It may be spring for most of us, but Robin Rich has already worked her way through fall: Wrangler’s 2019 Fall Collection, that is. With the apparel designed, the photo shoots completed, and the new creative ready to unveil, she sat down with COWGIRL Magazine to reflect on her years—nearly three decades’ worth—with Wrangler, and why she loves what she does so much.
“I grew up in Muncie, Indiana,” she says. “I’ve ridden ever since I was a little girl and got my first pony, Tiny, when I was 8. I was the ‘little barn rat’ at our local barn,” she confesses with a laugh, “mucking out stalls and feeding horses in exchange for lessons.”
In fact, Rich would go on to teach riding herself, and thought for a while about a career as a riding instructor. The allure of the fashion world pulled equally as strong, however. She pursued that goal at the International Fine Arts College in Miami, graduating with a degree in fashion merchandising, and worked for the now-defunct women’s clothing chain Paul Harris for the next decade. From there, she leapt to Wrangler, and hasn’t looked back since.
“Wrangler had been purchased by the VF Corporation in the ’80s—right before I joined the company,” says Rich, “and it was pretty much a male-dominated brand, at least in the upper management levels.”
Quite the interesting brand acquisition when you consider that the “VF” stands for Vanity Fair, and ladies’ lingerie was its, ahem, foundation for the better part of the past century.
Her passion for horses would prove to be one of the strong points in her success in her early years with Wrangler. She bought her first Quarter horse, Jade, in the early ’90s and fell head-over-heels in love with the Western lifestyle. “I had great admiration for the Western women who have always been the backbone of ranch life; able to do everything the men do.
“I feel a huge sense of pride when people share with me how much Wrangler is a part of their lives,” she says. “They work in them. They ride in them. They even get married in them. The Wrangler brand is an intrinsic part of their values and the cowboy/cowgirl creed that they aspire to live by; one of honesty and independence.”
When Wrangler launched in 1947, the jeans designed by celebrity tailor Rodeo Ben were wear-tested and then endorsed for durability, quality, and authenticity by professional rodeo cowboys Freckles Brown, Bill Linderman, and Jim Shoulders. “One of the basic tenets of Wrangler is to be in constant communication with our customers,” says Rich.
Taking a page from the company’s history books, Rich began working in the early 2000s on what she calls one of the most exciting projects of her career: The Ultimate Riding Jean collection. Partnering with the American Quarter Horse Association, she spearheaded Wrangler’s efforts to develop women’s riding jeans that fit, don’t chafe, and look good both on the ground and in the saddle—no small task for cowgirls who demand no-gap back waists so their shirts don’t come untucked, flat inner seams that don’t chafe thighs, the perfect “break” over their boots, stretch that lasts through countless washings … along with, of course, spectacular looks in and out of the saddle.
“We held numerous focus groups with women riders from all disciplines to find out what their perfect jean would be,” says Rich, “and in 2007, we brought out two styles of the Ultimate Riding Jean—Q-Baby and Cash. Shiloh, offering a lower rise, came along a year later. In Fall 2019, we’ll add the fourth style, Willow, to the collection. Willow evolved from the Q-Baby style but with a higher back rise, more technology built in, with better stretch recovery, and improved stacking over boots.”
In addition to her passion for collaborative product development, Rich has honed a sharp eye to identifying and mentoring talent over the course of her career at Wrangler.
“So many of the young women who started with me as interns and marketing specialists have now become marketing managers in their own right—here and at other companies, as well. Jenni Broyles—a bright, dynamic young lady who I hired as a marketing coordinator a number of years ago—is now the first female Vice President/General Manager of Wrangler North America.”
Loyalty defines Robin Rich; just ask Jade, Robin’s first Quarter horse, who’s now 32 years old and contentedly ensconced in a stable near Rich’s Greensboro, North Carolina, home. But if you’re scanning that stable’s arena looking for a Wrangler cowgirl, you’re apt to spot a disciplined dressage rider instead: Rich’s newest mount, Fly By, is a Hanoverian.
“It’s my zen,” Rich says about riding and studying classical dressage. “I still take weekly lessons with an outstanding coach who has been my teacher for more than 15 years. I love to be always learning and growing to better my riding skills and, most importantly, to improve my partnership with my wonderful, amazing horses.”