"I'm beading boots," says Ahsaki Báá LaFrance-Chachere, late on a Sunday night, with the enthusiasm of an entrepreneur on the precipice of something big.
This turquoise-clustered pair is called Turquoise Haven, she says, though many of the boots in her newly conceived Four Arrows line are simple designs for everyday wear. The concept behind the brand is quality boots at affordable prices.
The 25-year-old Navajo and African American businesswoman launched Four Arrows on February 1, and the retail website, four-arrows-westernwear.com, debuted on February 14. The brand is largely targeted at rodeo hands, like her husband and business co-founder Dennis Chachere, a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association tie-down roper from Houston, Texas.
Four Arrows will unveil its women's clothing line and official spring collection of boots in mid-April. The couple markets Four Arrows by sporting the products, as well as regularly posting photos and updates on Facebook (4 Arrows), Instagram (4arrows_westernwear) and Twitter (@_fourarrows). "I'm just so excited," LaFrance-Chachere frequently repeats with a contagious, upbeat optimism.
LaFrance-Chachere, a designer and model with a penchant for rodeo culture, grew up around the arena, though she's only competed twice herself: once as a child and again last year in barrel racing in a Real Cowboy Association tournament. "Rodeo is very big back home on the reservation. Going to weekend rodeos to cheer on family members and friends is always fun," she says. "Another big reason I love to go to rodeos is because of the concessions/food stands. I love food," she adds.
Ahsaki Báá LaFrance-Chachere, 25, born to a Navajo mother and African-American father, takes pride in her roots. (Courtesy LaFrance-Chachere)
Immersed in daily ranch life, designing boots was a natural step for the artist who avidly sketched outfits and footwear. "Coming from a family that tends to livestock on a daily basis, it wasn’t the place to wear high heels," she says. So when drawing outfits, she paired her designs with boots. "And from there simple drawings turned into the purchasing of materials and I started making boot covers. I still do make boot covers in my spare time," she says.
Raised in Besh-Be-Toh on the Navajo Reservation in Northeastern Arizona, along with her two younger sisters, Nizhoni and LaBelle, she credits her Navajo roots and her parents George and Darlene LaFrance with instilling personal pride and faith in her unique strengths and a determination to succeed.
"I was raised to become independent and to always remember that the only person who can stop me is myself," LaFrance-Chachere says. "It’s because of my parents that I am who I am today. It’s my Navajo traditional upbringing that's molded me and guided me through my life."
LaFrance-Chachere partnered with Innovation Boots to get her brand up and running, while the couple secures loans and raises money to invest the roughly $50,000 to own their brand. "It was a big decision to make. I'm not made of money; my parents are not made of money. Everything starts small, and I'm fine with that," she says.
LaFrance currently only sells her designs through four-arrows-westernwear.com, though she has high hopes of opening a storefront down the road.
The Four Arrows name stems from Navajo tradition. "The number four is very sacred," she says, referencing the four sacred mountains and the Four Directions. "The arrow is a sign of protection. Navajos believe the four arrows represents protection in front of you, protection behind you, protection beneath you, and protection above you."
Her brand is not a fad or a marketing ploy. "It's not a cute little trend. My customers will be protected all around them," she says.
Like her mother taught her, LaFrance-Chachere places bow and arrows above all the doors in her home in Conroe, Texas. The couple lives on a ranch with three roping horses: Carmel Carmen, Monster and Magic, and two puppies: Dodge, a toy poodle, and Pepper, an Australian shepherd "guard dog." They plan to get "more [animal] babies" when they finish their arena. "We're saving up for a roping arena for Dennis to practice," she says.
Four Arrows - G1111
Four Arrows' designs are priced affordably, genrally at $165 or $185, rather than the high-fetching $300- or $600-plus boots typically sold by mainstream brands. Four Arrows currently features more than 30 different styles including boots, hats, clothing and accessories. The boots are fashioned from quality leather sourced from León, Mexico, "the capital of boots," she says. "These guys know what they're doing." She discovered León, the global shoe capital, by knocking door-to-door on custom boot stores and inquiring. "They kept saying León," she says — and the craftsmanship is evident in Four Arrow's top-notch leather, intricate stitching, sturdy soles and comfortable fit.
Four Arrows designs are intended to last through the seasons and endure rough conditions, like rodeo competition and tending to livestock. While Four Arrows offers more creative boots in various categories, its main line is geared at everyday wear: for activities like hauling water or herding sheep. "Everyday people don't like to be flashy unless they're going out. Rodeo women, ranch women and cowboys, they want a go-to brown boot or black boot," LaFrance-Chachere says. "I want someone to think: I can wear those rounding up the cattle or going to the feed store. But maybe they've got another pair for dance night or dinner date night."
Rustic Arrow boots in tan
The designs — the types of leather, the intricate stitching, the embroidery, the colors, the stones — stem from LaFrance-Chachere's background as well as urban trends. LaFrance-Chachere aspires to create a variety to match diverse personalities and tastes. "Native American culture and a mix of modernity is what inspires the boot designs. The designs of the boots are created to reach everyone," she says.
