With a business called Cowgirl Swank one would expect bling and Cheyenne Glade Wilson doesn’t disappoint. Her one of a kind, hair-on-hide, Swarovski crystals hand-decorated caps are fabulous headgear for Western women.
Wilson knows ranching and rodeo from firsthand experience. She was raised on a cattle ranch in southeastern Montana, where the family also raised and trained quarter horses. She naturally fell into rodeoing. After she won state high school titles in breakaway roping, goat tying and pole bending, she received a full ride rodeo scholarship to Dawson Community College in Glendive, Mont., where she studied business. Wilson worked as a makeup artist for Estee Lauder and later attended cosmetology school which led her into managing retail outlets and day spas. She and her husband moved to a ranch on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwestern South Dakota. All of this experience led her to develop products to beautify ranch and rodeo women as they go about their daily lives when they need caps and visors. Wilson began Cowgirl Swank in March 2007 and with the birth of her son slowing her progress, it was September 2010 when she got into it full time. She has sold well over 5,000 caps in the five years she’s been in business.
“We feature baseball caps, military-style caps, visors and caps for young cowgirls,” said Wilson. “Designing for individuals is a highlight of my company. Once a customer selects a style and color of cap, I pair the hide that is best suited to compliment the cap. For instance the brown brindle hide looks the best on the brown caps. The hides I buy are very thin with short hair, from Brazilian cattle. American cattle have thicker hides, too thick for my purposes, and long hair, which is more difficult to work with as they have to be trimmed and just like cutting hair, a mistake can be ruinous. Sometimes I have a Longhorn hide with the hair a chocolate brown. Zebra and jaguar prints are also used but they are stenciled hides, not naturally grown. The hide company uses off white hide that is dyed to replicate zebra stripes and the jaguar prints.”
Wilson orders whole hides ranging from medium to extra, extra large, some of which are 40 to 50 square feet. She cuts them at her home ranch barn to alleviate stray hair from floating around in the workplace. One of her several contract workers glues the hair in place. “Each custom cap is made special and is created as the order comes in and everything we do to the cap is done by hand. I did the designs when we started and now I have a worker who does many of them, except for the brands which I still do. I take the orders and talk with the customers,” continues Wilson. “You need an artistic flair to develop a design with the crystals. It’s very tricky to use round crystals to look jagged and show square edges, such as is required with a block font. The crystals are laser cut in Austria and they each have glue on the back. When I apply the heat press to them, the glue melts into the fabric and the crystals are secure. We also add our own tag inside the cap as a finishing touch.”
Caps come distressed from the manufacturer to give them that broken-in look. A special order is required if a customer wants to differ from that standard.
Crossed pistols design is the number one seller, the cross cap is in huge demand, patriotic and barrel racer caps are very popular, as well as caps for the little girls.
Clinton Anderson with Downunder Horsemanship was one of her first big clients. Cowgirl Swank did 1,100 caps for his company alone last year. Last fall Murdoch’s Ranch and Home Supply put the caps in nine stores and re-ordered three times. Now they have expanded the styles offered and will sell the caps in all 22 of their stores which are located in Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and Montana. National Ropers Supply and Taubert’s also sell the caps. While these caps are sold in larger quantities to stores, they are still hand finished. Stores order in several different designs to allow for individuals tastes.
With her retail background, Wilson has a great flair for marketing. She utilizes Facebook where as of this writing she has 8,509 friends. She researched the family brand of Renee Drummond, www.thePioneerWoman.com, made her a cap and sent it to her. Drummond posted photos of her wearing the cap. Wilson has also sent caps to Susie McEntire Eaton and her sister Reba McEntire. Wilson had the honor of seeing her caps worn during last winter’s Miss Rodeo America pageant and fashion show.
“Great American Country featured the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) last year and will do so again this year. Before the rodeo starts every night, GAC runs a half hour segment with Suzanne Alexander, I gave her a cap and she loved it. Suzanne has worn it during Extreme Bull programs on GAC. I’ve been in talks with the television executives about having Suzanne wear a different cap each night on her future segments from the NFR,” said Wilson. “We do T-shirts and jackets but they are promotional items; we don’t get into them in a big way.”
Wilson sponsors Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) Team Swank, which includes professional barrel racer, Nikki Steffes of Vale, S.D. and Jenny Proue Gilbert of Worden, Mont. Wilson grew up near another WPRA contender, Lisa Lockhart, in Montana and they are currently “next door” neighbors in South Dakota. Beyond rodeo and horses, Cowgirl Swank has filled orders for caps to aspiring car racers’ wives back in Pennsylvania, and to motocross, golf, soccer and tennis players.
In May 2012, Wilson moved the business to Chadron, Neb., a college town not far from their ranch, to take advantage of a larger labor pool. It also increased her access to more timely service by shippers.
In addition to various retailers the caps can be seen and ordered at www.CowgirlSwank.com, on Facebook, www.MadeInSouthDakota.com and on www.ETSY.com. ❖