In an unassuming storefront in Valley Springs, a locally grown visionary is taking the reins of the Western fashion world.
Jaime Cole savors a rare pause in her day, sipping tea out of an antique cup while sitting at what used to be her kitchen table. As with most elements of her life, the mother of two has given up the table to her workshop and her insatiable passion for creating unique handbags.
“It was hard in the beginning,” Cole says, remembering the early days of her wholesale brand, HiMe. “There are a lot of times where you could just easily say, ‘This is not worth it.’ But at the end of the day, there’s no way in hell I couldn’t be doing what I’m doing.”
Her workshop, in the back of her clothing boutique, is a sampling of ingredients that contribute to Cole’s flamboyant rodeo queen style. Cow hides in dazzling hues and sparkling finishes line the walls, strips of leather fringe and scrapped cuts of leather are strewn about the space. Cole calls it her “chaos.”
Under a lamp, Nicole Williams, a seamstress and aspiring fashion designer, coats leather patches carved and painted to read “Trump 2020” in an aging lacquer. The patches, once finished, will be mounted on baseball caps – a unique take on the iconic merchandise that has been popular among HiMe’s wholesale clients.
“I get to work with leather,” Williams says, listing the pleasures of volunteering her time to help her friend. “The best smell ever.”
But leather has its challenges, she adds.
“It’s a completely different beast than fabric or anything I’ve ever worked with, so having Jaime as a resource is amazing.”
A self-taught artisan, Cole learned the basics of sewing from her grandmother, but didn’t pursue her own projects until she was laid off from a corporate job in 2012. After making outfits for her young daughter, she cut her teeth on leather crafting rodeo queen outfits for friends.
“I started sewing little projects here and there, and it just kept building,” she says. “I had decided that I really enjoy making purses and accessories. ... Out of anything I could do with my sewing business, it was probably the thing that could be grown as a business instead of just me spinning my wheels.”
Cole began making bags in her distinct style, inspired by her roots as Miss Clements Stampede 1998. Accents of leopard print, cutouts from authentic vintage Louis Vuitton pieces and outrageously long fringe became her calling cards in the eyes of rodeogoers.
“My theory is, anytime I go and do anything, I need to be a walking billboard for myself,” says Cole, who debuted her first purse in 2015 at the Bob Feist Invitational team-roping event in Reno.
Since then, her business has doubled in size each year, moving from her kitchen to a shipping container to her current boutique, growing to serve more than 250 accounts across the United States and Australia.
The sole employee of her own company, Cole credits the internet and uncanny design intuition as the reasons for her creative success.
“I just read and read and read,” she says. “If you want to do anything in this world, you can Google it, and that’s what it did. After a while, it becomes second nature.”
However, one thing that cannot be Googled is the elusive art of running a wholesale business, Cole says.
“That cliche that if everybody could do it they would, is so true,” she says. “It’s being willing to do nothing but eat, breathe and sleep your business. Not sleeping because all you can think about is what you want to do next or what the problem is in front of you. … Everything going back into the business.”
When she decided to incorporate retail into her business model two years ago, Cole was eager to curate fun and affordable clothing options for the Valley Springs community. However, she soon learned that the boutique, which constituted a minute fraction of her total revenue, was hindering the expansion of the HiMe brand.
By the end of the month, Cole plans to shutter the HiMe Boutique to focus her efforts entirely on wholesale. On Feb. 20 at 6 p.m., she will host a final blowout sale and private auction, both at the shop and online, to clear out her remaining inventory.
Cole will continue her work in a barn on her Valley Springs property. Always thinking of the future, the designer has fresh ideas coming to shake up some tired trends.
“We reset and look at how we’re going to change that up and change the dynamic and the mindset. It’s part of the business,” she says.
HiMe’s spring season features a collaboration with Valley Springs silversmith Nicola Diven of Catori Designs.
This winter at the National Finals Rodeo, Cole introduced some “over-the-top” bags with silver and turquoise conchos made by Diven. They were a hit, she says. Soon, pared-down versions of those couture bags will go out to retailers.
Looking back, Cole says she’s grateful she got laid off from her corporate job, despite the rigors of running a business.
“Those times when it’s hard, the next moment, when something really cool happens, it’s like the highest high that you could ever have,” she says. “It feels unlike anything else in the world, having something that came from nothing continue to grow.”
The HiMe Boutique, 8 California St., Suite D, Valley Springs, can be seen at facebook.com/groups/theHiMeGang.