered to let her ride Te, LJ didn’t hesitate to accept, taking the flashy mare out for grand excursions across Wendy’s sprawling ranch.

“I would come out and ride her before work. It was so relaxing and peaceful to have that alone time,” LJ said. “Wendy is the kindest person, and she would always have a ‘green drink’ waiting for me to have as breakfast on my morning ride.

“People like Wendy don’t come around every day. Her sparkling personality and smile remind me to be thankful for the things we have in life.”

Wendy, too, enjoyed the days when LJ came out to ride and the horsewomen shared in each other’s company. She watched with pride as the connection between LJ and Te grew with every ride.

“Their personalities matched so well, it was great to see them bond,” Wendy said. “I could see they loved each other so I decided to give LJ the little mare to keep for good.”

Inside the ranch house, Wendy had been expanding her homegrown company YK Branded since 2013, and the brand’s success had taken life; Wendy needed more help. The same passion that shined when LJ rode Te was attractive in a business assistant; it was a coincidence Wendy didn’t overlook. So, Wendy roped her friend into lending a helping hand—stealing her away from Scott’s veterinary practice—and YK Branded flourished.

“LJ has become a tremendous asset,” Wendy said. “I don’t know where I would be without her.”

Designed with a Purpose

A woman wearing a YK Branded shoe is a hard-working individual with impeccable taste for the traditional Western culture. Though neither Wendy nor LJ hailed from a fashion background, they knew they needed to design shoes with their wearers’ unique interests at heart. To accomplish this vision, the pair derived inspiration from the most unlikely, yet obvious, places.

Hitting the barn and the barrel race, the Wendy sought out trends—not of the riders’ attire, but that of the horses. Each piece of fringe or silver that flew by ignited ideas for Western shoes. The duo would bring the items that caught their eyes into their workshop; then, the real work began.

“We would cut up halters, bridles, spur straps—anything that we felt had a story to tell outside the arena,” Wendy said.

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This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Spring 2017 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.

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