In its silver-anniversary year, Double D Ranch takes a rare spare moment to talk about silver linings, November 2015’s Cowgirl Hall of Fame award, and the makings of an iconic Western brand.
In the late 1940s, if you happened to be roaming the outskirts of Red Rock, Texas, you might have seen a young boy and his coon dog chasing wildly after rabbits. Whenever the dog would give chase after one of these critters, you’d hear the boy exclaim, “It’s Red’s rabbit now!” That boy would grow up to be Doug McMullen, and that coon dog named Red would be immortalized by his children and grandchildren.
Long after Red got his final rabbit, Doug would meet a woman named Margie and begin an adventure that included his three daughters: Cheryl, Hedy, and Audrey. The saying that Doug had used as a child would become family shorthand whenever victory was assured. Over the last 25 years, that phrase has not been in short supply around the McMullen household.
Doug and Margie instilled in their girls a spirit of adventure and a self-confidence to go after what they wanted. Twenty-five years ago, they did just that. After finding an inspiring Native American blanket coat in Taos and going on a sitcom-worthy button hunt in Mexico, they founded Double D Ranch — a company that would help define the Western lifestyle, become a nationally recognized brand, and win numerous fashion awards.
Still chasing their own dreams, the girls have passed on their father’s thrill of the chase to their children. The next generation has begun its own collection, naming it Red’s Rabbit for the love of daring pursuit and destined success. That old coon dog had quite an impact on the Double D Ranch family, and its members, in turn, have had quite an impact on the family of fashion plates who love the West.
Double D Ranch has always been a family affair. The name itself proclaims it: One D is for Doug, the other for his daughters. “Everything we do, we do with our family,” says youngest daughter and cofounder Audrey Franz. “We work, play, vacation, celebrate, and cry together.” Although many tears have been shed since the passing of Doug in 2010, family — as much as creativity, faith, and hard work — remains the tie that binds the brand.
This November, Cheryl, Hedy, and Audrey, along with the rest of the Double D family, will be attending the 40th Cowgirl Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, where they will be honored with the prestigious Mary Jane Colter Award. Named for 2009 National Cowgirl Hall of Fame honoree Mary Jane Colter, the award distinguishes women who create, design, build, and interpret the traditions of the American West. Double D Ranch is being recognized for its quarter century of success in helping to pave the way for Western American fashion.
In celebration of their Hall of Fame milestone and 25 years of creating some of the most coveted and creative togs in the Western market, C&I sat down with the daughters to talk about the memorable early days, what’s coming next from Double D Ranch, and the secret to the family’s success.
Cowboys & Indians: We love the story about how Double D Ranch came into being. Do you mind telling it?
Audrey: We were skiing in Angel Fire [New Mexico], and Cheryl got altitude sickness. She was miserable. She was so sick and she couldn’t breathe, and I wouldn’t stop singing “Every Breath You Take” just to aggravate her.
Cheryl: It was horrible. But Audrey finally took me down to Taos to the ER, and the next day when I went to pick up my prescription I saw a flash of a man in this blanket coat. I found the shop that fashioned blankets into dusters, selected a blanket, and two weeks later this amazing coat arrived. When the coat was delivered, Dad kept saying that we should make these. We thought we were already doing too much, so we just ignored it.
Audrey: Cheryl and I had a gift store at the time, and we were starving at best. But we were headed to gift market in January to buy, and she wore that coat. We actually had women stopping shuttle buses in order to jump off and ask where she got it. When we got home we decided to reevaluate Dad’s idea.
Hedy: The only problem was, we had no idea what we were doing. That first market we would just write everything down and figure it out as we went. People would tell us they wanted 3-2-3 and we had no idea what it meant. We didn’t figure out until later that those were the number of each size they wanted.
Cheryl: Then Dad got it in his head that I needed to go to an upcoming fabric show in New York to source fabric. I borrowed $200, took a red-eye flight to New York City, slept on the floor of a friend’s hotel room, walked into that fabric market, and did not see a single thing I liked.
I finally found a booth where there were mounds of vintage fabric and a woman who looked like a mix between Bette Midler and Janis Joplin. I spotted one vintage moth-worn French bandanna at the very bottom of this pile and slowly pulled it out. It wasn’t even a full piece of fabric. She called it an “inspiration piece.”
It was the only thing I came back home with, and Daddy threw a fit. I had spent $300 on a holey bandanna that was supposed to inspire an entire brand. It was a Jack and the Beanstalk moment for our company. It was like I had sold the family cow for a pile of beans. Those beans turned into a beanstalk that took us places we couldn’t have ever imagined.
Audrey: From that $300 and that one bandanna, we created a line that would continue for 25 years.
C&I: You could have taken the company to New York or L.A., but you stayed in the Lone Star State. How do Texas and the Western lifestyle figure into what you do?
