photos by Leah Anderson
Noel Asmar is a Canadian designer and CEO, a mother of three, a rider, and a longtime lover of the equestrian lifestyle. She is best known to horse enthusiasts as the horsewoman behind Asmar Equestrian, a riding apparel line designed for style in and out of the ring. Her innovative designs combine an irresistible mix of comfort, elegance, and purpose. This past October, Asmar was recognized by Chatelaine and PROFIT as one of the Top 100 Female Entrepreneurs in Canada. Here, she offers a glimpse into where she came from, where she is going, and the horses that have joined her on her journey.
Building a Career
Despite her talent for it, design was not Asmar’s first career path. Before starting a successful company of her own, Asmar went to hotel management school and spent ten years working in the hospitality industry in Europe and the Middle East. In 2002 she returned to Canada and launched her Vancouver-based corporation, Noel Asmar.
Noel Asmar initially gained traction by filling a significant void in the market for professional uniforms. “We were the first company in the world to sell a designer spa uniform line. I designed that because my sister was pregnant; she’s an esthetician and has her own spa business,” says Asmar. At the time, “the only thing that was out there for spa and wellness professionals was the boxy lab coat. We are the first ones to do the designer tunics: flattering, everything stretches, everything moves with you.”
Asmar is a self-taught garment designer with an eye for function. A look at her Asmar Equestrian line reveals unique pieces that meet the specific needs of riders from a variety of disciplines. “It is thoughtful design. It is purposeful. I always want that to be clear because that is what makes us different,” says Asmar. “They are pretty, but they have a reason.”
Her understanding of purpose means Asmar creates clothes that make people look and feel good. “Our focus has always been fit for various body shapes. We use real bodies to fit our garments,” she says. This attention to form, plus excellent craftsmanship and a fashion-forward sense of style, means the Noel Asmar brand translates across sizes, cultures, and contexts. It is no wonder she has an elite portfolio of customers throughout the globe.
Love of Horses
Asmar developed an undeniable love for horses as a very small child. “I really wanted a horse; I really wanted to ride,” Asmar recalls. “I was a totally horse-obsessed little kid!” For example, when she and her mother passed by other people’s horses in their pastures, Asmar would blow kisses to every single horse. Eighty horses meant eighty kisses.
Even though she lacked a horse to call her own, she knew from a young age how to capture her dreams and not let go. “I had my mom take me to a flea market and I found reins,” she says. “I bought the reins, and I tied them to my bedroom door knob. I would hold them and pretend I was riding.”
Years later Asmar has grown into a successful businesswoman, traveled and lived in many parts of the world, followed different career tracks, and journeyed into marriage and motherhood. In the backdrop of these changes and successes, her love of horses has remained constant.
Asmar’s early dreams of having her own horse came true at the age of twelve. Her first horse—a moody Arabian/Quarter Horse mare with the fitting name of Fantasy Madonna—was a gift from her mother as incentive for Asmar to do well in school.
Growing up Asmar rode Fantasy Madonna for the love of it, not to compete. Her formative teenage years included many hours in the saddle. “I used to ride from where we boarded her miles to my house, on the street, by myself, with a cowboy hat on in a Western saddle,” she says. “I used to ride through the cul de sacs, go home for lunch, and put my horse in the backyard.”
These days, when you arrive at the Asmar home, you are greeted by the rhythmical munch, munch, nibble of Asmar’s majestic black Friesian, Jake, as he grazes in the backyard pasture. She and her family live in an equestrian community in British Columbia, and Asmar designed the property so the barn and house are connected. “If I’m in the kitchen, I can look at my horse in the stall,” she says. “It is a dream to be able to do that. There is no getting away from the barn!”
Asmar and her current equine partner, Jake, have been together for over five years. Despite Jake’s massive size, the eleven-year-old gelding’s gentle presence is captivating and his long black locks beg to be touched—even her children cannot resist him.
