The cars halt at the stop sign between Grand Avenue and Perimeter Road, idling as clumps of students pass by on the way to class. Shoes hit the pavement as the students cross, soles hitting the alternating white stripes. Converse. Vans. Combat boots. Rainbows. Moccasins.
And something else. Something unconventional. Red cowboy boots with teal stitching, fringe hanging off the sides. Adorned with yellow flowers, and bejeweled with multicolor rhinestones. Not your typical, everyday footwear — even for an agriculture student.
These boots could only belong to agricultural communication senior Quincy Freeman. In fact, they are part of her upcoming fall line, which has yet to hit stores.
Freeman has married her love of rodeo and passion for fashion by designing her own brand of cowboy boots and apparel.
Cal Poly student. Fashion designer. Rodeo team captain. Business woman. Freeman wears many different hats, but her favorite is a custom cowgirl hat, complete with her signature red rose.
Quincy’s cowgirl background
A self-proclaimed authentic cowgirl, Freeman is no stranger to the ranching and rodeo world. Her mom is from one of the first ranching families in Nevada, and her dad is from a ranching family in Oregon.
Freeman started rodeo in high school and fell in love with the sport. In fact, one of the reasons she came to Cal Poly was for the rodeo team. Her dad and uncles all attended Cal Poly and were on the team, so it has become a tradition, she said.
“She takes her family’s roots in the rodeo and cattle communities very seriously, and she makes a point to carry on her family’s heritage through her designs,” agricultural communication senior and Freeman’s friend Malorie Bankhead said.
Freeman has been team captain of the women’s rodeo team for two years and has qualified for the College National Finals for Rodeo. With the sport running through her veins, it’s no surprise Freeman views the people in rodeo like family.
“It is a small world, really, and wherever you go, you can make ties with people you know in common,” Freeman said.
Freeman met some of her closest friends competing because they shared her love of the sport and the animals involved.
“They are some of the most kind people and selfless people,” she said. “Always putting their animals before themselves.”
But this cowgirl isn’t afraid to ride in style — a quality she attributes to strong female figures in her life.
“I always loved clothes and dressing up,” she said. “I kind of get that from my nona and mom. They were always kind of fashion icons growing up for me.”
Not only did they inspire her fashion sense, but were also role models who lived the Western lifestyle.
“Growing up, I always looked to my nona and mom because they were a perfect example of what a cowgirl is,” Freeman said.
What exactly is Freeman’s definition of a cowgirl?
“A cowgirl is someone who is tough, as strong as any cowboy,” she said. “She can rope and ride like a man, but is also feminine and isn’t afraid to wear lipstick and rope a steer.”
Freeman embraces both sides of the cowgirl attitude through competing in rodeo competions and designing. Ever since she started painting her own belts and horse tacks for competitions in high school, she’s been all about designing rodeo apparel and supplies.
“I sort of combined my two passions,” Freeman said. “I wasn’t really thinking about a design career or future, I was thinking about what girls in high school think about.”
Her journey with Ariat
Freeman’s design ability was discovered by an Ariat representative who was doing trend research at the national high school rodeo finals in Farmington, N.M. Ariat is an American manufacturer that specializes in boots and equestrian supplies. Founded in 1993, Ariat has now expanded to an international market and is a favorite with country music stars, including Josh Turner and Blake Shelton.
With Freeman’s signature black cowgirl hat adorned with a fresh red rose, lipstick, jewelry and a custom, hand-painted belt, she stood out from the other competitors in their nondescript leather.
Freeman’s roommate and friend since high school, animal science senior Alanna Sing, will testify to Freeman’s innate fashion sense.
“She is the sweetest person I know, who has an eye for fashion and loves to stand out from the crowd,” Sing said. “She is a trendsetter, not only in fashion, but also in her character and how she lives her life.”
After sending Ariat some sample belt designs, the company flew her up to Union City for a meeting about her potential as a designer.
“I didn’t know really what they were thinking, so I took my little handmade portfolio I slapped together — I didn’t even know how to make one on the computer yet,” Freeman said.
Ariat offered her a contract at the head of her freshman year. Now, Freeman is at work on her fifth line of boots and rodeo apparel. Freeman’s talent lies in her ability to mix fashion and function together.
“Girls before didn’t have competition cowboy boots that had roses or spearhead on the toe,” she said.
Freeman’s designs are now in Western wear apparel stores and high-end fashion stores around the country.
Her design process
While her purpose in creating fashionable rodeo clothing has not changed, the ways in which she designs have developed in these past four years.
She started out by hand drawing everything with paint on leather and paper samples. The company would then vectorize the images on a computer so the designs could be translated into something Ariat could mass produce.
