COWGIRL CORRALS ONLINE NICHE

Byline: Rusty Williamson

DALLAS — Clothing fit for a queen has found new meaning at ModernCowgirl.com.
The nascent e-commerce and community Internet destination is devoted to an unusual fashion niche: rodeo queens.
It’s a topic with which Web site proprietor Shana Gibson is quite familiar, as she is a former Miss Rodeo New Mexico and contestant in the Miss Rodeo America pageant.
The site went live last November, at moderncowgirl.com, and took off quickly thanks to a grass roots word-of-mouth marketing blitz at rodeo and western events. ModernCowgirl.com is now registering about 1,500 hits a month, according to Gibson.
“It’s not always easy finding the right dress, boots, hat, and jewelry for competitions and, if you win, for the year-long touring to rodeos and western shows that goes with crown,” explained Gibson, who is 23.
“Young women usually take 25 to 30 outfits with them when they tour,” Gibson related. “And everything has to match and coordinate. Many of the vendors that cater to these young women are small and only show at local rodeos or trade fairs. I remember traveling to a Texas trade show and finding the most beautiful pair of earrings and then finding out that they’re made in New Mexico, my home state,” Gibson recalled. “You sometimes have to track down special looks to complete your wardrobe. It got me to thinking about starting the Web site and making it easier for young women who are into this lifestyle.”
Gibson herself remembers traveling two years as a contestant to the Miss Rodeo America pageant in Las Vegas and taking enough outfits to fill a small horse trailer.
Festive pageant wear, from sparkling rhinestone shirts to fringed leather chaps, is available new or used, as there’s also a classified section. “Once you [appear] in a competition,” Gibson noted, “there’s often no place to wear such an unusual gown or outfit again. The classified and exchange section is very popular.”
Among the styles available for purchase on the site last week were a custom teal suede leather dress with rhinestones, fringe, and appliques, priced at $400; Justin’s purple lace-up boots for $45; Double D Ranchwear’s blue crushed velvet jacket-and-skirt ensemble, at $350, Wrangler denim wear, and lots of leather from a variety of vendors.
While rodeo pageant contestants are the site’s primary focus, ModernCowgirl.com is also catering to those who are simply fascinated by western apparel and related lifestyle items. For example, there’s a small selection of sterling silver jewelry from Silver by Wanda and place settings from Sam & Sophie Dinnerware. There’s also a children’s section, and Gibson said she’d like to start selling vintage wear and men’s apparel on her site sometime soon.
The Web site’s landing pad features an austere black-and-white photograph, shot by Ann Bromberg, and her images of western life are among the art for sale at moderncowgirl.com. Other offerings include cowgirl lithographs by Sharon K. Hunt and watercolors by Doreman Burns.
“We’ve had a wonderful response from vendors, particularly the smaller ones who want to sell over the Internet without having to manage the business,” said Gibson, who is also a senior at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where she is majoring in entrepreneurial studies and plans to devote efforts full-time to ModernCowgirl.com upon graduation this year. Gibson is currently the sole employee at moderncowgirl.com. She keeps no inventory and instead has vendors ship directly to consumers. “I closely monitor every order, and I attend many industry trade shows and western apparel markets to stay up to date on styles and trends,” Gibson said. “I’m very choosy about which vendors I feature on the Web site. I want to feature things that are not only high quality but not available just anywhere.”
ModernCowgirl.com took second place and a $2,500 prize last month in a national competition called “CEO! Best Business Ideas.” The contest was sponsored by the College Entrepreneurs Organization and took place at the U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship Conference in Orlando, Fla.
Gibson’s passion for rodeos and horses comes naturally as her family lives on a ranch and owns 23 horses. Her favorite is a solid black mare named Bosha on which she currently competes in rodeo contests.