Rebecca Yuhasz Smith was in the saddle before she learned to walk. So when the accomplished horseback rider launched a line of accessories centered around an equestrian lifestyle, she surprised no one.
"I was always fascinated with the trimmings, the hardware, the fittings of all things equestrian, so I transferred them into fashion," says Smith, the designer behind Rebecca Ray Designs, a line of couture handbags, bit belts and other accessories.
She launched her fashion line as a teenager, sewing handbags from patterns sketched on Heinen's paper bags. But her handbags became more intricate and the hobby demanded more of her time in adulthood.
"I remember being nine-months pregnant, sewing until 3 a.m., and deciding this wasn't feasible to do on my own," Smith says. "My husband and I made the commitment to build the company."
She started working with Amish associates, who arrive by buggy each week to pick up sewing assignments for 13 seamstresses. They use foot-powered sewing machines to form the soft goods, while Amish harness makers hand-forge the leatherwork.
Rebecca Ray Designs catapulted from a local luxury to a nationally recognized brand seven years ago when Country Living magazine profiled Smith in a piece about female entrepreneurs.
Now, the wholesaler and retailer supplies equine-style merchandise internationally to nearly 400 resorts and high-end boutiques, including White Magnolia and Chagrin Saddlery, both in Chagrin Falls, where the company is based.
Rebecca Ray Designs' palomino bit bracelet ($85) is a showpiece, with equestrian-grade solid nickel — designed to hold the weight of a 2,000-pound horse — surrounding supple, shimmering leather.
Nineteenth-century status symbols influence the Rebecca ($695), a bag made with English leather and adorned with a tassel and rosette "inspired by the Victorians' hand-painted crystals on horse bridles," Smith says.
It's the traditional craftsmanship and durable materials that set Smith's products apart from machine-issued wares. "These are by no means disposable goods," Smith says. "They should last a lifetime and be passed to future generations."