Now, Freeman has learned to use Adobe Illustrator, InDesign and Photoshop to transpose her ideas and inspirations from her head to the computer screen.
“What is so crazy about Ariat is that they have the resources to do anything I imagine,” she said. “I have been given a really great opportunity.”
The process to go from screen to market is a long one. Ariat works on an 18-month timeline, from initial concept and design to lining store shelves.
“In the fashion industry, it is kind of hard because you have to know what is going to be ‘in’ 18 months from now, so that is a challenge,” she said.
Freeman begins by designing at Cal Poly. She sends the InDesign files to Ariat for tweaking, sometimes modifying the colors she uses so that they are easier to replicate. Then Freeman sees and accepts the first mock-up of her work. Freeman also attends the product launch and marketplace where vendors and wholesalers can buy her boots for their stores.
“You know, I am sitting in school in San Luis, drawing up my sketches in InDesign, and it doesn’t really hit me until 18 months later when I am in the showroom and there’s my boot with the ‘Q’ on it,” she said.
The Quincy Freeman brand logo, a simple “Q,” is located on all the boots she has designed. It is the same brand she uses for her cattle and horses.
“There are people that have been working in the industry for 50 years and they don’t get their name on anything — they are silent designers,” she said. “It’s cool that I get to have my name and my logo on all my boots.”
Four years, four lines
Through the four different lines she has created so far, Freeman’s design aesthetic has continued to develop.
“I sort of reinvent myself a little bit each time,” Freeman said.
Her first line was reminiscent of the tattoo-inspired Ed Hardy look. It had a more young and youthful vibe to it, she said. The second line was all about strong women, with designs including a Spanish señorita, a Native American woman and an all-American cowgirl.
“It was my tribute to the women of the West,” Freeman said. “I think a lot of times the cowboys and men are often looked up to and glorified. I think the women are most often overlooked.”
There has been one constant, however, in every line Freeman has designed: bright and vibrant colors.
“She comes up with an idea that will stand out and that people will love, then combines various ideas to create a unique design,” Sing said. “For instance, she has combined her Spanish heritage in the form of sarape pattern with bright red roses and crystals to add sparkle.”
Freeman sees her boots around school and during rodeo competitions. Some of these are friends, but others are complete strangers. Freeman attended a Cuesta College class this past fall and ran into her design in an unexpected place.
“I went to the bathroom and in the stall right next to me there was a girl wearing my boots. I got out before she did and was washing my hands waiting for her to get out because I wanted to see who she was,” Freeman said with a laugh.
And when Freeman’s friends see her boots at a rodeo competition, they make sure to tell Freeman about it and maybe even send her a picture of them.
“I don’t own any of her pieces yet, but when I travel and see someone wearing something that Quincy designed, I always stop them to tell them that Quincy is a friend of mine and that her design looks great on them,” Bankhead said.
Her fun patterns and colors appeal to a wide range of girls, even rodeo celebrities. Trevor Brazile’s wife, Shana, will be a spokesperson for Freeman’s boots as she is starting to get more involved with the sport of rodeo. Brazile is known as the richest cowboy in the sport of rodeo with nine all-around world titles under his belt.
“I always looked up to the rodeo stars and now I know the majority of them and a few of them even wear my boots,” Freeman said.
School vs. design
With business responsibilities, school work, designing and rodeo, some students might not believe she has the time to do everything. Freeman says it’s all because of time management planning and through the patient understanding of her professors.
Freeman takes mostly 12-unit quarters because of her hectic schedule, which includes designing, traveling to promote her boots and competing on the rodeo team.
“Just last week, I was at a fashion show in Texas to promote my boots, and I had to reschedule a test so that I could attend,” Freeman said.
Originally, Freeman wanted to major in art and design, but her parents encouraged her to major in something they believed was more business oriented. Agricultural communication gave her the background to balance her designing with the business tasks expected of her, agricultural communication professor and Freeman’s academic adviser Scott Vernon said.
“She is able to understand her communication channels — how she is able to promote and market her line, her brand,” Vernon said. “She has developed her own brand in the marketplace and that takes talent and technical skills as well.”
Vernon’s thoughts on Quincy’s future are bright.
“I think you will continue to hear from Quincy even after she graduates,” Vernon said. “She is a genuine and sincere young lady. There is no ego involved, she is just enjoying what she is doing and that really resonates with her market.”
While Quincy is finishing up her fifth line and concentrating on graduating in winter quarter next year, she is not quite sure what the future holds for her. Some possibilities include continuing to design through Ariat, product management, marketing or even starting her own business.
One thing is for certain, she wants to stay in the Western fashion industry.
“I just never thought you could make a career out of something you loved so much,” Freeman said.