By Amy Hempe
Portraits by Bianca McCarty
McKinley Harvey developed her work ethic at an early age. “When I was a little girl, I’d get up at 5 a.m. to take care of my horse. Nobody else in my family rode, but I knew this was what I wanted,” she said.
That determination has stayed with McKinley, who at 24 is not only an equestrian but also uses her fashion skills as a boot designer. McKinley is effusive while talking about her business, The Perfect Fit Saddlery. “There are things that can be tedious sometimes — that’s just business — but mostly it’s great,” she said. “I’m so lucky that I get to do this.”
The Dream Job
McKinley keeps her horses, Q, a Hanoverian, and J.J., a Dutch Warmblood, at Klein Ranch in Franktown, Colorado. The farm would be most equestrians’ happy place, and McKinley is no exception. “My job is to help my clients bring their dreams to reality,” she said, happily displaying her leather and fabric swatches along with boots she has designed.
Sitting indoors in the comfortable lounge of the main stable, occasional neighs punctuate the serenity. McKinley shows off her wares that accompany her in her truck wherever she goes. How does a girl from a non-horsey family end up in her twenties with two beautiful show horses land in a horse-centric career?
“I just loved horses my entire life. Maybe it was in my blood!” she said. “Actually, both sides of my family — my grandparents and great-grandparents worked cattle and had horses. In fact, my great grandfather rode as a stunt man for John Wayne!”
Neither of her parents had much interest in horses, yet moving their family to Castle Rock, Colorado, proved vital to getting their daughter into the equine world. Riding trails and barns are scattered among the mountain scenery, making horses difficult to avoid.
“Our neighborhood had a community barn where I went to riding camps, and our neighbors had a barn they didn’t use,” she said. “I begged and begged my mom. Finally she adopted two horses — one for me, and one for my sister, who lost interest within a couple of weeks. I ended up with two horses to take care of as a seven-year-old. I was totally submerged in that life and haven’t been without horses since.”
McKinley’s company, The Perfect Fit, partners with the Italian-based DeNiro Boot Company as its Colorado-area representative and fitter. McKinley works with clients to custom design their own boots for schooling or the show ring. Her boots can be designed for several disciplines, from dressage to show jumping to Western to saddle seat. Classic and conservative brushed leather is always a possibility, but generally clients go to her to have more fun.
“We have laser-etched leather with either pre-made designs, or a client-made design. It’s whatever the client wants,” McKinley said.
Periwinkle leather boots with your initials etched into them? No problem. Painted floral or fuchsia piping? Up to you. Metal studs decorously placed near the top? Absolutely.
Where McKinley comes in is with helping the client realize their vision. “I can sketch out what they want, but I can also help them hone their ideas so that the finished product is something beautiful.”
The finished products that she helps bring to fruition exhibit both caprice and elegance. They are at once playful yet chic. While perhaps a bit too fashion-forward for the conservative hunter-jumper or dressage show rings, McKinley still believes equestrians should have their dream boots.
Despite driving all over Colorado and the neighboring states, McKinley asserts, “I really don’t feel like I’m working most of the time. I get to come to places like this every day. And often clients and I will sit down over a glass of wine and talk horses. And we end up designing these awesome boots.
“It’s really about the customers and having this super one-on-one connection with them. We’re building their dream boots. For a lot of people, these are their dream boots. They’ve been dreaming about them for years, and they couldn’t make it happen on their own.” McKinley exhales and smiles. “There is the business side always. But this is where you get to have fun and be a little crazy.”
Much of her company’s success depends on word of mouth. McKinley also works as a saddle fitter and designer with Equipe and Amerigo, as one of the few representatives not based on either U.S. coast. Meeting clients for fittings is a perfect opportunity to market her boots.
“I’ll wear these boots out when fitting a saddle, and people definitely notice,” she said. “Then one person will tell another person, and they’ll also want a pair of custom-designed boots.”
McKinley also noted how European dressage riders love schooling in DeNiro boots. “They’re doing fun stuff over there with schooling boots. A lot of our fashion in the horse world comes from them. People here will fly to Europe to get a horse and will see a girl in amazing tall, lace-up, bright yellow boots, and they’ll think ‘I want those.’ And they can get them here, which they couldn’t do before.”
McKinley’s boots also cross over from the equestrian world into everyday life. Taking out a pair of black brushed-leather combat-style boots that she designed, she points out how they are perfect for a night out in Denver Lower Downtown (or LoDo to the locals). McKinley has begun designing fashionable sneakers as well and hopes that her designs show up in various Fashion Weeks around the world — New York, London, Paris or Milan.
She hopes to bring more of a hip and wearable element to the boot line. Starting with a basic shape existing in DeNiro’s lines, McKinley plays with the texture and overall aesthetic, hoping to create a youthful and more urban everyday style for a younger generation that still gets to be tailored to individuals.
The horse-crazy girl turned savvy businesswoman steps outside and looks at the paddock where her horses stand. “I can’t believe that this is my life and this is what I get to do every day. It’s just amazing.”
For more information, visit www.theperfectfitsaddlery.com
Photos by Bianca McCarty, biancamccartyequinephoto.com