Woolies Quality Clothier offers practical-yet-stylish clothes that are equally suitable for the ranch as they are for a business meeting. Embodying the style her store retails, founder Alisha Kurtz has built her business with grit, dedication, and a deep appreciation for Western fashion, while balancing her family, children, and horses. Kurtz leads a multifaceted life, and she brings that energy to her business, too.
That Horse Girl
Raised in Taylorsville, Utah, Kurtz has loved horses since she was three years old, thanks to her mother, Susan. Her parents bought an acre of land to build a house, and the family soon brought home two horses. Kurtz began taking riding lessons at around age 5 and started competing at age 6.
Kurtz kept up her competitive edge at American Paint Horse Association (APHA) shows throughout high school. In college, she continued competing as part of the Utah State University equestrian team.
“Riding was pretty much all I wanted to do growing up, and I always had the dream of living on a ranch,” Kurtz says.
After graduating college, Kurtz moved to Fort Worth, Texas, to work at APHA headquarters. Soon after, she met her now-husband, cow horse trainer Andy Kurtz.
“I was impressed with where she was in her life,” Andy recalls. “She was 21 and had a house and a job with APHA and knew where she wanted to go.”
The couple spent a few years long distance, after Kurtz moved back to Utah to pursue her master’s degree at Westminster College, while Andy apprenticed under horse trainers across the country. In 2013, the couple reunited and moved to Andy’s hometown of Steamboat, Colorado for good. They initially lived on his family’s ranch, and eventually bought a house just down the road.
Kurtz has always “dressed differently,” adding a bit of Western flare to her outfits by mixing a belt buckle or scarf with her designer brand clothes.
When Kurtz moved back to Utah, she missed both the Texas-style Western fashion and the shopping available during many major horse shows. In 2011, she decided to launch a western clothing business especially for women who shared her unique style.
“I started a boutique called Dos Gringas with my friend,” Kurtz says. “It was a total side gig for both of us to be able to wear the kind of clothes that we wanted, but couldn’t find in Utah, and also offer customers that sort of shopping experience.”
Dos Gringas set up a booth at small horse events, barrel races, and horse shows first in Utah, then at bigger events in surrounding areas. In 2012, Alisha took over full ownership of the business. Three years later, she rebranded to become Woolies Quality Clothier, named after the fleece-covered “wooly” chaps.
“Dos Gringas was more of a fast fashion retailer, with just women’s clothes,” Kurtz says. “I wanted to move more toward a Western fashion, ranch lifestyle brand that could incorporate more men’s fashion, home décor at some point, or even lead to creating my own line someday.”
Early in her boutique journey, Kurtz chased fashion trends—like fringe and sequin adornments—made popular at the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) in Las Vegas. She realized many Western boutiques carry similar trendy styles, and she saw an opportunity to reach a different audience of shoppers.
“They were missing the ranch wives, the workers, even the professionals who horse show on the weekend, but don’t want a wardrobe for every different thing they do,” Kurtz says. “I started bringing in clothes you could go work cattle in. Things you could wear to a date night or into a boardroom with a suit, or a coat that you could ranch in, but that would still be appropriate to wear at the NFR. Not a capsule wardrobe, but something that works for all occasions.”
Kurtz chooses styles that suit Western women who love functional fashion. She’s an expert in that area as a working ranch wife.
“Everything is very much a reflection of my personal style,” Kurtz reveals. “While I don’t wear everything we sell, I don’t bring in anything I would never wear.”
When choosing items for Woolies Quality Clothier, Kurtz also enjoys including her sister, Adriane.
“We’re very similar people, but also polar opposite, especially when it comes to fashion,” Kurtz explains. “I’ve come to realize that items we both are a ‘hard yes’ on will sell like wildfire.”
Year after year, the Flounce Jacket is one of Woolies’ most popular styles. Kimes Ranch Jeans are a staple, and the Myra Jacket is also a consistent favorite with customers.
