Button-down blouses are a staple in a Western woman’s wardrobe, whether she’s working on a ranch, riding in an arena, or presenting in a board meeting. She wants a quality garment that fits well, stays tucked in, and reflects her unique personality and style. Canadian clothing designer Paige Callaway recognized the need for a functional yet feminine Western shirt and, in 2014, she left the prestigious fashion design school she was attending in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, to start her own clothing company, Pursue Victory. She later launched her own brand, too, called Paige 1912.
“When I was a kid, I sewed hair scrunchies, tied rope halters, and made jewelry to sell to pay [rodeo] entry fees, and I’d add beadwork to my shirts,” she says. “I always loved fashion, but I never thought it was possible to have a career in it.”
Using her lifelong experience riding horses combined with the design and sewing skills she learned in school, the young couturier created a line of tailored, comfortable shirts in six colors for horsewomen. Soon, women started wearing them to the office and out on the town, accessorizing them with turquoise jewelry, patterned scarves, and classic blazers, and Callaway’s business boomed.
Eight years later, the 35-year-old businesswoman has expanded her clothing company to include another shirt line—the retro-inspired Paige 1912—as well as outerwear. She’s also created a “micro-factory” in southern Alberta that employs local seamstresses to manufacture the garments. It’s all part of her plan to design a life around training horses and Western couture.
Girls and Horses
Growing up in the ranch country southwest of Calgary, Callaway and her two sisters, Cassie and Bailey, were immersed in horses.
“I got into horses because of my grandpa, Bob Fullerton, and I loved helping him check cows on his ranch in Bragg Creek,” she reflects. “Pretty soon we got involved in rodeo, 4-H and trick riding, and it all snowballed from there.”
Inspired by early 20th-century cowgirls who rode bucking horses and wowed crowds with trick riding stunts, a teenaged Callaway and her younger sister, Cassie, took trick riding lessons from Jerri Duce, a nine-time Canadian Finals Rodeo barrel racing champion and the first Canadian female to qualify for the National Finals Rodeo.
“I practiced about a year and then started performing when I was about 14,” she says. “Our first performance was at a small winter team roping at the arena where we practiced. It was minus 20 degrees Celsius outside, and we were in our Spandex outfits. From there, I was hired to trick ride at high school and pro rodeos throughout Canada.”
After graduating from high school, Callaway attended Odessa College in Odessa, Texas, for two years on a rodeo scholarship, and then transferred to Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas, to complete her communications degree. Throughout college, she carried her Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Contract Act card and trick rode at major rodeos throughout the United States. After suffering head injuries late in her 10-year career, Callaway decided to hang up her trick riding saddle at age 28.
“Trick riding is fun, but it’s like bull riding—there comes a time to step off the wagon,” she says.
High Style Meets the Wild West
Callaway worked as a freelance writer in the cattle and oil and gas industries for a while, then she decided to pursue an education in fashion design. After going through the extensive application process, she was one of four students accepted into the Ecole Holt Couture, the only couture school in the world, that just so happened to be in Calgary. There she learned about textiles, pattern drafting, and proper garment construction.
“It was intense; we went to school two days a week for four hours and then had 30 hours of homework,” she recalls. “When you get out and you’re a couturist, you don’t have a teacher telling you how to do things, so you have to learn to problem solve at home.”
With fashion design fundamentals, she decided not to return to school her second year and instead start her own business making well-fitting blouses for horsewomen.
“When I wear a shirt that fits me properly, I feel confident and want every woman to feel this way when they enter the arena or go to the office. I wanted to take certain aspects of couture to make a properly fitted garment and then meld it with factory production to be cost effective. It was important to me to have the shirts manufactured in Alberta.”
She launched Pursue Victory in September 2014 and, two years later, she came out with a new line, Paige 1912, which was inspired by gritty, old-time cowgirls and Coco Chanel. She says the year 1912 commemorates the first year the Calgary Stampede was held and coincides with the opening of Chanel’s first boutique. Shirts bear the names of iconic rodeos, such as Salinas, Pendleton, and Prescott.
