UW-River Falls: Ag engineering tech student starts own business creating western scarves

March 24, 2022 — University of Wisconsin-River Falls senior Naomi Dolton started sewing in her dormitory two years ago to give herself a study break.

“I love to sew,” Dolton said. “I didn’t have a good sleep schedule. It was something I could do with my hands and give my brain a break from studying.” At first Dolton, a senior in agricultural engineering technology from Racine, Minn., made hair scrunchies and would sell a few on the UWRF campus and at area horse tack sales.

At one of the sales, Dolton saw a wild rag, a type of cowboy heritage scarf typically made with silk.

Inspiration hit. Dolton wanted to try and make a similar product without the high price tag using a lightweight satin material.

“Finished wild rags made of silk can range from $50 to $100,” Dolton said.

In January 2021, Dolton started her own business Rags N Ranchwear. Initially, she did all the sewing of the neckwear apparel herself but as orders increased, she ended up having items sewn by others, getting fabric wholesale and selling the wild rags nationwide.

“It still gets that silk-feel without paying silk prices,” Dolton said, noting her scarves cost $25. “I want to be able to make stuff people can afford without breaking the bank.”

Some people wear wild rags when competing in a show with their horses. They are often seen at the Wisconsin Ranch Horse Association Shows, Dolton said. Others choose to wear the scarves as a fashion statement and to stay warm.

The rags come in two sizes, the traditional that are 36-inches by 36-inches and the mini rags that are 20-inches by 20-inches and tend to be more popular with western dressage riders or those wanting a smaller wild rag including children, she noted, adding they can also be styled as a headband.

“When I first started doing the western rags, I thought it would be a side gig and I expected it was something to help pass the time,” Dolton said.

In September 2021, she registered Rags N Ranchwear with the Minnesota Secretary of State becoming an officially licensed business.

“I have learned so much about social media management,” Dolton said, noting she also had learned business skills including working with people and satisfying customers.

Dolton will have her wild rags at the UWRF Tack Swap and Consignment Sale on the Campus Farm, 1529 S. Wasson Lane, River Falls, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 30. That is the same day as the Colts in Training Open House to showcase the 43 colts that have been trained by students and will be sold through an online auction.

Dolton will also sell her wild rags at the Midwest Horse Fair April 22-24 at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison. She will also be at the Minnesota Horse Expo April 14-16 at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in St. Paul.

Jesse Guenther, a senior majoring in animal science with an equine emphasis, said she loves that every item from Rags N Ranchwear is handpicked with consumers in mind.

“Naomi finds new patterns and colors for inspirational wild rags that speak to you,” Guenther said. “Each time you go to her booth or website you always find something different. Something you must have.”

Guenther said she is impressed with Dolton starting her own business while in college and admires how Dolton strives to be both a good student and strong business owner.

“Naomi is a wonderful person who has strong core values and believes in hard work,” Guenther said. “She has worked countless hours to build Rages N Ranchwear up from scratch and is continuously trying to make improvements. From interacting with customers to creating new products, she places personal touches on every interaction making herself and Rags N Ranchwear memorable.”

If anyone is thinking of starting their own small business, Dolton urges them to follow their dream.

“It might not be going at the speed you want,” Dolton said. “You learn life skills and you determine what the business is and what it is going to be.”

After she graduates in May, Dolton will work full-time at American Engineering Testing in Rochester, Minn., as an environmental engineering testing technician. She was an intern last summer at the company in quality assurance.

To learn more about Rags N Ranchwear, contact Dolton on her Facebook site or at [email protected]