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Apparel Designer: Debbie Hodde of Brenham

Debbie Hodde brings her experience as a champion equestrian and her eye for statement-making style to Winning Couture, a custom-tailored competition clothing brand based in Brenham.

 “I know the sport. I know the lifestyle,” said Hodde, who got her first horse as an 11-year-old living in Houston. “I understand what my customers want—and need—in competition clothing.”

 It was the love of the showring, not a sewing machine, however, that led her to create the company.

 “My grandmother, mother and sister all sewed,” said Hodde, who breeds, trains and shows horses in traditional English events.  “I was outside riding horses as much as possible.”

 It was a mare named Blue Couture that gave Hodde the confidence to introduce bright, rich, jewel tones into the white-shirted, black- and blue-coated world of high-level English equestrian competitions. Hodde bred, raised, trained and showed the mare, nicknamed Sky, that qualified for the American Quarter Horse Association’s World Show as a four-year-old.

 “She was something special, so I wanted something special to wear at the World Show,” Hodde said. “We were ready to stand out.”

 When she chose two brightly colored pieces of paisley and floral quilting fabric from her local JoAnn Fabric Store, roughly sketched out a design, and commissioned Susie Bronikowski, a colleague’s aunt, to sew the shirts, Hodde never imagined it would serve as the foundation of a new business.

 “Winning Couture wasn’t a dream of mine,” Hodde said. “It happened organically and grew into something I never anticipated.”

 Hodde debuted the two shirts at the 2010 AQHA World Show, turning heads and prompting whispered conversations. When she wore them exclusively at the 2011 Scottsdale Sun Circuit a few months later, the full-blown buzz translated into inquiries for orders.

“Everyone—trainers, owners, competitors, even judges—began asking me, ‘Can you make me one?’” Hodde said. “By the time I finished the two-day drive back to Brenham, I had a plan for launching a sideline business with Susie, even though I didn’t know a thing about pattern making, sourcing fabrics or sewing.”

 She tackled the launch of the business, aptly named Winning Couture in homage to the horse that prompted it, and the associated learning curve at “900 mph,” building the business on her existing skill set.

 “I am relentless about quality and customer service; I do everything to ‘make’ things right,” Hodde said. “And it helps that I can talk to anybody.”

 Between word-of-mouth and a portable studio fashioned from a 1970 Airstream Hodde pulled on the show circuit, the business took off like a show jumper clearing a five-foot fence. Along the way, she began sourcing fine fabrics such as exclusive Italian stretch cotton, all-season wools, and rich silks from around the globe, mixing and matching complementary tones and patterns for one-of-a-kind custom-tailored dress and hunt shirts. A New York City-based fabric company representative now delivers samples to Hodde’s Brenham studio, so she can hand-pick from the best.

 “Some clients like to choose their own combinations, but others say, ‘I trust your eye,’ just make it for me,” Hodde said. “In some cases, we incorporate heirloom designer scarves—think Hermes and Gucci—from a customer’s collection to create a garment that is not only customized but also personalized.”

 In 2011, she included hunt coats and jackets after acquiring a company specializing in those items. In addition to the new market segment, the purchase gave her access to superlative tailors. She now works with four individuals as well as a tailoring company.

 “If I can draw it, they can make it,” she said. “My tailors take great pride in their work, so the quality is impeccable. They are literally the best in the business.”

 “While I’m proud of every piece we make, I know we can always do better—and I continue to push forward,” said Hodde, noting she has also added vests and trench coats to her line.

Hodde, who is married to Randy Hodde, owner of Hodde Real Estate, mother to two active teenagers, and an entrepreneurial equestrian, is letting the company grow at a measured pace. It doesn’t keep her from looking into the future. One day she’d like to have her timeless, elegantly tailored clothes expand beyond the horse world.

 “I don’t have to be the next Ralph Lauren, but I would love for the clothes to crossover,” Hodde said. “This business has opened so many doors for me and allowed me to meet so many people that it has already become more than I ever imagined.

 “It’s not a multi-million dollar company, but it’s enough. I am humbled by it all.”

For more information about Winning Couture, see www.winningcouture.com or “Winning Couture” on Facebook and Instagram.

Story by Lorie A. Woodward
Photos by Julia Ervin

 

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