A love of horses and art led Leah Kaufmann on an unexpected journey to start an equestrian brand.
Kaufmann dabbled with dressage, but ultimately became hooked on eventing from her time spent in Pony Club. Those early experiences bonded Kaufmann to the equestrian lifestyle, carrying her admiration into adulthood.
The T-Shirt That Started Her Equestrian Brand
Like most new ideas, Dapplebay was launched when Kaufmann discovered a void in the market. She was on a quest to find cute horse shirts representing her favorite disciplines.
Creative by nature, she always loved to draw horses and make crafts, even before she received her degree in design at the University of Washington for visual communication design. She used her expert eye and whipped up a t-shirt that read “Live Free & Jump XC” with a horse jumping across the center.
Kaufmann casually posted the shirt on Facebook, which received an explosion of comments. The now-retired design was quickly featured online in Eventing Nation, giving Kaufmann exposure to like-minded customers. Based on the feedback, she began screen-printing more shirts, and Dapplebay was born in 2011.
A Hobby Turned Career
Professionally, Kaufmann had a successful career as a designer working with a marketing agency. She maintained her professional job in the beginning, while Dapplebay was on the side. She put energy into it as she felt like it over the years.
“It was a creative outlet that allowed me to have something that was my own outside of client work,” Kaufmann explains. Fast forward to the pandemic and the world changed, including Dapplebay. Kaufmann shifted her focus on becoming a profitable business instead of just a fun, creative venture.
With a change in mindset and sales, Dapplebay was thriving, allowing Kaufmann to leave her full-time job behind.
“2020 was a great year for e-commerce, and I grew a lot without intending to,” she says. “I took that momentum as an opportunity to decide that this could be my full-time thing.”
Community & Connection
While Kaufmann spends most of her time working solo, she enjoys having the opportunity to connect with customers whenever she sets up a booth at an event.
Having a booth at The Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover in 2021 was a career high and emotionally moving weekend for Kaufmann. She promotes retired racehorses with her apparel and owns two off-track Thoroughbreds, Pie and Ranger.
Dapplebay also made its first appearance at Land Rover Kentucky in 2022, which was another special moment of growth for the brand.
“I’ve met so many amazing women from having this little pop-up tent with cute shirts,” she says. “I quickly realized this wasn’t just about the t-shirts, it was about meeting people.”
In 2022 Kaufmann also launched The Barn Aisle, a Facebook group, with the intention of being a supportive online space for customers and fellow equestrians. The group celebrates a love for horses and creates a dialog online.
“People post when they have a great ride, when they have a question, when they’re struggling—the way the group responds is incredible,” she says.
The Brand’s Popular Equestrian Products
Dapplebay offers a unique selection of apparel, accessories and lifestyle products from stickers to journals. As a designer, coming up with ideas for new products is the exciting part of the job.
Kaufmann focuses on creating unique prints, patterns her customers can’t find anywhere else, and sizes for all equestrians. Recently, matching sets, including saddle pads and bonnets, have become popular.
“My goal is to create things that people love that they can take into their own lives and wear with their own style,” she explains.
When Kaufmann isn’t busy working, she spends time with the horses she keeps at home in a beautiful barn her husband built. Her dedication to the brand, her horses and a positive mindset has allowed her business to thrive.
“I think the hardest thing is remembering to enjoy it and enjoy the process,” she says. “I’ve been so caught up in working hard, I think it’s easy to miss the journey. Sometimes I wake up and I look around and realize we live on the property I dreamed of 10 years ago.”
Shop Dapplebay here.