When people talk about starting a business on the back of an envelope, they don’t usually mean it in the literal sense. But one person who can make that claim with conviction is Jennifer Carmichael, Hong Kong’s show jumping champion turned bespoke fashion aficionado, who met her business partner when he drew around her hand on a piece of scrap paper. This was not some bizarre art experiment, but the first step in the fitting process for a pair of custom-made leather riding gloves – an object Jennifer loved so much she turned her back on horses altogether. Well, almost!
Jennifer Carmichael’s first love is undoubtedly of an equestrian nature. Having been lucky enough to have her own pony while growing up in Long Island, USA, she regularly took part in three-day eventing and show jumping competitions as a child and throughout her college years.
Jennifer expected to finally have to give up her dreams of show jumping grandeur when moving to Hong Kong for work in 2001. It wasn’t long before she found the Jockey Club however, and realised she was able to compete for Hong Kong at an international level due to her joint American-Chinese heritage. In the years that followed, Jennifer jumped in World Cup Qualifiers, at Grand Prix level and even contemplated a bid for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but unfortunately fell at the last hurdle due to issues with her eligibility that would have seen her having to give up her American passport.
It was around this time that Jennifer first met Tim Penn, who fashioned her a unique pair of riding gloves via his UK-based equestrian company Signature Leather. Jennifer was so impressed with the butter-soft texture and durability of the Cabretta hide – made from an Ethiopian sheep that has hair instead of wool – she offered to set up a high-end fashion branch of the company right here in Hong Kong; and CABRETTA COUTURE was born.
As well as selling gloves specially designed for riding, motoring and shooting, CABRETTA COUTURE also offers off-the-rack and custom-made gloves purely for posing purposes. While the cabretta leather comes in more than 75 colours, the combinations are effectively endless when you factor in options for piping, lining, stitching and overall design.
“There are people who say gloves in Hong Kong? Why? it’s so hot. But there are a lot of people who visit cold places and like to dress up in the winter,” Jennifer told Localiiz. “It’s like asking why do you have a Lamborghini in Hong Kong? Because it looks cool; it’s a fashion statement.”
Jennifer also insists that driving gloves are a relatively untapped market, adding that they make the perfect present for those impossible-to-buy-for men who have everything. “They’re just accessories for boys with toys. Women get earrings and bracelets, but what accessories do guys get? It’s not something most men will need, but we all want boys to have a little fun.”
See the CABRETTA COUTURE master craftsmen at work in the UK
But the CABRETTA COUTURE ethos is about more than fashion and fun. All the gloves are handmade in Southern England by a small team expert craftsmen, who still use traditional techniques and Victorian knives to fashion each piece to perfection. Orders generally take 6 – 8 weeks to process and deliver due to the intimate and thorough consultation process that ensures the buyer gets exactly what they want.
“It’s a throwback to the days when custom and bespoke meant that things actually we’re handmade,” said Jennifer. “Now that so many luxury brands mass produce their goods in China, we offer a personal service that is truly from a bygone era.”
And “personal” is certainly the key word here. As well as fulfilling single-glove orders for those who have lost half of a favourite pair and need the lonely partner matched, CABRETTA COUTURE even makes specialised gloves for customers with unusually long (or short) fingers, missing fingers or birth defects. With the handy (pun intended) online fitting form, even those who don’t live in Hong Kong can have their own custom-made CABRETTA COUTUREs.
And as for Jennifer herself, she’s due to end her show jumping retirement a little early after she bought a horse in a so-described “shopping accident” on a recent trip to Belgium. As my friend at the Jockey Club said, ‘It’s a disease. It’s only curable by death or poverty,’” smiled Jennifer.