By Britney Grover
Portraits by Isabel J. Kurek
Cathy Sacher founded Essex Classics in 1985.
Cathy Sacher knows show shirts: She’s been wearing them even longer than she’s been making them. She began taking riding lessons at 10 years old, showing locally through her teenage years. “I got a taste for the ‘A’ show circuit during my college years at Duke,” Cathy said. “Over 40 years later, I’m still immersed in the sport and own four show horses and two retirees.”
After earning an MBA and pursuing a brief career in banking, Cathy’s passion for horses and her career combined in 1985. “My father and grandfather were in the shirt manufacturing business and crafted shirts for the finest brands in the U.S. and abroad,” she said. “Lifelong friends Pat Dodson and Keith Hastings of Cloud’s Harbor Farm, whom I also trained with, recognized an opportunity for a new brand of well-tailored show shirts and knew that I could fill the need.”
Since its creation, Essex Classics has been a leading innovator in show shirts, setting industry trends. “We were the first to introduce state-of-the art performance fabrics, and created a sensation with our revolutionary hidden-snap collar design, eliminating the hassle of separate chokers—that were often lost or forgotten,” Cathy said. “Essex has consistently balanced timeless equestrian style with modern-day technology for a comfortable difference that equestrians can both see and feel.”
Cathy said the best part about being a woman entrepreneur has been creating a company that is conducive to the type of life she has chosen to lead, which includes riding and showing.
Through the decades, Cathy has not only continued to stay on top of trends but to weather every storm—sometimes literal. “In December I didn’t know if we would receive our entire winter circuit shipment after we were notified that the vessel carrying our shirts encountered rough seas while on its way to New York: 80 containers on board were damaged, and another 80 went overboard,” she said. “Then the vessel was unable to physically arrive at the port because of all the congestion there. It took another month before we finally received our shipment.”
Supply chain issues and price increases since the COVID-19 pandemic have also been challenging, especially since Cathy likes to make show shirts as affordable as possible. Through it all, Cathy is motivated by the demands of horse sport to innovate and design new shirts with ever-expanding practical applications.
She still shows herself in the Amateur/Owner 3’3” and Adults, and just finished another successful winter season in Wellington. At WEF 2021, both leading international show jumper Erynn Ballard and “R” judge, rider and trainer Rachel Kennedy had an idea for Cathy: a black, technical fabric shirt for them to wear under their safety vests. “The shirts were launched a few months later, and have been a sensation!” Cathy said. “We now offer blue and a cool grey shade in this jumper collection of show shirts—and another new style is on the horizon for later this year. My goals are to continue adapting the design of our show shirts to meet riders’ needs.”
Cathy competing at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida, in the Amateur Owner Hunters.
“Essex has always stayed current in the industry, which puts them a step ahead,” Erynn said. Five-time Olympian Anne Kursinski, who has worn Essex shirts for years, also appreciates Cathy’s attention to both the practical and aesthetic aspects, calling them “cool and great looking.”
Cathy appreciates that Olympians and top riders love Essex shirts, but for her, that’s not even the best part of the business. “Supporting rescues such as Danny & Ron’s Rescue and the Peeps Foundation, as well as charities for Parkinson’s and leukemia, have been great developments,” she said. “Also, supporting the environmental conservation organization Green Is the New Blue.”
But for Cathy, the very best part about being a woman entrepreneur has been creating a company that is conducive to the type of life she has chosen to lead. “I knew that I didn’t fit into a corporate environment, which I experienced working in banking,” she said. “Having a flexible lifestyle while raising a family and enjoying my horses was important to me.”
For women hoping to do the same, Cathy’s advice is simple. “Trust your instincts, create relationships to build your business, and persevere,” she concluded.
Erynn Ballard wearing a black, technical fabric Essex shirt that can be worn under safety vests. Erynn and Rachel Kennedy gave Cathy the idea for the shirt.
For more information, visit essexclassics.com
Photos by Isabel J. Kurek, www.isabeljkurekphotography.com