I was first was introduced to the company, STERLING ESSENTIALS, through a mutual connection within the Pacific Northwest hunter/jumper circuit. I was immediately impressed with how quickly Teal, the other half of the company's husband and wife ownership team, responded to my inquiry about the story behind their natural based leather products.
As I was researching more about the brand, I was impressed by the endorsements of notable sport horse professionals including Melanie Smith Taylor (Olympic Gold Medalist- Show Jumping), Dana and Bob Brawley, Brawley Farms Inc. (AA hunter/jumper show barn) and Matt Brown and Cecily Clark, East West Training Stables (International Eventing Competitors). It was evident that this company was offering an alternative that filled a niche and was appreciated by equestrians of all levels.
After reading more about the ingredients, fragrances, and who stands the brand, I recognized that it is a better solution to my daily equipment cleaning because as their tagline states, it is "GENTLE ON YOUR LEATHER, GENTLE ON YOU."
Always fascinated why and how entrpereneurs start their own businesses, this is the story of how one amateur's horses inspired an entire company that is changing the way equestrians care for leather.
ENTREPRENUERS TO ADMIRE: Teal and Matt Shoop, interview by Teal Shoop
COMPANY: Sterling Essentials
Sterling Essentials leather care products are unique because they contain a special blend of natural food-grade products, as well as therapeutic grade essential oils. What motivated you to innovate and create your own line that differs from traditional ingredients?
The Sterling Essentials story actually began a few years ago after I experienced some bad luck. When my horse was injured and on stall rest one Pacific Northwest winter, I found myself worrying that my saddle and other leather tack would become moldy and mildewed in our wet winter. I looked around for a leather care product that would do the trick, but everything I found contained irritating chemicals. All of my horses, both past and current, have had even more sensitive skin than mine, and if the chemicals were irritating to me, they would certainly irritate my horses.
One of my past horses would actually break out in hives along his girth line and on his face from contact with other harsh leather care products. Additionally, my horses were quite inquisitive and thoroughly enjoyed chewing on anything they could reach, including their leather reins. I didn’t want to worry about my horses ingesting any harmful products, so again I searched to no avail, for a leather care product on the market that didn’t contain potentially hazardous ingredients. Frustrated with my inability to find any gentle, non-toxic, natural leather care products, I decided to make my own! I believed that effective, high quality leather care could be achieved without harsh and irritating chemicals or unsafe ingredients.
Also, I understood that fellow equestrians care just as deeply about their horse as I do about mine, so I thought there would be an interest in the horse community for a more natural and holistic leather care solution. My horses and my love for them was the true inspiration behind Sterling Essentials. In fact, my current horse and our unofficial mascot, Big Rabs, has been so influential he probably thinks he should be on the payroll.
How did you create your unique blends and what makes them different from other leather care products?
Quite a bit of research and experimentation went into coming up with the perfect balances and blends of ingredients for all of our products. In addition to ensuring our products used natural and gentle ingredients, I approached our blends from a scientific perspective, as well. Leather has certain compositions and properties that must be respected and maintained if the leather is to stay sound and in working condition for years. Delving into the science of leather was fascinating, and it helped me come up with our special pH balanced formulation specifically designed to protect and nurture leather’s key properties.
Additionally, results from clinical trials and other studies guided us to the best essential oils for preventing mold and mildew. Once the critical oils were selected, I had a lot of fun with family and my barn mates coming up with the product fragrance combinations.
After mixing, spraying, and smelling sample after sample until we got it right, my house and the barn certainly smelled really good!
Throughout the development process, I constantly asked myself, “Does it smell good, as if I’m at an aromatherapy spa? Would I want to use these products every day? Am I comfortable getting these products all over my bare hands? Am I worried if this gets on my horse or he eats some product? Do they actually, really truly work? And work well?” I wasn’t satisfied until I could say “yes” to all of these questions and more because then I knew our products were checking all of the boxes that equestrians are looking for in a high-quality leather care product.
I am very proud of our unique products and that we deliver gentle, effective leather care through a natural approach all while yielding impressive benefits, including being animal friendly, formulated to match the pH of leather, and powered by essential oils to prevent mold/mildew. Few, if any, other leather care brands offer all of our benefits and performance.
What is the most gratifying aspect of developing and marketing your own products?
I love hearing that my products made a difference for someone. I started out this whole adventure in order to make a difference to my horses, then to my barn mates, and now to fellow equestrians. It is very affirming to hear from other horse lovers that we have now solved their tack care struggle, their girth area irritation problem, their couldn’t get braided reins clean challenge, their never-ending mold dilemma - all the same problems that I faced and that lead me to create Sterling Essentials.
This feedback is very gratifying and very motivational, too. It’s nice to know that I was (hopefully) not crazy to start Sterling Essentials, and it pushes me to wonder about what challenge to tackle next in order to further elevate the day-to-day equestrian experience.
LEARN WITH STERLING ESSENTIALS
S TO S: Should leather goods be conditioned after each cleaning?
Although conditioning your leather after every cleaning might sound like a great plan, I actually advise against this. A key to leather health and longevity is maintaining just the right moisture level in the leather’s fibers. Given leather’s porous nature, it is very easy to over-condition your leather, resulting in oversaturated and stretched fibers and weakened and damaged leather. Additionally, over-conditioned leather creates a perfect feeding ground for mold, mildew, and other pests.
I recommend that you customize your conditioning routine based on your particular tack or leather’s needs. The amount of conditioning your leather requires is greatly dependent on your circumstances, including your unique weather, temperature, and environment, as well as the brand, type, and condition of your leather. For example, based on my western Oregon location I condition my full grain hunter/jumper saddle approximately 1-2 times per month during the summer, but maybe once or every other month in the winter.
If you are in a more humid climate or a climate susceptible to mold and mildew, you may find that you can reduce your conditioning amount and frequency substantially. The leather’s fibers will naturally retain their moisture in these environments, and you will want to control the amount of moisture in the leather upon which mold likes to feed. Adversely, if you live in a very arid climate, you may need to dramatically increase the amount and frequency of conditioning.
In order to find and keep this moisture balance, you need to rely on your leather to “tell” you what it needs. When conditioning, keep in mind that a little bit goes a long way. To begin, I recommend that you apply a very light coat of conditioner to your clean dry leather. As a rule of thumb if the conditioner absorbs very quickly (within a minute), your leather may actually be dry and likely needs another coat of conditioner or more frequent light conditioning. If the conditioner absorbs very slowly (not all gone within 5 minutes), your leather probably isn't very thirsty and could go with less heavy and less frequent conditioning. If the product hasn't absorbed within about 5 minutes, just wipe off the excess to avoid oversaturating and stretching your leather's fibers.
Overall, keep in mind that a little bit of conditioner goes a long way. Usually, it is better for your leather to be slightly thirsty than to be too moist. In most cases, additional conditioning can do wonders for dry leather. In general, it is not possible to reverse the damage caused by over-conditioning.
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