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Fed up with never finding jeans that fit, barrel racer Lisa Bollin decided to design her own— and they had to work both in and out of the saddle. A decade later, her company, Cowgirl Tuff, is still going strong.
Cowgirl Tuff is more than an apparel brand. Just ask any of its raving fans, and they’ll tell you it has come to signify the essence of a cowgirl.
“It breaks down to a spirit of working all day, then coming home and taking care of horses till all hours of the night,” says Cowgirl Tuff CEO and Director of Design, Lisa Bollin, who has a love of horses and barrel racing. “It’s a passion for a horse or whatever you’re trying to achieve. It’s growing up in Minnesota where it gets to be 20 below and you’re breaking ice. And then you’re baling hay when it’s 95 and hot and humid and people are looking at you like you’re crazy. It’s a never give-up spirit.”
“I didn’t see anything that was relating to where I was—fashion and barrel racing,” explains Bollin. “I wanted something sportier.” After that trip, Bollin returned to Minnesota and painted some of her Cowgirl Tuff t-shirts as Christmas gifts for her friends. “They loved them so much that they showed other people, and I started making more. It just spun from there,” remembers Bollin.
Bollin adds that her initial products—screen-printed t-shirts, sweatshirts, yoga sets, tank tops and ball caps—were something that nobody else was doing at the time. She drove from Minnesota to places like Augusta, Ga., Globe, Ariz., and Reno, Nev., to sell her apparel at barrel racing events.
“Everywhere I went I was selling out, so I thought I must have something different here that customers are really looking for,” says Bollin. “They’re like me—they want something more comfortable, yet fashionable at the same time.”
Cowgirl Tuff blossomed from there, and in 2004 Bollin started selling her products wholesale to 18 stores. Now, you can find the leading Western brand in more than 1,500 retail shops in the United States, Canada and Australia. There is even a Cowgirl Tuff storefront at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., and another new store just opened in Saint Cloud, Minn.
“I had no idea what I was doing, I just knew what I liked and didn’t like!” exclaims Bollin who dreamed of a pair of jeans that offered a higher rise in the back and a longer length for comfort in the saddle. “I came up with my own size charts. I just really wanted to make a great-fitting jean.”
It only took a few prototypes for Bollin to land on a design that worked for her — and for hundreds of other women. The line offers 52 custom sizes with 13 waist options and four different lengths. Bollin says the secret to creating great jeans— whether it’s the signature unBELIEVEable fit, the new Just Tuff style or anything any between—is using quality denim. “Without that, it’s just another pair of jeans that don’t fit,” shares Bollin. “The premium denim that we use is the key—it’s what holds it all together.”
As for what holds the Cowgirl Tuff company together, it’s a winning combination of premium products, raving fans and family support. “My daughter was raised Cowgirl Tuff whether she liked it or not!” says Bollin of Lexie, who now oversees production, graphic design for mens’ and kids’ wear and also handles Cowgirl Tuff’s social media channels.
Bollin’s husband, Kirk—who often stayed in Minnesota to care for Lexie when Lisa was traveling to sell Cowgirl Tuff at rodeos during the early years—now serves as the president of the company. He was instrumental in inspiring the men’s line, B. Tuff, which launched in 2011.
“Kirk was watching all of my fun outfits that I felt really good in, and he wanted something like that,” Bollin explains of the evolution of the brand, which offers 65 custom sizes. “I also had a lot of customers telling me that their husbands need great jeans, too.” So she set out to give men a stylish pair of jeans that makes them look and feel good. “It’s a very complimentary jean. Wives love the jean on the men more than the guys even understand! We call it the ‘asset’ builder,” laughs Bollin. o
To find a store near you that sells Cowgirl Tuff or B. Tuff products, visit www.cowgirltuffco.com.