Re-printed from The Plaid Horse, September 24, 2019 Issue https://www.theplaidhorse.com/2019/09/24/an-capall-the-sun-shirt-that-cleans-our-planet-and-looks-perfect-all-day/
Pristine equestrian fashion, ocean cleanup, a mother daughter team living out their dream under the canopy of palm trees. It doesn’t seem like these things should go together, but at An Capall they are as tightly linked as you are to your horse.
An Capall equestrian may sell fashionable, high quality sun shirts, but they’re bigger than a clothing line. From the name, which means “of the horse” in Gaelic, to their commitment supporting women in business, founder Jessica Eaves Mathews’ company is much more than pretty clothing.
Jessica shares a childhood many of us can relate to—one filled with Breyers, every horse book under the sun, but no actual horse. “When my dad was growing up, my aunt was in rodeo. He didn’t totally love all the time at horse shows, and wasn’t that excited about me being involved in it,” she explained. That all changed when Jessica was eight, and her fellow horse-obsessed aunt came to stay while her parents went on a trip to Europe. “She decided it was a good idea to buy me a horse without them knowing,” Jessica laughed. “When they got back, there was a horse in my backyard.” She gives credit to her parents, though. Even with their hesitation, they let Jessica keep her new gelding under one condition—she had to do all of the work.
That early lesson in hard work has carried Jessica far. After riding as a youth as well as managing an Arabian breeding farm, she decided to get serious about her collegiate studies and took a break from the barn. She went to law school, building a successful career for herself in corporate law, but discovered her greatest talents in business. “I call myself a serial entrepreneur,” Jessica said. “Aside from horses, business is my real passion.”
An Capall is not her first company, nor her first clothing line. Working as a lawyer, Jessica found herself spending a lot of time on the golf course, but not loving her clothing options. After identifying a hole in the market, she started Grace and Game, a line of women’s golf attire meant to transfer directly from the boardroom to the fairway.
Still, a true equestrian can’t spend too much time golfing before they start to daydream about galloping horses over that perfectly manicured turf. “The year I turned 40, I realized I needed to get back into riding or I was never going to,” Jessica said. “So I bought myself a horse for my 40th birthday.” Now Jessica and her daughter, Kate, share their love of horses together.
Kate, a serious dressage competitor who has been ranked as high as 5th on the FEI Dressage World Youth Ranking in the United States, recently placed 6th individually in NAYC Young Riders as well as 4th in Young Riders at the 2019 US Dressage Festival of Champions, has been instrumental in bringing horses even more to the forefront of her family’s life. Searching for the best training for her talented daughter, Kate’s dressage career moved the family from New Mexico to Southern California when began boarding at Steffan and Shannon Peters’ barn, Arroyo Del Mar, in 2016. Now Jessica and Kate own and manage their own facility, Peridot Equestrian Center, in San Marcos, California. “This life is way beyond my childhood dreams,” Jessica said. “It’s not something we ever thought we could do, and I keep saying to Kate ‘If I could go back and tell that little 8-year-old what lay ahead for her, she wouldn’t have believed it.’ We feel really fortunate every single day.”
This move to Southern California’s elite dressage world is what inspired An Capall’s creation. “When Kate started getting really serious about dressage, we found the style different from what we were used to. You tuck your shirt in, wear a belt, wear proper breeches and polish your boots every day,” Jessica said. At the time, that was new to the lifelong equestrians. When they started to look for fashionable schooling attire for Kate, they found that everything sort of looked the same.
Just as she had years earlier with golfing attire, Jessica saw a hole in the market and her brain started clicking. “I wondered if the Grace and Game polo shirts would work as riding shirts,” she explained. Shortly after the move in 2016, she brought some inventory to the barn to share and quickly found that riders loved the shirts. It was then that An Capall morphed from an idea into a business. All Jessica had to do next was find the perfect fabric.
Since riding is a much more physically exerting sport than golf (and full of treat hungry horses always ready to wipe slobbery mouths on your sleeve), it was important to find the perfect, performance oriented fabric. Not only that, but Jessica wanted to ensure her products weren’t going to hinder our planet with their production. “Earth is the only planet with horses!” she laughed. “I didn’t want to go anywhere else, so I focused on finding high-performance fabric that was also good for the planet.”
