Like any little girl, Kathrin Birk grew up having a special affinity for horses. For her, despite the power and strength these majestic creatures hold, they never abuse them. Their pure souls make them very tolerant. Whenever she is around them, the feeling of security gives her butterflies and makes her feel true love. With a smile on her face, she stresses how much she “appreciates and adores them more than anything else.”
Besides horses, she is also fascinated with fabrics. Having a great-grandfather who sold the best fabrics and a tailor for a mother made her childhood days wonderful. “We just love fabrics! We have sensitive hands to feel and recognize quality,” she remarks.
Growing up in this environment helped nurture Kathrin’s creativity. Over the years, she realized that she sees everything more intensively than other people. Instead of wondering what tickles her creativity, she would rather think about what it hasn’t. When you can get inspiration from anything around you, you surely could be unstoppable. And that’s how Kathrin first started to combine two things that have always enchanted her—horses and fabrics.
Her first customers were toy horses. She would sew leather saddles for them just because the plastic saddles available in the market had too few details and did not satisfy her. “I never just accepted things how they are. I always ask questions and inquire about everything,” she describes. Little did she know, she was already paving the way for her future career.
Kathrin flew to Italy years later to pursue a degree in Communication and Product Design. Her love for natural fabrics and craftsmanship has eventually turned into a career in the fashion industry. “I worked in luxury fashion for many years as a designer and creative product manager,” she details, noting that “it was around the time when true luxury originated.”
Even though things worked well for this artistic lady, her meticulousness did not make things easy. She knows herself enough to admit that she “can be very pedantic, but I always do it to improve the product and not because of a big ego.” This fact led her to dream of creating her own brand sooner rather than later.
THE RISE OF MANIFATTURA VALOR
Kathrin’s love for horses only grew bigger as she grew wiser. By going back and focusing on her first love, she realized that all she wanted to do was make horses’ lives better and help riders make better decisions that would improve their harmonious relationship. This thought started her journey to building her luxurious yet sustainable brand, Manifattura VALOR.
Backed with her inquisitive nature and extensive experience in the fashion industry, it was easy for Kathrin to notice that majority of the textile horse accessories produced in the market have extremely low quality. And because riders are already used to using synthetic materials, they settle on poorly-made products that cause many problems to their horses.
“Most European riders are indeed attentive to the materials they use in their clothing and home,” she explains, noting that the real problem lies with the manufacturers in the equine industry and not the riders themselves. “After some time, I started researching allergies caused by pollutants as well as issues with biomechanical functions. Simultaneously, we contacted suppliers and persuaded them to improve their craft,” she narrates.
After eight years of doing so, Kathrin decided to take it upon her own hands and create a brand that would surpass (even her own) expectations. The course towards her dream wasn’t without any hardships. For her, “finding the right people and convincing them to collaborate with me” is the most challenging as she had to gain their confidence first. “I felt like I was on a long, long mission. I had to be very strong and patient.”
Manifattura VALOR products prioritize horses’ comfort and combine it with highly-functional shapes and materials. To put it simply, “our horses cannot go shopping and choose the saddle pad that feels the most comfortable.” This idea sets their brand apart from others in the equestrian market and helps them develop new products quickly.
The founder’s hard work has paid off as Manifattura VALOR slowly yet surely rose from the ground up. They first showcased their products in 2012 at CHI Geneva, one of the world’s most prestigious equestrian competitions. She felt relaxed, curious, and strange at the same time because it was time “to let the baby fly.” Towards the end of the event, she received invitations from the United Arab Emirates and the United States of America as her stand stood out from the rest.
KEEPING IT GREEN
Although it’s the new trend, only a few brands can proudly say that they’re high quality and 100% sustainable. Manifattura VALOR is one of those genuine green brands. Apart from offering products with excellent quality, the brand highlights the importance of bringing sustainability to the equestrian world.
The primary materials used in Manifattura VALOR’s products are felt, leather, and pure wool. All are untreated and handwoven fabrics and felts from the Italian Alps. However, these materials weren’t just picked for sustainability, but for their proven benefits to our gentle giants.
According to the creative entrepreneur, she developed the list of materials with the help of a veterinary hospital in Zürich, Switzerland. Through this collaboration, she was able to create pads with effective pressure distribution values, best natural function (in terms of air circulation, optimal shock absorption, anti-static, odor-regulating, temperature regulation, and hydrophilic quality), and perfect adaptation to body shape (due to the lower felt thickness and absence of the back seam that reduces friction).
Kathrin’s favorite material to work with is pure virgin wool from a South Tyrolean sheep race because of its unique character and rarity. When asked about the significance of using natural and sustainable materials, she answers, “We cannot influence a lot of things in our daily lives, but we can decide for ourselves, our horses, and our own world if we do something good or not.”
It is also worth remembering that the brand only produces products on demand. “We only take from nature what it can reproduce—this is sustainability,” the horse lover reiterates. Instead of becoming a disadvantage, this is one of their brand’s biggest edge because every order is specially made for the horse and its rider.
Manifattura VALOR’s unique philosophy makes their brand appeal more remarkable and worth every cent because crafting a sustainable piece comes with complexity. At their workshop, 42 production steps have to be taken just to create one saddle pad. “When we start creating something new, we think about how we can attend to the needs of the horse and the desire of the rider. After that, we start creating different designs that are avant-garde and incomparable,” she details.
This long and thorough process ensures that the quality of their products remains exemplary. Indeed, this concept of combining horse knowledge with supreme tailoring and craftsmanship works wonders. With pride, she says, “No one can imitate our work easily.”
Staying true to her mission, acting on her passion, and influencing more riders to be more mindful about what they put on their horses fulfills Kathrin daily and gives her more reasons to work harder. In the end, even though it took her quite some time to find her footing, she deeply planted her roots in the equestrian world and that will continue to blossom.
What's Your Reaction?
Pámela Piedad is a journalist, author, designer, and the Editor-in-Chief of POLO LADY Magazine.