When Hannah Childs’ kindergarten teacher first met her and asked the little girl what she liked to do for fun, Hannah told her teacher that she rode horses. “My mom and my dad looked at each other like, ‘What?’ because I had only ridden a pony at the fair. I just decided I rode horses.” Hannah, a native of Santa Barbara, California, now grown up, newly engaged and the founder of the brand Style Stock, displayed the same level of conviction as she determined her future career.
“In high school, I saw “Project Runway” on TV and said to my mom, ‘That’s what I want to do.’” So in 2013, Hannah launched the equestrian accessories line Style Stock as a passion project on the side while working her day job as fashion designer for UGG. Over the last year, Style Stock has had a presence at WEF, Longines LA Masters, and at the Kentucky Three-Day event. In addition to stock ties, now Style Stock belts can be purchased at 60 retail locations across the United States.
Meeting Harry Potter
Shortly after Hannah’s kindergarten proclamation, Laurie Counihan-Childs, Hannah’s mom, opened the door for her daughter to experience the joy of horses. “I felt like if that’s what came up as something that made her heart sing, let’s let her do it again. I had a friend who rode, so I called her and she walked Hannah around the ring on her horse. That was it — she took off from there and never looked back.”
At first, Hannah rode once a week, then twice, and as her passion intensified she started leasing a horse — a 7-year-old Thoroughbred. The horse named Harry Potter had been turned out to pasture because no one at the ranch enjoyed riding him due to his reputation for being wild. Hannah liked him, however. “I was this tall, lanky kid and the trainer thought I’d be good for him because I could stick on him.” A year and a half later, Hannah’s mother surprised her at Christmas by purchasing the horse.
Laurie said, “I was not into horses at all growing up, so this was all new to me. I was scared buying Harry for sure. Everyone, including the vet and her trainer, said, ‘Don’t do it.’ But Hannah was in love with Harry and he was an incredible athlete and they paired so beautifully. So, just before Christmas, I wrapped a huge red ribbon around him and we all cried. I think being with, caring for and riding horses along with competing, for Hannah, filled the enormous void in her heart after her dad passed away. She was only 7 [at the time].”
From Horse Shows to Trade Shows
Hannah and Harry took up eventing and competed through the Intermediate level. Meanwhile, the future fashion designer, inspired by “Project Runway,” started creating outfits for her dogs as well as aprons on an old sewing machine. This came as no surprise to Laurie, as Hannah learned to knit in elementary school and had a show at one of the Santa Barbara art galleries when she was about 7. “She also had a jewelry business with real gems and a gluten free baking business, and I know there were more. She was an entrepreneur from the start,” said Laurie.
While still in high school, Hannah had a part time job as a design assistant for a local jewelry company, Waxing Poetic, owned by Patti Pagliei. The designer-in-training began doing order fulfillment and customer service for a couple of months, and then organized sample sales. When the owner saw Hannah wanted to have hands-on experience in creating the designs, she gave Hannah the opportunity not only to design, but to travel to New York for a trade show on behalf of Waxing Poetic. Hannah was only 16.
“Even though Hannah was young at the time, she was poised and had a real curiosity about design, process and the business. I recognized my younger self in her, I suppose, and trusted her implicitly to represent the brand,” said Patti.
Hannah’s mom, Laurie, traveled with her to New York and recalls the stressful start of her teen’s trade show debut. “There was a huge storm and we were driving to LAX and the 101 Freeway was closed, and we took back streets all the way to the airport only to find out our flight was cancelled. They rerouted us through Washington D.C. and Hannah had all the products in big duffel bags. We were so concerned either us or the products wouldn’t make it there on time, but we did.” Once Laurie saw her daughter at the Waxing Poetic booth at that trade show, she knew Hannah was in her element.
Reflecting on how the opportunity to go to New York affected her, Hannah said, “I think that’s why my first trade show for Style Stock was successful — because I had some idea of what to expect,” Now she attends the twice-annual American Equestrian Trade Association International Trade Show in Philadelphia at the Oaks.
After that, Hannah applied for early admission to Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles where she entered the fashion design program and earned her associate’s degree. She then went to work for UGG as associate designer of lifestyle products.
Style Stock sprouted in 2013 when Hannah made a stock tie out of silk brocade as a gift for a friend. “She loved it so much she said, ‘You should sell these.’” Hannah made more stock ties and sold them just for fun on the weekends over the first year and a half while she worked her day job.
“My business didn’t grow a whole lot that first year, but I learned what customers were wanting.” Hannah started working her Style Stock job full time at the beginning of 2016.
Style Stock stock ties are classic and traditional with a modern feminine twist. “We have a lot of white stock ties: white pique embroidered with white horses, white pique with brocades with white satin piping and other luxurious fabrics,” Hannah said. Riders can buy untied or pre-tied stock ties and feel good knowing that all the stock ties are manufactured in California with fair labor and fair trade practices.
In addition, “All of our fabrics are brushed cotton-wool blends and all backed with a material to hold the shape and volume. We put a lot of energy into the details and fabric choices.” In 2017 Hannah added belts and scarves to the stock tie lineup along with socks, bracelets, leather goods and cold weather accessories.
Taking Stock, Present and Future
These days Hannah and now-23-year-old Harry Potter partner together on trail rides and Hannah still goes to three-day events, but this time as a vendor. When she’s not working a 50-to-60-hour week, Hannah might be working out — she loves weight lifting. And she sews. “I still like to design and make my own clothes.”
The secret to the success of Style Stock and Hannah’s rising career as an equestrian entrepreneur can be summed up in her former boss Patti Pagliei’s assessment. “She gets things done, never complains, and is willing to do what it takes — even if that means packing boxes in the warehouse or running around to pick up samples. She understands that one must work hard and be in action to create opportunity for oneself. And she has always been wise beyond her years. I love working with Hannah, because I learn so much from her!”
“Patti was and still is a huge mentor and great friend of both Hannah and me,” Laurie said. “She showed Hannah the art of being a woman in business.” And Hannah has successfully blended her creativity, horse passion and love for fashion into a career that is just her style.
For more information, visit stylestock.co.
About the writer: Susan Friedland-Smith of North Tustin, California, is a middle school teacher and equestrian lifestyle blogger at Saddle Seeks Horse. Check out her blog saddleseekshorse.com or follow on Instagram @SaddleSeeksHorse
Photos courtesy of Hannah Childs, unless noted otherwise
Belt and stock tie photos by theproductphotographystudio.com