Kaydee Johnston of Woodinville runs Pony Tail Sportswear out of her home — and retreats to the art studio on her property when she wants a break from it all
Kaydee Johnston admits that her business is, at least in part, fueled by caffeine — as in the caffeine she consumes to help her get through it all.
“A new business takes all of your energy and mindshare,” she said.
Johnston needs whatever help she can get to run Pony Tail Sportswear, the startup that makes underwear for those who ride horses, motorcycles, bicycles, or participate in any other activity that requires being seated for a long period of time.
As founder and CEO, Johnston checks emails, assesses product quality and readies items for shipping at a frenetic pace. Then there’s also marketing. Customer service. Strategizing.
“My brain is always on this,” she said, sitting at her dining room table in Woodinville, which was stacked high with product. Dealing with all these demands creates what Johnston calls “startup stress.”
Luckily for her, Johnston has a way to counter it: drawing and painting. Her hobby is as simple as her day job is complicated. Her designs are as free-flowing and relaxing as her work is detailed and demanding.
And it only takes two minutes for her to commute down a short wooded path to her artistic escape.
Just a few steps from her home, her art studio/barn emotionally transports her miles away from her professional trials and tribulations.
For example, on a recent afternoon when a particularly vexing shipping issue came close to breaking her spirit, Johnston decided to take a break and “paint my cow.”
She walked out of her house and down to her art space, where she began to draw and paint a picture of one of her mini Herefords, Calliope.
“Startup stress” doesn’t exist in her art studio, which shares space in the barn with her mare, Dixie Dual, and her pony, Snickerdoodle.
Running a business requires laser-like focus and attention to the most minor details, but Johnston’s art studio requests calmness and relaxation.
She paints when she wants, what she wants, and for as long as she wants. She calls her art modern impressionism.
“I come down here, turn the music on, make sure everyone (the animals) is fed, and just paint,” she said. “The other day I was down here four hours and thought, ‘I have to go to bed.’ My style is to take color and use it in expression.”
She prefers acrylics over oil, just because they are easier. And, for her, this hobby is all about easy.
Though friends have asked to buy her art, she has no intention of painting professionally.
She claims her astrological sign, Gemini, contributes to her split personality traits.
On one hand, she’s mesmerized with numbers and making money. Her affinity for venture capital was inherited from her father.
On the other, she has an artistic spirit.
She majored in art at Whitman College in Walla Walla and did her thesis in portraiture.
“I knew I never wanted to be an artist as an occupation,” she said.
Instead, she opted to pursue business as her day job, and keep art as a balancing hobby.
After college she went into venture capital. In 1993, she became one of the founding investors in an equestrian riding footwear startup called Ariat International.
“We started that from nothing,” she said. “It is now the largest global equestrian footwear brand.”
Throughout her life, this self-described urban cowgirl has used sketches and art as an escape.
“Even when I was young, I would have a sketch pad with me,” she said. “I would sketch animals and pets. I always had a knack for portraiture.”
Yet, she always loved business.
“Startups take all of you,” she said. “You have to want to do it and believe in the greater good of it.”
Yet, her studio gives her the perspective and forces her mind into a different realm.
“Out here I feel different,” she said while standing in her art studio. “It’s total gratification. It’s fun and it’s a nice balance. But you have to make time to do it.”
Pony Tail Sportswear was born as a solution to a problem that has long vexed Johnston: sore bones from long days of riding.
“We have attractive (products) with slim-profile foam strategically placed to protect the sit bones, all while being thin enough to sit under jeans without notice,” she said. “What bike shorts have done for cyclists, Pony Tail Sportswear does for riders.”
Pony Tail Sportswear has product lines for men and women. Johnston was surprised to find the products were extremely popular with men. She also found an unexpected market: Harley riders.
Founded in January and launched in May, Pony Tail Sportswear already has hit its stride.
Quality and uniqueness are two of the reasons for the company’s success. The products have patented designs, and the fabric is imported from Italy, although the product is made in the United States.
Pony Tail Sportswear uses Amazon’s Fulfillment program to distribute its merchandise. Product is sold direct from Pony Tail’s website and at Amazon.
All her success has made for long days for Johnston and her two-person staff. But she has a way to combat it, and it’s all just a few steps away from her home.