The Broncy Donkey Leather Co., a moccasin business, makes significant strides in providing stylish footwear choices and helping a couple of women sustain their families.
Misti Graham of the Bloomburg/Queen City area and Caroline Blackard of Mount Pleasant, own and operate the business, which got its official start last September. They met about seven years ago while attending their children's rodeo events.
Misti, who used to work in gun sales at a pawn shop, has always worn moccasins, including Minnetonkas, so making moccasins seemed like the next, natural step.
Misti credits her aunt, Donna Jackson of Texarkana, with teaching her to sew, wind bobbins and change stitch lengths. This helped spur her interest in making moccasins.
"The very first pair I sold was a regular inlay design called Delta Dawn to a girl from Fouke. She picked them up in a parking lot. She said, 'I know a girl who wants to order eight pair,'" Misti recounted. "And that is when I thought they might be popular."Gallery: Moccasin makers have feet firmly planted
The Broncy Donkey makes moccasins for women, men and children. The company's website also features what Caroline calls "cash and carry" moccasins ranging in price from $99 to $200. They also do custom moccasin orders ranging from $135 to $250 or more, depending on what the customer wants. They additionally make and sell caps and T-shirts.
No two pair of moccasins are exactly alike, Misti said.
Customers run the gamut of wanting to create their own pairs, unique with their own brands, to sending photos of previous styles The Broncy Donkey have made, Misti said.
Misti and Caroline estimated the most basic pair of moccasins takes about two hours to make, and at its highest point of production they have made about eight pair a day.
Moccasins are not intended to be fenced in when it comes to fashion, they agreed.
The Broncy Donkey's moccasins are made for hitting the road for work or play with 1/8-inch, gum-crinkle rubber soles. They can be worn in farms, rodeos, when feeding livestock, attending church, visiting Sea World and other theme parks, while feeding animals, working out, playing basketball and even traipsing through mud.
The moccasins clean up nicely.
"They get a lot of attention," Caroline said.
They can be worn all day and with anything, including dresses, leggings and T-shirts, shorts, jeans and even fuzzy socks.
Misti said arriving at the business' wild and whimsical name, The Broncy Donkey, was a long process.
"It started as Graham Leather Works, but I wanted something more neutral, like Black Feather Leather or G & B Leather Works," she said. "And then I said, 'Hey, I've always wanted to have a boutique named The Broncy Donkey.' We let it set for two to three weeks and Caroline said 'I really do like that Broncy Donkey'"
Their home base is a small red shop off a narrow Cass County road, tucked down a long driveway in front of a horse pasture.
Finishing and equipping the shop was a joint effort.
"In a few days we just put it all together," Misti said.
The moccasins were initially all hand-sewn but in mid-January they bought two leather-sewing machines. Now, the soles, vamps and fringes are sewn by the machines. Those parts and pieces are then hand-sewn into moccasins, Caroline said.
Empowering women is an important part of Broncy Donkey's business footprint.
"Misti and I both thought we wanted some mission line of business," Caroline said.
The leather company has partnered with Hope Ministries of Northeast Texas, a Christian nonprofit organization helping women discover their potential. Based in Mount Pleasant, Caroline learned about it through her brother, who owns a restaurant there.
The Broncy Donkey has two contract employees through Hope Ministries — Tera Mullins and Ariana Vega.
"It helped me a lot to have a job where I can still take care of my kids around their schedule," Tera said. "This has helped me find my voice and learn about leadership."
The work offers so much.
"It helps me provide for myself and my siblings. It gives me the opportunity to go to college while still having a job and learning new skills," Ariana said.
Caroline and Misti said they would like to expand Broncy Donkey's reach with Hope Ministries. Initial conversations about working with a branch in Brazil are under way.
"Miss Judy (of Hope Ministries) dreams for us sometimes and prays for us all the time," Caroline said. "She wants ladies making our shoes all over the world."
Misti said, "We are always happy for any opportunity."
Because of The Broncy Donkey's growth, Caroline was able to leave her full-time job at North East Texas Community College as a community outreach worker in January.
Caroline, her teenage daughter by the same name, and the daughter's friend Tera Rozell work in Mount Pleasant for most of the week, but they travel to The Broncy Donkey's home base in Queen City twice a week.
The younger Caroline and Tera Rozell also work for The Broncy Donkey.
"We really enjoy it. It is super flexible and allows us to be creative and make some cool shoes. We can make moccasins on the way to rodeo if we want," daughter Caroline said.
Tera Rozell said she has found the work helpful during the pandemic.
"My bosses are awesome and understand if I have to work with a horse. It's really been awesome during the COVID outbreak to get to make some money and not sit inside," she said. "I think this is a really cool opportunity for kids my age to express their style through their shoes."
Both young women graduated from high school this spring and plan to attend Vernon College near Waxahachie, Texas, in the fall. They also plan to continue making moccasins while in college.
Misti and Caroline have described the business as a leap of faith.
"Caroline and her husband from the very beginning saw a lot more than I did in this," Misti said. "Her husband said, 'You are going to outgrow that little building in three to six months.' Caroline had a better vision of things from the very beginning. I wake up every day and say, 'Wow people buy the stuff we make.'"
As for the future, there has been some talk about entering wholesale arenas. They also hope to have a booth at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas at the end of the year.
April was the company's best month so far.
"People were busy at home on cellphones shopping, more screen time," Caroline said.
Social media is a huge part of the business.
Before the pandemic hit, The Broncy Donkey usually only accepted a limited number of custom orders each month. But with the pandemic, they opted to accept more custom orders, which has been good for business.
Caroline says the camaraderie among The Broncy Donkey employees and workers has been awesome.
"We are learning together. This is a baby business and they are willing to help us figure it out. We are traveling on this journey together," she said.
They will continue on that journey making and wearing moccasins.
(For more information, check out their Facebook page The Broncy Donkey Leather Co. or their website broncydonkeyleather.com.) n