Dude behind those duds is a Poly cowgirl

Cal Poly student Quincy Freeman puts flair into conservative Western wear.
Cal Poly student Quincy Freeman puts flair into conservative Western wear.

San Luis Obispo fashion designer Quincy Freeman has a motto: “Life’s too short to dress boring.”

Freeman was just 18 years old when she signed on as a designer for Ariat International, one of the world’s foremost manufacturers of equestrian apparel and accessories. Now the Quincy Collection, with its cute, colorful leather boots and belts, is one of the company’s hottest Western wear lines.

“I’m the actual consumer they sell their products to — an actual cowgirl,” Freeman said.

Pam Teixeira, store manager at Boot Barn in Paso Robles, said Freeman’s boots are popular sellers among customers in search of trendy, high-end footwear.

“They’re doing very well up there,” said Teixeira, whose store hosted a meet-and-greet with the designer last year. “I tell the girls that are looking at them that (you’ll) want to tuck your pants in because they’re such beautiful boots that you want to show them off.”

Raised in a ranching family in the Central Valley city of Reedley, Freeman “completely fell in love” with rodeo in high school, she said.

“It became my life,” recalled Freeman, who combined her twin passions for rodeo and the arts by hand-painting her belts, boots and horse tack. She’d arrive at equestrian events with a red rose tucked into her cowboy hat.

“I didn’t think much about it at the time, but (my look) gained a lot of attention,” recalled Freeman, noting that traditional Western wear at the time tended to skew toward the conservative side.

Freeman’s free-spirited style caught the eye of an Ariat representative at a Farmington, N.M., rodeo in 2009. The company called her a few months after she started her freshman year at Cal Poly and invited her to visit its Union City headquarters.

“They asked me what I could do. I said ‘Anything,’ ” Freeman recalled. “I thought, ‘How hard could that be?’ ”

So far, she has designed three collections for Ariat while studying agriculture communications at Cal Poly and competing on the university’s rodeo team. A fourth is slated to come out in August or September.

According to Freeman, each collection reflects different visual influences, from Ed Hardy-style tattoos to vintage cowgirl getups from the 1940s and ’50s.

She credits the tough Western women in her life with instilling her with an independent sense of style.

“I owe a lot of who I am and how I dress and the confidence I have to my mother and grandmother,” Freeman said, describing her mom as a mustang roper in high heels and her grandma as a hard-working ranch wife who embraced her feminine side. “She was there cooking for all these dirty cowboys, but she still had her pearls and her lipstick on.”

Freeman’s designs reflect that mix of fierce and flirty with bright colors, fun screen-printed patterns and deluxe details such as embroidery, crystals and leather fringe. She names her boots after friends and relatives — Bronco Billie, Cowgirl Kris, Señorita Sal and so on.

Freeman’s boots command about $400 a pair on Ariat’s website, while her rose-studded Rosita belt costs $170.

Asked how her education has helped her as an entrepreneur, Freeman said she’s taken Cal Poly’s “learning by doing” motto to heart.

“College has really taught me to set goals and achieve those goals,” said the designer, who turns 22 this week. “That’s something they really instill in you at Cal Poly.”