By Britney Grover
Jill Slater isn’t afraid to start a challenge, whether it’s a new business or a new sport. “What a crazy idea I had when I turned 50 years old: I wanted to take up competitive show jumping!” she said. “It was a bit of a frightening idea, but I have never looked back. There have definitely been ups and downs in this sport, but my passion for horses and my competitive nature have brought me so much joy. I treasure my accomplishments and the amazing experiences along the way.”
That choice to pursue horses also planted the seed that would bloom into a company. Jill was in the floral industry “for a million years,” she says; she had a flower shop in Palo Alto, California, for over two decades, was “The Good Gardener” on ABC 7 News, San Francisco, and spent time traveling the country showing TV viewers how to decorate with flowers.
Before she grew a business, Jill grew plants for a living in the gardening industry.
“I literally fell into my business,” Jill said. “In 2015, Liz Hutchinson, my trainer with Jeanne Scalise of Avalon Hunter Jumpers, asked me to create hats—they were just hats then—for clients going to Thermal. The ladies and their RIATAS were a hit. Voila—a business was born.”
Jill says they were ‘just hats’ because now, she doesn’t call them anything but RIATAS: Like Kleenex isn’t just a tissue and Velcro certainly isn’t hook-and-loop tape, it’s not a sunhat, it’s a RIATA. In fact, one of her biggest challenges as an entrepreneur has been copycats, but the Good Gardener takes lemons and turns it into lemonade. “I’m from a family of retail and we don’t give up or give in,” Jill said. “In my mind, the first is always the best and I’m honored others want to copy RIATA and proud I ignited a product, a trend in the horse world.”
For Jill, being a woman entrepreneur isn’t a disadvantage; it’s the best part. “I like the way women think!” she said. “Let’s face it, most of my clients are women. And as a woman, I have an inside track to our way of thinking. When I design a custom RIATA, I ask my gals to create with me. Many have lots of great ideas, and the collaborative process is a win-win opportunity. It’s synergistic and I’ve made many friends along the way.”
Jill says the next best RIATA is always on her mind or on her head!
Jill is still surprised and ‘tickled’ when someone tells her they have a RIATA addiction and need to add a new one to their collection. “I’m always looking for the next best thing! The next best RIATA is constantly on my mind or on my head,” she said, “testing each one prior to release for comfort, fit, sun protection and style. RIATA is the best job I have I have ever had—and I’ve had many!”
As someone “very into skin” and who works as a surgical tech for a facial plastic surgeon when she’s not creating RIATAS, Jill loves that RIATAS offer maximum sun protection. Despite being a small company, located and created in Atherton and Petaluma, California, RIATA Designs supports other companies and charities through giveaways, show prizes, auctions and donations. But when asked about what great things have come out of the business, Jill replied, “That’s such an easy answer: it’s meeting all of you, the fabulous women who create the horse world, from vendors to clients and women entrepreneurs like myself. That is a true gift, a blessing; you all inspire me to be me. Therefore, RIATA’s motto: BE YOU. I truly believe we are all enough and we have what it takes.”
Jill with her husband, Steve Baumhoff, who goes by Stevie B, and their dogs, left to right, Calla Blue, Daphne and Julius.
Photo by Bethany Unwin
Her advice to women considering entrepreneurship echoes that sentiment. “My only advice: Think positive—of course you can. It’s an opportunity to step out of your comfort zone and show us—and yourself—what you’re made of,” she said. “My lifelong personal goal with whatever I choose to do is to start.”
For more information, visit riatadesigns.com
Photos by Shabnam Behzadpour, unless noted otherwise.