Audrey: Texas has always been home for us. Mother’s land has been in her family since before Texas was a republic. Our ancestors fought in the revolution and helped settle early Texas, so our roots are very much tied to this land.
Cheryl: Double D Ranch is the West. It embodies everything the West was about. It’s unknown and uncharted territory that we are trekking through every season. Our brand is appreciating the work for what it is, expanding on what it was, and praying to God for what it will be. We are Texas born and bred, and Texas is very much a part of the West.
Hedy: [Laughs.] The West used to be a bunch of scallywags running from the law and flying by the seat of their pants from day to day, and we have not lost that over the years.
C&I: To hear you tell it, Double D Ranch has done its fair share of flying by the seat of its pants. And yet, it has thrived and keeps growing. ...
Audrey: When we started, we didn’t actually intend for this to be long-term. We really thought we would sell a few coats and use the profits for another ski trip to New Mexico.
Cheryl: Yoakum, where our main offices are, is your typical small Texas town. It’s real men and women living real Texas life, working small cattle ranches, tooling leather for saddles, and packing beef. Hard, dedicated workers — that’s a big reason we’ve done so well, [because] we have loyal, hardworking employees.
C&I: What are some of your favorite moments learning the family biz?
Cheryl: One of the best stories is with my dad. I wanted to put silver concho buttons on our first blanket coats. We reasoned Taxco, Mexico, would be the best source for silver, so off we went to Mexico. We drove Dad’s old truck to Laredo and from there we got on a bus for the trip through the interior. I sat directly behind the bus driver and anxiously pushed on his seat trying to make him go faster because he would pull over on the roadside just willy-nilly and pick up whoever and whatever they happened to have on them. So I’m having a minor panic attack, and Daddy is in the back of the bus making friends with all the locals and their chickens! When we finally get to Taxco, I’m running everywhere trying to find silver buttons. We end up in the town plaza one night just as a big Mexican wedding was going down. Next thing I know Daddy has hooked up with the father of the bride and is waving me forward to be the most favored guests! All I could think was, Dad! We’re trying to find buttons!
Hedy: My favorite “we don’t know what we’re doing” story is this time when we had to broomstick all our own skirts. I’m talking hundreds of skirts. So we’ve got Mom in the kitchen pouring hot water and starch into these trash cans, and we’re taking these skirts and we’re ringing out all the water with a partner. Then we would twirl these skirts in pantyhose and lay them out to dry. Needless to say, it got really boring after the first day. So I decided we were going to have us a competition: The first team done with 20 skirts wins. So we’re twisting and wringing out skirts and flinging them out on the lawn, and passersby kept stopping and asking us if they could buy some of our sausage. What kind of sausage did they think we were making?! I always think about that memory and laugh. And Dad and I won, in case anyone was wondering.
C&I: A lot of people find family can be challenging day in and day out. How do you guys keep it fun and productive?
Cheryl: We get asked how we can work and live and play with each other all the time, and the reality is, this business is an extension of who we are as a family. It wouldn’t work if it weren’t. It’s such a joy to be able to do what you love with people you love. It’s the ultimate blessing.
Hedy: Dad’s passion was always quarter horses — and the faster the better. When we were kids, he would drive across states just to get to a horse race. All that time together cramped in the back seat of the car forced us sisters to become best friends. We learned how to work together, and we feel safe with each other. The question should be, How could we not work together?
Audrey: It’s a real extended family, too. The majority of our employees have been with us for over 15 years. They spend more time with us than they do with their own families. They are our family.
C&I: Do you have any special or surprising traditions at Double D Ranch?
Hedy: We smoke the line.
Cheryl: [Laughs.] We take a smudge stick, and we smoke the line before each season’s market for luck and good juju!
C&I: What are some of your fondest memories and proudest moments over the years?
Cheryl: Proudest? So many, but the second year we were in business, we were asked to be Dallas Market Center’s featured designer. I couldn’t believe it. It was so surreal. And then we were selected as manufacturer of the year. So to go from being kids who didn’t know what they were doing to being recognized for your designs is incredibly humbling.
Audrey: And then, of course, the Cowgirl Hall of Fame award — that is the stuff bucket lists are made of.
C&I: Any secrets to your success and longevity?
Cheryl: God first. That’s really it. In spite of ourselves, this company has succeeded because of him. Our family is key, too. The fact that we make all of this work together is incredible. There’s no other group of people I would rather spend my time with.
Hedy: It’s the idea of doing more than what’s expected. We work really hard, and we instill that mind-set in our children. Hopefully they’re listening.
Audrey: Double D Ranch has a life of its own. I feel like we haven’t stopped trying to catch up since day one. It just keeps rolling on, and we keep chasing this dream that started with a blanket coat!
From the November/December 2015 issue.