“I started Paige 1912 as my creative outlet. I took the functional patterns from fashion school and blended modern couture with the Wild West,” she says. “I thought, if I lived in the [early 1900s] this would be the style of clothing in my trunk when I was traveling to rodeos or overseas.”
The bold new line stood out with retro ruffles, stripes, ginghams and polka dots not seen on the racks in traditional Western retail stores. Her sizing was also different, ranging from 12 hands high (or a size 2 to 4) to 16 hands (equivalent to size 16). This unique sizing system reflects the language traditionally used to measure horses, while allowing Callaway to provide sizing that works for more women.
“I struggled with finding shirts that fit in the shoulders and bust that I could ride in and not feel hindered and that wouldn’t come untucked at the slightest movement,” she says. “I also noticed ladies who were typically a size small but had long arms would buy a larger size for the extra arm length, and the shirt would be too big everywhere else. My shirt structure doesn’t jump a whole lot between sizes, except there’s more room in the shoulders and bust to fit women’s bodies.”
Callaway strives to not only purchase fabrics from North American distributors, but also manufacture the garments locally. She has established a 20-by-25-foot micro-factory in a cinderblock building in the small southern Alberta town of Stavely. Two local seamstresses work there full time with the help of other locals who sew out of their homes.
“We aim to produce a shirt in less than three hours from cutting to packaging. We manufacture 30 to 50 shirts in each style at time, and 80 to 100 shirts a month,” she says. “It’s huge that we can manufacture locally and put money back into the local economy. It’s more socially and environmentally sustainable.
“My hope is that we can get the micro-factory running like a well-oiled machine and then duplicate it in other areas,” she continues. “Then I can help other companies bring their production back to North America. It’s a big undertaking to run your own production, but it’s what we need to do to get things back to being made in North America.”
As she was launching Paige 1912, Callaway posted a call for male models to do a photo-shoot. Matt Robertson, a cowboy singer-songwriter and colt starter, responded, “If you’re looking for a balding, middle-aged cowboy with a missing front tooth, I’m your guy.”
Callaway was acquainted with Robertson and thought he was perfect for the job, and soon they started dating. With gypsy spirits, they’ve moved frequently throughout the West to ranches where Robertson starts colts. In June, the couple married in White Fish, Montana.
The cowboy lifestyle appeals to the newlyweds, and they can pack most of their belonging into a single stock trailer, load their horses in another, and hit the road anytime they want.
“My MO has always been to have a business and income that would also allow me to ride and train [barrel racing and breakaway] horses,” she says. “I usually work in the mornings and try to be at the barn by noon. Our entire lifestyle revolves around horses.”
Looking toward the future, Callaway wants to keep refining her micro-factory and setting it up for duplication. She also plans to continue designing functional and fashionable shirts and outerwear and develop a much-requested men’s line. One day, she envisions having a storefront.
“As much as I love fashion design, I also enjoy creating side businesses. I’m always thinking of businesses that could run themselves,” Callaway concludes.
To learn more about Paige Callaway and Paige 1912, visit paigecallaway.com.
Paige’s Style Staples
Since she started moving around to remote ranches and feedlots for months at a time with her husband, colt starter Matt Robertson, Paige Callaway has downsized her wardrobe to include mostly functional riding clothing and a few pieces to dress up.
“I’ve gotten really picky about my clothes,” she says. “I keep and wear the ones I feel good in and that are made in North America.”
Here are a few of her closet staples:
- Men’s Levi’s jeans. “It’s hard to find a women’s riding jean that fits so I went to wearing men’s jeans,” she says.
- 100 percent cotton T-shirts. “I live in jeans and T-shirts these days,” she says. She opts for a few high-quality, made-in-the-USA T-shirts, rather than a less expensive shirt produced overseas.
- Denim and/or white button-down
This article about Paige 1912 appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of Western Life Today. Click to subscribe!