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These days, you can find the Double D Ranch Collection in stores across the country and you'll see Double D Ranch in national publications like Cowboys & Indians, Marie Claire, New York Times, Texas Monthly, and Mountain Living.
The apparel line has been called Western haute couture. But think about these humble beginnings and decide for yourself just how haute these four girls from Yoakum, Texas really are.
THE MEXICAN BUS TRIP
It all started with the McMullen sisters and a rickety bus ride filled with chickens and dogs from Laredo, Texas to Taxco, Mexico in search of authentic silver buttons, then sending a check for $5000 to that shady button merchant who could very well have taken the money and run, to landing in New York at 3 a.m. with $200 in your purse, no place to stay and no idea who could put an Indian blanket design on wool.
How haute is this? Riding spread-eagle on the back of a pickup, holding down bundles of cut Indian blanket coats as you drive through San Antonio going from cutter to the sewing factory.
GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN
Today, when you stop by the Double D Ranch corporate offices in Yoakum, Texas, you won't find the stereotypical fashion house. Cheryl has her bare legs propped up to the design table sketching a new collection. Margie will be fresh out of her garden thumbing through invoices, but already planning what she'll serve the office for lunch. Hedy might be buried under a shipment of fur. Sorting out the pieces that don't meet her standards. And you'll find Audrey in a fitting session, scanning the month's order forms, while seamstresses tuck and pin around her.
They're just four regular girls from Yoakum, building on their hard working Texas roots and a childhood spent in the Southwest. They don't care how things are done in New York. They've managed to build a fashion and furnishing company deep in the heart of Texas and they wouldn't have it any other way.
Double D Ranch started in 1989 as Double D Ranchwear. The Double D stands for Doug and daughters. The "wear" was dropped when they added the home furnishings collection. The business was born out of Cheryl's inability to handle the thin air atop the mountains at a resort at Angel Fire, New Mexico, where the whole clan had gone on a ski trip. Cheryl spent the day shopping in Taos, where she spotted a man wearing a coat made from a Pendleton blanket. She stayed in Taos and found the little shop where a man took custom orders and made the coats one at a time. She ordered one for herself.
SEARCHING FOR THE NEXT BIG THING
Back home Cheryl and younger sister Audrey, ran an interior design business in Yoakum, Texas. The sisters made their way to the Dallas Market Center looking for home interior ideas and found that they couldn't get through a hallway or courtyard without being asked about Cheryl's new coat. Audrey recalled, "One lady even stopped the bus we were on to get on to find out where Cheryl got the coat. We finally had to check her coat in, because we couldn't get anything done".
BE CAREFUL ABOUT WHAT YOU WISH FOR
The sisters told their dad about the attention the coat drew; he suggested they make the coats and sell them. "We thought, let's make a few, and maybe we'll make enough money to go snow-skiing again," Audrey said. Coming up with samples was a tough mission, but ingenuity and luck paid off and they made it to their temporary booth at the Dallas Market Center with the first Double D Ranchwear collection. Retailers came into the booth saying "I'll take 2,4,4,2". Cheryl and Audrey wrote down the numbers although they didn't have a clue what 2,4,4,2 meant. They had to go to another booth to find out the person was ordering two extra small, four small, four medium, and two large jackets.
The good news was they left the market with $150,000 dollars worth of orders. The bad news, they knew it would cost $170,000 dollars to make them. But mother and dad's philosophy was, if you say you're going to do something, then do it. Audrey said, "We are going to lose money, but we'd said we'd make them, so we did."
Margie said, when they first started making broom skirts; they would fill the 10-gallon trashcans with water and liquid starch out in the front lawn. They would take each end of the skirt and twist. To relieve boredom of the job, they would race to see which team of two could twist the most skirts the fastest. Once they twisted the skirts, they slid the skirts into women's hosiery to hold the twist, and then hung them up. "People driving by thought we were selling sausage" Margie said.
The McMullen's didn't plan to embark on a large business venture, but Cheryl had been romanced by the beauty and culture of the Southwest during summers spent in New Mexico. She began to envision clothes with a historic flair that would reflect the spirit of the American West. She came up with the Scout Jacket, a fitted, military style jacket that has become Double D's signature item. A variation of the jacket is included in every fall line. Cheryl also uses velvet, wool, suede and leather. "Cheryl takes current trends and interprets them in her own way," Audrey said. Everything Cheryl does has so much research. "We find the fabrics and designs she naturally enjoys and loves sell the best."
Cheryl's workspace is the loft of an 1800's building in downtown Yoakum that's been a harness and buggy shop, a hardware store, and a J.C. Penney store. A tour of the loft reveals a library of fabrics and various items she has picked up at antique stores. She enjoys wandering through museums across the Southwest soaking up the original clothing and art of the Pioneers, Native Americans and Western cultures. Snapshots and vintage pieces are scattered around waiting for their moment to come back to life in a new jacket or as part of the expanding home collection.
The Double D Ranch home furnishings collection came about because Cheryl couldn't find fabrics or furniture she liked when decorating her own ranch house. Audrey said because Cheryl had already done so much research for the apparel line in her search for her own furnishings, it wasn't a big leap for her to design home furnishings with the Double D Ranch look.
A REAL FAMILY TEAM
The family says good employees, who total 45, have spoiled them. Audrey said, "We have the most wonderful employees that if it means staying until 2 a.m. to make a deadline, they stay without having to be asked". "They're really like extended family," Margie added.
Cheryl may design the clothes and home furnishings, but it's middle sister Hedy, who makes sure it gets made to Double D Ranch standards. Hedy's organization and efficiency allows the company to cut costs without sacrificing quality. She's known as the production "trail boss" of Double D Ranch.
Audrey is chief executive officer, and deals with buyers and employees. In the beginning, she was the face of double D Ranch advertisements. When the company first started, Cheryl an Audrey went to Dallas and found a fashion photographer and a stylist. "Customers could relate to Audrey because she wasn't skinny minnie, she's had 3 babies, and worked a full time job". Cheryl recalls. But as the company continues to grow, her corporate duties become more demanding so she leaves it to the models to embody the Double D Ranch image. The family insists its company isn't a big player in the world of fashion, but Cheryl has earned numerous awards, including 1993 Guest Designer of Dallas Mega Mart, Fall 1995 Guest Designer Denver Apparel market, 1996 Western Image Award, Manufacturer-of-the-Year, 1997 Fashion Award Nominee and 1999 Naturally Texas' Natural Fiber Designer of the Year. And the company has grown to the point that Cheryl no longer has to ride a bus in to Mexico to find the right buttons. Now button and fabric designers come to see her and help her find what she needs. But Cheryl hasn't forgotten that it all started in a garage in Yoakum, Texas.