As a Navajo and African American, LaFrance-Chachere specifically hopes to appeal to her brothers and sisters. "I feel it's time we as Native Americans and African Americans have our own line — not excluding others, but to show that we are here, too. I'm the first, and it's exciting. I'm reaching an untouched market," she says.
LaFrance-Chachere is also employing what she learned from her modeling career in her design business — empowering people of different cultures by representing them in her marketing materials. "I want to showcase models of different ethnicities and promote diversity," she says. "I want to bring more than the latest fashion to the world; I want to bring culture and fashion together. "
The Four Arrows duo is also keenly aware of the high costs of rodeo life, from livestock feed to veterinarian visits to long road trips, so their mission is to make quality boots accessible to the everyday rodeo hand or rancher. "Everyday people deserve quality boots — Natives, Africans, Hispanics, etcetera — everyone deserves good boots a for fraction of the [brand name] price," LaFrance-Chachere says.
While she's a fan of the major brands, like Justin Boots, John B. Stetson Company and Roper, LaFrance-Chachere wants to fill a niche and outfit the everyday ranch woman or cowboy with something high-quality, comfortable and stylish. As she puts it: "I give all other boot companies mad respect because this is hard. Doing all of this with my husband from scratch has been a great experience," she says.
Deeply committed to her business, she's at once confident and humble about her imminent success. "I cannot wait for everything to fall into place," she says. "I cannot wait to come back home and have someone say, 'That's the owner of Four Arrows. I bought her boots.'"
The brand's tagline "Dare To Be Different" sums up her personal and brand ethos — she is fearless in pursuing her dreams while embracing her cultural identities. Her fierce spirit owes its strength to her roots: Táb??há (Water’s Edge), Naakai ?izhinii (African Descent), and Tsé?jíkiní (Cliff Dwellers).
"If the Creator takes us far, which I do pray, we will always be everyday people," she says. "My husband and I, we want everyone to remember that we're everyday people. We're always going to be at those backyard ropings, those little weekend rodeos. I'm going to remember where I came from. I'm that Navajo girl on the reservation, hauling water, herding sheep and participating in traditional ceremonies — and will always be, for myself and for my future kids."
LaFrance-Chachere deeply identifies with her heritage and respects her traditions. She's also faced frustrating situations that have required her to explain her cultural identity and defend against cultural appropriation. She recalls a recent incident: "A few weeks ago, I was at the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Stock Show and Rodeo in Lake Charles, Louisiana, when a lady approached me to compliment me on my 'Navajo boho look.' I told her I am Navajo and that this is not a trend but my identity."
Ahsaki Báá LaFrance-Chachere
Similarly, she's quick to point out that Four Arrows knows what traditional designs or methods are acceptable to use on her western boots. "There are companies that use sacred sand painting on boots and clothing designs. Growing up traditionally, you know you are not allowed to do that, but people outside of our culture aren't aware of this and don't understand and still use it as designs for fashion," she explains. "Four Arrows will always respect our traditional culture and leave sacred patterns and designs sacred. Period."
When LaFrance-Chachere does incorporate Native designs and materials, she does so with purpose. "Turquoise is not just a stone or a fashion trend. It's a way our Creator identifies with us," she says. "My goal is to showcase our style respectfully. Four Arrows respects everyone's culture, and that's what we want to be known for."
LaFrance always intends to maintain a very personal relationship with her customers. People like to call her and ask, "How far is my boot along?" and they appreciate speaking with the designer herself.
"I had a customer call Friday night after walking into Cavender's Boot City," she says. After checking out the high-dollar options, he reached out to the Four Arrows company. I was like, 'We got you.' We saved his pockets," she says.
LaFrance-Chachere frequently expresses her gratitude for her new customers — "for taking a chance with us as a new business. We are doing a good job because we're very picky with our boots; boots say a lot about a person. We want to make sure we continue to pull the best leather. I want customers to think, 'I can trust Four Arrows.' I'm building that name. I want them to know I'm not going anywhere. I'm here to stay. I'm really serious about this," she says.
Her advice to young men and women is to get an education. "It is never too late to learn; learning is growth," she says. "If you want it, work for it, and never give up on your dreams." Four Arrows offers a College Student Special; with a student ID, or by providing their college name, major and sharing why they like Four Arrows boots, college students can purchase a pair of boots for just $125 (excluding exotic leathered boots, turquoise haven, and special edition boots). Four Arrows also offers discounts with group pricing. Interested customers can email email@example.com, or visit www.four-arrows-westernwear.com/contact. Four Arrows guarantees a response within two business days.
While LaFrance-Chachere keeps busy with her day job as an office and financial manager for the soccer club Houston Dutch Lions FC, she pours all her extra energy into overseeing Four Arrows with Dennis.
And when she finds a little spare time for fun? LaFrance-Chachere rides horses with her husband.