Harriet Posner, a former top partner at one of the most prestigious law firms in the country, began riding in her forties. After some life changing news when it came to her health, she decided to take a leap of faith and follow her heart. Years later, she is now the founder and CEO of luxury equestrian apparel brand Callidae. We sat down with Harriet to hear more of her incredible story, find out how she gets it done and what can young entrepreneurs and equestrians learn from this power-house of a woman!
You came to horses and the equestrian world later in your life, can you tell us how you arrived?
I grew up in Chicago as a tennis player and played all throughout college and law school and well into my forties. I did not know people ride horses around in circles and jumped over things or anything like that! I was a partner at a big law firm, raising my kids, playing tennis, doing all those things and my nanny who rides took my kids to the barn, and one of my sons wanted to ride. So I started taking riding lessons with him when I was in my forties. I'd never sat on a horse before and I was totally hooked. I felt like a young girl again. It was just so cathartic for me.
Okay, so partner at a law firm (beyond full-time job), mother of two, tennis player, how on earth did you fit in becoming an amateur hunter rider?
Well, fortunately the folks at Archie's [Cox] were cool with teaching early in the morning, 6:30 before work typically! The staff at the barn were incredibly patient and supportive, they really made it possible. But in my view, women just make it work. People are like, "How'd you do all that?" I'm like, "Well, what was the alternative, really? Not raise my kids? Not work? Not ride [laughter]? No." You just figure out a way to get it done. I don't need a lot of sleep, and it was important. So I just figured out a way.
What was in the inspiration for starting Callidae?
After being in the law for 30 years, I would pull up in front of the office and put on this facade, it became exhausting and I didn’t want to become one those old, grumpy people driving to work and hating it. I was also in the process of getting treated for cancer and started thinking about life a little differently. While I loved my career and had amazing mentors, I thought, ‘I want to do something else before I'm too old to really do it.’ And so I took an early retirement and decided to, with no experience, follow my heart and start a clothing line.
I was actually working on a cancer clothing line (clothing designed to be feminine and functional for women that were in treatment), with a friend of mine, a young guy whose mom had cancer, that was a huge learning experience for me, if I knew what I know now about production and marketing I think that line could have gone a different path but it eventually led to me starting Callidae. I wasn’t a huge fan of the options for riding clothes, and perhaps I was watching too many episodes of Mad Men, but I was just so inspired by the elegance of Betty Draper (January Jones’s character) when she would go riding, the timelessness of it all, and that seem to be forgotten with the new low rise, low quality and bedazzled options available.
So after I fully accepted how uncomfortable I was in the technical fabrics, I thought to myself there must be a better way to do this. And we came out with our Tech Practice shirts and people have gone crazy for them, we also have some beautiful new show coats that are four-button, lightweight wool and fully lined. We also have created a new V-Neck Tee version of our bestselling Tech Practice Shirt, which will be a wonderful addition to the collection.
What is some advice you would give to others wanting to design clothing, and just in general take that leap into a new career?
I had done a lot of legal work for James Perse, so when I was just starting out I asked him and he said, " Don't put pieces out before they're really ready. And always remember that you're telling a story that has to be consistent. Whatever you put out, it has to fit the story that you're telling." that has stayed with me ever since. In fashion there is always a new problem, a lot of my own education was learning to understand that everyday can bring a new headache, "Did they put the lining in wrong? Did they not follow the pattern and one leg is short?". I am really grateful that all of my legal training was centered around problem solving because it is so much of that!
In terms of transitioning careers I strongly urge people to not be afraid of change. I think you have to embrace change; I think you have to let go of things that are comfortable and sort of sit in discomfort to achieve your next evolution. Have faith in yourself, have confidence, and any kind of change-- I mean, the first six months after I left Skadden, I didn't really know exactly what I was doing with this brand or the cancer line or anything else. And while there's a certain freedom in not being tethered to something you've done for a long time, there's also anxiety over not knowing what's next. You have to just be comfortable with discomfort as you start something new. And know that it will pass. And just put one foot in front of the other and follow what you're passionate about.