“Jake has taught me a lot,” reflects Asmar. “He is one of those horses that it doesn’t matter how many times you go past the same boulder, he thinks, ‘I’VE NEVER SEEN THAT BEFORE!’ He is very dramatic. So, I made him my mission. I would take him everywhere just to get him past his fears.”
Their commitment to one another has helped them through difficult times. Several years ago Asmar sustained a serious injury after falling from another horse, and Jake was instrumental in her return to riding. More recently, Jake developed a breathing condition that limits his workload to leisure riding only. Through thick and thin, the two share an enduring bond.
“I am busy, I have kids and four companies and a home and I am a wife and a mommy,” Asmar says. “My time with Jake is my down-time; my time to have solitude. I’m not distracted by anything else when I’m with him. It is just my love affaire with my horse. That’s it.” According to Asmar, Jake is her forever horse, “he will stay with me until he passes away.”
Design for Riders
It was a natural progression for Asmar to expand her brand to include an equestrian line. She saw an opportunity to pair her passions and made it a reality. Since its launch in 2011, Asmar Equestrian has earned acclaim in Canada and beyond. The line propelled into popularity early on thanks to signature pieces like the Asmar All Weather Rider™ jacket, which earned a British Equestrian Trade Association award in its first year on the market.
Asmar’s firsthand understanding of how a rider’s body moves informs her designs. On horseback she wants to wear clothes that feel comfortable, but do not sacrifice the classic equestrian look. “When we design, we think about when you are in the saddle,” she says. “What do you look like when you are getting on the saddle? Do you have to adjust yourself and look awkward? Or, can you elegantly get up on your saddle and not have to fuss?”
In all of her designs, Asmar knows her priorities: “I design for function, but I make it fashionable,” she says. She draws inspiration from her everyday experiences at the barn but also from her travels; in particular, her annual visits to Italy. “I always see things and wonder, ‘How can I make that for a rider?’ I love tailored pieces.” She and her team also create signature color palettes and custom dyes for the equestrian collection to keep it one-of-a-kind. “It’s fun to have hits of color with each season,” she says. “We play with different hues of blues, grays, pinks, reds, etc.”
The reason Asmar’s designs capture the allure of equestrian culture so well is because she lives it every day. “I live in an equestrian community. My girlfriends come over in their dirty riding boots. We live it. We really live the equestrian lifestyle,” she says. “It is also now a part of my business, I am working in it, I am living in it, and I love it. Now I am raising my children to ride. Good luck getting me out of the equestrian world… I love it!”
Ask anyone who is familiar with the brand and they will agree: The future for Asmar Equestrian is bright. “It is growing by demand,” says Asmar. “As the different countries start asking for collections, as you learn a little bit more about your clients and how your clients evolve and change—every country a little differently—you take that into consideration as you create.” Even with an increasingly global brand, Noel is proud that over seventy-percent of Asmar Equestrian’s garments are produced locally to their headquarters in Vancouver.
Asmar is committed to expanding the community around her brand. In Spring 2015 Asmar Equestrian will launch a small collection for male riders—their first—with an emphasis on the needs of professional riders. Asmar Equestrian also has plans to step up their presence at equestrian events. Having forged a rewarding relationship with Thunderbird Show Park for the past three years, Asmar has plans for her brand to get involved with more events, such as the 2018 World Equestrian Games hosted by Canada.
Yet Asmar’s goals for the future don’t stop at the showgrounds or the stable. She wants to see equestrian apparel elevated to the mainstream market. “We are introducing lifestyle pieces that are truly equestrian-inspired, because what girl does not want to look like a rider?” says Asmar. “I want to bring equestrian fashion out of just the equestrian world. It is not my goal to just be in tack shops.” She envisions a future in which top retailers like Nordstrom or Harrods carry Asmar Equestrian. The way she sees it, anyone should be able to access fashion that embraces the spirit of equestrianism.
Whether you are a rider looking for functional yet flattering designs or a non-rider seeking fashionable equestrian pieces to incorporate into your everyday wardrobe, Noel Asmar is designing with you in mind.