By Nick Pernokas
Rachel Dake inherited a love of horses from her mother. When she was nine, Rachel got her first horse. She spent the next few years competing in various equine events in 4-H, but never suspected this passion would lead to her eventual livelihood.
Rachel started barrel racing while in college in Independence, Missouri. She purchased a mare named Crimson Willow and started competing with her at local jackpots. In 2014, Rachel was making some picture conchos; conchos made with resin and a picture set in them. Many times they have crystals on them. A Chicago screw on the back is used to attach them to various items. Rachel wanted to display some on a leather noseband for Crimson Willow to wear. She searched in some of the local tack shops, but couldn’t find the size and style noseband that she wanted. So, she decided to make one. Soon, she realized that she liked doing the leatherwork and wanted to learn more about it. Rachel began to take some classes at a Tandy store, as well as watching instructional videos.
Although she eventually received a degree in occupational therapy, her heart lay with building things from leather. Rachel started making more tack products. She purchased a sewing machine and began making headstalls and breast collars. She found that it was a good way to supplement her barrel racing entry fees.
Then, in 2016, Rachel started dabbling in cowhide handbags.
“I realized that was more my passion,” says Rachel.
Rachel began to experiment with handbag styles. She made her bags with hair on leather, fringe, embossed leather, buck stitching and even Pendleton Wool. They captured a stylish “New Western” look that other horsewomen were looking for. The name of the horse that had motivated Rachel to become involved in the leather business seemed like the perfect name for the business.
“Most of our customers are involved in the western industry such as rodeo or cutting, or some other kind of equine sport.”
Rachel had married Dustin Dake in 2011. In 2017, she found out she was pregnant and decided to take a year off. When daughter Ella was a few months old, Rachel began to rebuild her business.
Today, at 32, Rachel has three employees in her 3600-square-foot store; all of them work on bag construction. Two also double as salespeople and one is the dedicated parts cutter.
To achieve a western look, Rachel takes a lot of traditional fabric handbag patterns and modifies them for cowhide construction. The “Runaway” style, for example, is taken from a fabric pattern and is modified with different handles and pockets on the side, which gives it a more western appearance. It resembles a doctor’s bag in shape. This attractive bag is offered in three different sizes.
Crimson Willow does not offer any in-house tooling on the bags, but they can add conchos and buck stitching, which give their products some western appeal. They also make shaving kits, planners, binders and wallets. Their backpacks are popular with women for diaper bags, as well as other customers who desire a more hands-free alternative to a bag. Most of the bags are lined with vinyl, making it easy to wipe a bag clean, to prevent minor spills from becoming a major disaster for the bag.
Crimson Willow is located in Oak Grove, Missouri. Although they get some foot traffic in the store front, the majority of their business comes from the internet. Crimson Willow generates most of their sales from their Facebook page. Every Wednesday night, Rachel has a live auction on Facebook and sells about 20 items. She also uses Facebook and Instagram to promote new items on her website. This generates a lot of interest and interaction with her customers at an economical price. Some are looking for a western look, while others desire a mainstream appearance.
“We try to cater to several different audience types.”
Rachel realized that while women were their dominant bag customers, they were also shopping for gifts for men. She plans to expand Crimson Willow’s men’s items in the future.
The boutique storefront has a unique industrial look with large electric cable spools for display tables. Artfully painted to match the black and gray color scheme of the retail area, they provide a nice touch to the atmosphere. Dustin constructed a wall on wheels that can be moved according to the amount of space that is needed in the retail area. The wall separates the workshop area from the showroom.
“I’m always willing to try new things. I’m always trying to come up with new and different ideas to try and stand apart from everybody else. I try to put my own spin on something that’s trending in the western market.”
Crimson Willow tries to be competitive in their pricing, while also taking into consideration the labor and materials in each bag. They don’t build custom bags because building their stock items already keeps them very busy.
You can find out about Crimson Willow’s newest ideas on Facebook, Instagram or their website, crimsonwillow.com. They can also be reached at (816) 690-2663.
1204 South Broadway
Oak Grove, Missouri