By Richard L. Williams
Lisa N. Moore freely admits to being fascinated with all things western. She loves country music, adores horses and rode them growing up in the western North Carolina town of Morganton, and she has several dozen pairs of cowboy boots.
Her fascination with western and cowboy culture has led, in part, to her becoming one of the few African American western wear store owners in the country. Moore and longtime friend Stephanie Garwood have owned and operated Partners Western Company in Mocksville since 2013.
“We’ve twisted the box a little bit on our brand,” Moore says. “It really started out as a very western store but moved to more of a western boutique because there are now more branded items that we offer.”
Those offerings include an array of hair-on-hide products such as purses, wristlets and earrings.
“We also have boots, hats, apparel, one-of-a-kind jewelry and fashions you wouldn’t find anywhere else,” Moore says.
She admits that it is not as oxymoronic as one would think for an African American to have a fondness for rodeos, bull riding and horseback riding.
“I grew up riding a little bit but definitely being fascinated with horses,” says Moore, the business’s majority owner. “I became a lover of cowboy boots and I probably had upwards of a hundred pair even before I opened the store.”
Moore makes a point of acknowledging that just because she is black does not mean she sticks out like a sore thumb when she loads her trailer and attends national rodeo and bull riding competitions or trail rides. African American riding clubs are extremely popular, she says, and they often partner with other African American clubs, such as RV clubs.
“I had no idea there were so many African American riding clubs across the country prior to me doing this,” Moore says. “There’s a huge African American presence in and around Shelby. There are lots of riding clubs and there’s a club there that does a huge event and people come from all across the country.”
It’s called the Ebony Horsemen Trail Ride and it attracts thousands of horse enthusiasts from as far away as Florida and Texas to the tiny town of Mooresboro.
“There are all types of vendors selling foods and other things,” Moore says. “There are people riding horses but if you aren’t a rider you could ride on one of the wagons, hangout on the farm or in the campers and come out later for the parties. It’s one big happy weekend party. It’s very interesting and it’s also very black.”
Last year, Partners Western was a sponsor of the Southeastern Rodeo Association, which pays homage to the contributions the African American Cowboys played in helping tame the Old West. It was held in Columbus, Ga.
Partners Western also has been a sponsor of the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, an annual national event that celebrates African American cowboys and cowgirls and was most recently held this month in Memphis. Pickett was an African American cowboy and rodeo performer and is a member of the ProRodeo Hall of Fame. He was known for his tricks and stunts at local country fairs and in 1905 joined the 101 Ranch Wild West Show that featured, among others, Buffalo Bill and Will Rogers.
A dream realized
Moore and Garwood, who had been friends and co-workers in Winston-Salem for years, both shared a fondness for western gear that led to them becoming business partners.
“I grew up showing horses and I’ve wanted to own a clothing store since I was 12,” Garwood says.
She realized her dream when friends who owned Partners Tack and Western Wear were looking to sell the business. The company had operated in Lewisville for nearly 20 years but experienced a downturn in sales when it relocated to East Bend. Moore’s extensive sales experience and her love of fashion cowboy boots and western wear was a factor in the two taking a leap of faith and buying the business.
The two friends and newly minted business partners scouted the Triad for the perfect place to launch the business and decided on Davie County.
“I love Davie County and the people; there was nothing like this in Davie,” says Garwood, who studied business management and fashion merchandising at Meredith College in Raleigh. She says the possibility of expanding in the future also made the location appealing.
“We really looked around the Triad,” Moore says. “We wanted to open a store somewhere near where she lived to make it easier for her. She lives in Davie County and that’s where the people are with the horses.”
‘warms my heart’
Moore says although African Americans purchase western wear and represent about 20 percent of her sales, she notices that African Americans are typically omitted from advertising images in catalogs and online. She hopes she can have an impact in helping to change the face of the cowboy or cowgirl portrayed in commercial images.
“As a western wear store owner, one of things that’s very frustrating to me is I don’t see people that look like me in the catalogs when I’m selecting items for my store,” she says. “When I walk into Nordstrom or Belk I see all the beautiful boots… It’s frustrating when black people are wearing those same things but I don’t see our images in those stores. I’m constantly talking about that with large western providers of materials because I have to see me.”
She says there are many rewarding aspects to running the business, the least of which are gratifying moments centered on young customers.
“When children come into the store quite often I see the faces of kids that have aspirations of being a bull rider or just loving whatever they think the life of a cowboy is,” says Moore, who has a bachelor’s degree in special education from Winston-Salem State University. “They’re coming in and getting boots. They come in talking about it and they leave out rocking it.
“So, just the satisfaction people have when they purchase something from you and you’re the reason they’re smiling, is very rewarding,” she says. “Especially when they look like me – that warms my heart.”
Moore says the biggest challenge of owning a business is time management – juggling the demands of running a business and carving out quality family time. She also has to ensure that her performance as an account executive at a national Triad-based educational technology company does not slip. She also has advice for people looking to go into business for themselves.
“You just have to understand that there are sacrifices that have to be made when you are looking to start a business,” says Moore, whose son attends Elon University School of Law. “That definitely means sometimes sacrificing a little family time.
“Obviously, I wouldn’t advise anyone to go into the western wear business, because we want to continue having that market to ourselves,” she adds, half-jokingly. “The biggest thing is having a love for whatever it is that you pursue and knowing that nobody can do it better than you. If it’s a deep-seated burn that you have, then it’s important to go after it. It’s very important to just understand and realize that it’s a lot of work and if it was easy everybody would be doing it.”
MOCKSVILLE TO L.A.
Moore says she expects the business to continue to grow to the point where additional stores may open in other markets. Customers often ask if they’re going to expand, she says.
The company has established partnerships with manufacturers that have allowed the company to sell many of their branded products in other boutiques. Many of the hair-on-hide products, she says, are made on sight in the Mocksville store and that allows them to be sold at lower costs.
“We’ve also started designing boots instead of just purchasing boots,” Moore says. “It cuts out the middle man.”
Expansion could even take the company from tiny Mocksville all the way to Tinseltown. A few years ago, a movie producer contacted Moore after hearing about Partners Western, and the company now provides western wear for some Hollywood films.
Moore says she just has to be mindful not to take all of the store’s cowboy boots and add them to her own personal collection.