Kurtz recently added more fair-trade products to the store’s offering, including a line of wool sweaters for men and women. These thick, warm tops are sustainable with a lifetime warranty—both qualities that help further Kurtz’ goal of making her business more eco-friendly.
“They’re made in Nepal, but all the workers are paid fair wages,” Alisha assures. “You can send [a sweater] back to the company, and they’ll repair it and send it back. I think that’s rare to find in fashion these days, but it’s important, because fashion is one of the leading causes of pollution in the world.”
Work Life Balance
Over the years, Woolies Quality Clothier transitioned through several iteration of a retail business, starting with home parties, moving to trade shows and the NFR Cowboy Christmas, to an online storefront. While Kurtz focused on growing Woolies, her family has also expanded, welcoming two daughters, Collins and Hazel.
Kurtz always dreamed of having a brick-and-mortar location in Steamboat, a popular Colorado ski town and tourist destination.
“It’s a great location for a storefront, and a true quality Western store was kind of missing from this area that people think of as an authentic Western town,” Alisha explains.
She tested two popup shops—one in the winter, and one for the summer.
“I realized that at this point in my life, it’s not what I want,” Alisha shared. “I want to be able to spend time with my kids, and I didn’t think it was fair for them to grow up in a retail store. At some point, when both kids are in school, that may be something I’ll re-evaluate, but for now, I’m going to stick to the online portion.”
Online sales comprise the majority of the Woolies’ business model, but Kurtz also reaches shoppers with booths at major shows a few times a year, including the NFR.
“The online portion is probably my favorite, because it’s something I can do on my own time,” Kurtz reveals. “If I’m shipping orders at midnight, that doesn’t affect anybody.”
After becoming a mother, being away from home without her children wasn’t appealing to Kurtz.
“When I brought [my children], it was an added layer of work after a day where you’re already exhausted,” Kurtz says. “But I didn’t want to leave them at home, because I miss them.”
As two entrepreneurs managing life and family, Kurtz and her husband have faced the challenges together. With the flexibility to manage Woolies from home, Kurtz can also care for her children.
“Alisha has a room where she has everything set up, and I’m just right down the road [at the barn],” Andy says. “We battle it together.”
Andy says Kurtz knows her customers well and improves her product selection each year. At this point in the business, Kurtz seeks out-of-the box vendors to find just the right items that her customers will love.
“She’s very good at not getting distracted when she focuses on her audience, and she’s got a really clear vision of what fits her business and what doesn’t,” Andy shares. “She’s a grinder, and she takes things step-by-step, so she usually doesn’t get too much ahead of herself. She’s very methodical and goal-oriented, and she’s always thinking about what the next step is for her business.”
She’s also devoted to her family and finds ways to balance both of her passions.
“Alisha works really hard, and has a huge passion for her business,” Andy continues. “She pours herself into it, and that makes it successful. She’s very dedicated. She’s conscientious about the business, and she’s the same way about things with our family.”
When it comes to Woolies Quality Clothier, Kurtz is always looking at new ways to evolve, including creating content for her social media and website, or lately, figuring out TikTok. She also hopes to design her own line of clothes for men and women in the future.
“That’s the big picture, and it’s something I’ve worked on here and there a little bit,” Kurtz reveals.
In her personal life, Kurtz looks forward to watching her children grow up and find their passions.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Alisha says. “I love watching them grow up, but I also want them to stay the same age forever. I know things will look different five years from now, as our family grows and experiences new things together. We want to travel and experience life outside of Steamboat, and Collins likes to learn about the world. That excites me, to be able to look forward to those experiences.”
Kurtz spends every day living a life she always hoped for, loving her family and managing her business.
“I’m living my dream,” Kurtz says. “I always dreamed of living on a beautiful ranch, raising my kids in the Western lifestyle, and being able to expose them to that kind of work and life every day.”
Browse currently available products online at wearwoolies.com.
This article about Woolies Quality Clothier appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of Western Life Today magazine. Click here to subscribe!