The search for the perfect, eco-chic fabric led Jessica to one made from recycled water bottles. Single use plastics, like water bottles, take 450 years to break down and up to 90% of the world’s plastic items are never recycled. To turn bottles into luxurious fabric, the manufacturer takes flakes of clear plastic and converts them into small pellets, which are then extruded and spun into polyester yarn. In addition to being eco-friendly, An Capall’s fabric has UPF 50 sun protection built in. A sustainable treatment made from crushed up shrimp shells makes it moisture wicking and anti-bacterial, but don’t worry if you’re allergic to shellfish—the treatment is 100% hypoallergenic. Anyone can enjoy a soft, wrinkle-free sun shirt that not only feels great while riding, but also helps the planet. Plus, a portion of An Capall’s net proceeds go towards ocean cleanup efforts.
“The more we’ve used the fabric, the more we love it,” Jessica said of the material. “Not saying that I actually have,” she hesitated to admit, “but you can wear the shirts for 3 or 4 days in a row of really hard riding and sweat, and you’re not going to stink.” Anyone who has spent a long weekend at the barn riding and bathing multiple horses before collapsing on top of a tack trunk with a bottle of water can appreciate that! Even under those conditions, they’re the perfect shirts for people who want to look tidy all day long. “You don’t want to arrive in the morning looking great, but look like you’ve been run over by a truck at the end of the day. These shirts look the same all day. They don’t lose their shape, pill or stretch out,” Jessica added.
Of course, Jessica’s conscientious attention to detail wasn’t limited to fabric. The An Capall team devoted a year and a half of development to perfect their long sleeve polo for the equestrian marketplace. Noticing that fit is a challenge for many equestrians when it comes to other brands, Jessica wanted theirs right from the start. “We went through five to six fit model sessions,” she explained. “It’s that important to me.” This diligence means that An Capall shirts don’t bunch up or look sloppy or boxy on riders. “That’s not the look we want when we ride,” she said. Customers agree, and find the shirts look flattering on a wide variety of body types. Available from XXS to XL, the shirts offer a size inclusive option to many different bodies.
The final piece of the An Capall puzzle was something else Jessica feels passionate about—manufacturing in the United States. While it’s tempting to move production overseas to cut costs, that wasn’t a compromise she was willing to make. “I’m really proud that I fought to keep manufacturing here and didn’t let myself get talked into taking the easier and cheaper route,” she said. All shirts are made in Los Angeles, California at a factory owned by a fellow woman entrepreneur. “I’ve been to the factory, and there’s all these individuals hand sewing shirts in LA. I feel so good about creating jobs in the US.”
An Capall is a 100% women owned business, and remains committed to supporting women. Working side-by-side with her daughter, Jessica knows her efforts are building more than just an apparel company. “It’s been pretty amazing to have her be here and learning from me,” she said. “I feel like it’s a legacy that I’ll be able to pass onto her. Someday she’ll be able to run the company, and I hope that it helps fund her dreams.”
For both Kate and Jessica, the future looks bright. Customers love the shirts, raving about how they blend unique, fashionable details with the durability equestrians need. Hunter/jumpers, dressage riders and eventers alike enjoy the clean lines, superb fit and technical fabric from each design. “You’ll have no problem looking chic in the barn or on the street with the classy and elegant style,” rider Aleyna Dunn said of the sun shirts.
With such extensive research and development behind them, the task now is to continue the standard of excellence An Capall was built on—something Jessica’s work ethic and history has thoroughly prepared her for. The company plans to launch accessories in the near future, and will be rolling out interesting and beautiful variations of their original polo style. In the meantime, Jessica is enthusiastic about her beautiful blend of business and horses. “I know what it’s like to go through the daily drudgery of corporate life, how uninspiring and hard it is to stay engaged in that world,” she said. “To do a business that centers around our love of horses is the most incredible thing in the world. We can’t believe this is our life, and what we get to do every day.”
To learn more about An Capall and pick up your own eco-chic shirt, visit ancapallequestrian.com or find them on social media www.Instagram.com/ancapallequestrian
About the Author: Lauren holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of California Riverside, and is a lifelong rider and writer. Beyond equestrian journalism, she explores body positivity, mental health and addiction through personal narrative. She enjoys showing on the local hunter/jumper circuit in Austin, Texas.