WHERE IMAGINATION AND PERFORMANCE UNITE
For a lifelong passionate and professional rider, who has represented Great Britain in the sport of dressage; being told you have suffered an injury so severe that you should never ride again, could signify an ending.
For Sarah Cheetham, however, it was the start of a new beginning.
The Founder and Managing Director of competitive equestrian clothing brand, and Musto partner, Flying Changes, tells us how she overcame her biggest challenge and went on to become a ‘Master in her Field’
It all started with a gap in the market. In 2011 the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI) relaxed the rules for competitive clothing. Previously riders had only been allowed to wear navy or black when performing otherwise they risked disqualification.
"Suddenly riders were able to experiment with detail and play with colours. I’d always been interested in fashion and made my own dresses, so I started to design my own tailcoats. I made a charcoal grey tailcoat with salmon pink accents, that got a lot of attention."
Then in 2012, Cheetham suffered a serious injury. After years of riding at such a high level, the constant impact of riding “some very naughty horses” had caused several fractures in her lower spine. The doctors all agreed that Cheetham should never ride again.
Cheetham, however, did not agree at all, and she still rides today. But she did take a year out of competitive riding in order to heal. During this time, she seized the opportunity to launch her business idea.
"I could have sat around and felt sorry for myself. But I always try to turn a negative into a positive. As an experienced rider I knew exactly what specifications had to be met for clothing to adhere to FEI regulations. But I also had lots of ideas for customisations that would set riders apart from their competition."
In 2012, Flying Changes was founded. But it was not the most conventional start.
"My first horse show was interesting! I borrowed a gazebo from my parents, and I only had two mannequins and two coats. The pitch was very expensive and at this stage I had no investment or financial backing, so I just made do and slept in the tent. But the reaction to the jackets was amazing, and the business just grew from there."
Now Flying Changes jackets are worn by most of the top competitive riders in the world, including Charlotte Dujardin CBE, Carl Hester MBE, Sophie Wells MBE, Olympian Kitty King and GBR Show Jumper Amanda Derbyshire. Cheetham attributes the success to three things.
KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERTISE
With over 25 years of competitive riding and working in the industry, there are very few who know more than Cheetham about equestrian clothing. That’s why top riders around the world, including Team GBR, trust only Flying Changes to kit them out for the most important competitions of their lives. In a sport that relies on presentation and confidence, competitors must be able to rely on their kit.
“It’s all in the detail - we look at every piece from every angle. A coat may look great on a standing mannequin, but when worn by a seated rider it can be a disaster. I know exactly how riders need to look but also how they need to feel when they compete. Every rider has a preference so it’s our job to offer trusted, flexible guidance and go the extra mile to ensure they are completely happy.”
BIG PICTURE THINKING + ATTENTION TO DETAIL
Since it was founded, Flying Changes has undergone rapid growth. To manage this, Cheetham outsourced production to a German company that takes all the measurements from a computer and uses automated lasers to cut the designs. This ensures total precision, a fundamental factor when producing equestrian clothing at a highly competitive level. It also creates efficiency, enabling the company to grow with increasing customer demand.
“Even at that first horse show, I pictured my coats on Team GBR. I’ve always been fascinated with success stories and entrepreneurs like Richard Branson, and I never wanted to think small-scale. But even though we have achieved those goals and are now able to create a much higher volume of products, including lines for non-riders and footwear, we have never forgotten that it’s the small details that make a difference. It’s about quantity and quality.”
BALANCING TRADITION AND MODERNITY
Although the FEI regulations have relaxed in some respects, all the jackets produced by Cheetham and her team must adhere to the rules.
"The silhouette remains traditional, but we offer a huge amount of choice in terms of the contrast fabric, trim details and buttons. The colours riders choose can be individual preferences or they can be influenced by their team or sponsor colours, or simply another piece of clothing they are trying to match with. We also use technical fabrics instead of just wool. This means riders are more comfortable and have a broader range of movement. Plus, the jackets are all machine washable.”
Acknowledging tradition whilst adopting a technical, contemporary approach to clothing is also central to Musto, and just one of the reasons why partnering with Flying Changes makes perfect sense. We also share the fundamental belief that the athlete must remain at the heart of our designs. That’s why Musto always seeks like-minded brands to collaborate with in order to deliver world-class products and expertise.