Industry Innovators

By Erna L. Adelson & Jackie McFarland

Alexandra Cherubini seems to have the Midas touch, both in her hands and her heart. The founder of ShouldersBack, a posture-enhancing garment designed by orthopedic specialists and EquiFit, inc. which integrates super absorbent t-foam into riding equipment, is a rare Renaissance woman. She has created product lines that transcend her primary equestrian market to include influence on fashion and sports apparel; she owns an art gallery with her husband and still finds time to be a competitive rider. Even while breaking into other industries, Cherubini remains true to her original equestrian passion and inspiration, and has both advanced and challenged the industry without losing sight of the traditions that shape it.

The concepts for ShouldersBack and the EquiFit, inc. products resulted from a combination of Cherubini’s experience and her passion for the equestrian sport. Her first product, ShouldersBack, took on a life of its own, garnering the young entrepreneur a museum exhibit, several glossy features and a hands-on lesson in product marketing. According to Cherubini, “ShouldersBack is a wild ride! I was filling orders myself in Brooklyn when I got a call from the Met in New York.” The legendary museum included a ShouldersBack device in the 2001 exhibit “Extreme Beauty.” After that, it appeared in W Magazine, and reportedly gained some very high profile clientele. Cherubini took success by the reins. “I began to see different avenues for the product, from fashion and beauty to both chiropractic and speech therapy,” she says. It seems that opening the shoulders also releases the neck and the chest, beneficial for posture, pain relief and speech.

Cherubini cites several contributing factors to her development of t-foam riding accessories, the staple of EquiFit, inc. “My family is in the medical industry so I grew up surrounded by t-foam, orthotics and heel lifts,” she explains. “And I’ve been drawn to horse boots, maybe due to my love for shoes.” She realized that t-foam was a perfect application for absorbing the impact that horses endure. The idea that she could access her assorted expertise to help horses was enough inspiration for Cherubini to start another business.

EquiFit, inc. turned out to be worth the risk—though like every new venture, it was subject to trial and error in the beginning. “We tested nearly 30 versions of the boots before we went to market. Even little changes in angles or thicknesses change the boots,” says Cherubini. “Then in the first couple of years, it was challenging competing with the products that riders were used to using on their horses.”

Cherubini also draws from her diverse business background and degree in Cultural Anthropology to craft unique and creative marketing campaigns around her designs, an essential for product success. The Bates graduate reveals that she has cultivated a brand that not only fills a market niche, it also appeals to the sociology of each consumer with a subtle yet effective presence through event sponsorship, a team of rider representatives and their newest innovation “equine interest stories.”

“I’ve always loved the branding and marketing aspect of product development,” she explains. “I am a firm believer in strategic marketing and PR. Our products are very different from others on the market and people need to know how and why they are different and how they help.” EquiFit, inc.’s most recent promotional approach is e-news brief that features “EquiFacts,” true stories about sponsored riders and their mounts in a fun and engaging format. Cherubini is personally involved in each new installment. “Equine interest stories are fun to read and I love that we are able to make these stories accessible,” she says. “I think it helps keep culture and history of the industry in context while setting the stage for advancement.”

Such advancements include the semi-controversial Tretorn riding boots. “It’s funny with these boots, people either love them or don’t, there is no middle ground,” Cherubini comments. And two new products that incorporate mineral oil and gel—a glide-on substance that protects riders’ legs and adhesive gel pads that guard horses against equipment rubs. EquiFit, inc. is also updating their boot liner for more durability and developing a liner exchange program so just liners, and not the entire boot, can be replaced after wear and tear. Cherubini has recently returned to the show ring and is thrilled. “I get to work in an arena that I love, and I guess I’m really lucky that way. It was such a blast to show again,” she beamed. A true industry mogul, Cherubini pays it forward by working with several relevant charities: the Equestrian Aid Foundation, which assists anyone in the equestrian world suffering from life-threatening illness, catastrophic accidents or injuries by providing direct financial support for their medical expenses or basic needs, and City to Saddle, a Boston-based charity that gives inner city kids an opportunity to ride.

Combine knowledge with passion, mix in strong commitment, inspiration and some awesome energy and your end result is an industry innovator with a Midas Touch, Alexandra Cherubini.