HARRISBURG, Pa. — “I just want to give back,” Emily Summey said. “In showing (livestock), the kids can get so competitive, but it’s important to remember the friendships you make and the experiences you have. It’s the mentors that make the difference. I want to be that mentor for kids.”
Without the experiences and mentors she’s had, Summey is certain she wouldn’t be where she is at today — the founder and sole proprietor of Stockyard Style, a Western-inspired women’s fashion company.
Growing up in Pennsylvania, Summey got her start in livestock thanks to her neighbors in the Jonestown, Pa., area. They had her assist in taking care of their Simmental beef at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. They then gave 10-year-old Summey her first breeding beef heifer and she’s been hooked ever since.
Seeing her developing passion for livestock, her parents, Les Whitmoyer and Mary Twaddell, gave her the opportunity to grow her livestock herd. The family moved to a small farm in Fredericksburg, Pa., where Summey raised market lambs, breeding Dorset sheep, hogs and Simmental cattle.
When she entered Northern Lebanon High School as a freshman and joined FFA, “that just solidified my career path,” she remembered, emphasizing that the FFA experiences and contests she participated in led her to a college major in agricultural communications.
When it came time for college, Summey knew what she wanted — an out-of-state college with an ag communications major. Right from the start, her options were limited.
“There were only 12 colleges with an ag comm program in the country,” she said.
One of those colleges was Texas A&M University.
“It’s a gigantic College of Ag. I just fell in love,” Summey said. “It was an easy decision.”
It’s no secret that a college education isn’t cheap, but Summey knew her road was going to be tough. During her junior year in high school, her parents informed her that she’d be on her own to pay for college.
While Texas A&M was her dream, Summey couldn’t deny she had “sticker shock.” So she started to apply for every scholarship she could.
Those experiences and mentors she had through 4-H and FFA began to come in handy.
“I applied for 4-H, FFA, KILE, Farm Show, Lebanon Fair and other scholarships,” she said. “I liquidated all my livestock and worked my way through school.”
But the biggest break Summey had was thanks to the scholarship she received from Texas A&M. Because she qualified to receive an academic scholarship from the university during her entire college career, it also waived her out-of-state tuition of $18,000 and instead only charged the in-state tuition of $7,000.
Combining all of her scholarships and work income, Summey was able to graduate in three and half years with zero student loan debt.
After graduating in December 2008 with a degree in agricultural communications, Summey continued to work in Texas and live her newfound “total personality change.”
When she had arrived in Texas, her so-called “East-Coast” style consisted of silver necklaces with small pendants and a relatively “calm” wardrobe. But in Texas, she said, “it’s all big hair, big jewelry. You wear your personality.”
Summey quickly discovered that her new fashion sense came with a price tag. Therefore, she followed the instruction of her coworkers and learned to make her own jewelry, specifically, beaded necklaces with matching earrings.
“When I learned I was moving home, my coworkers asked me, What’s bling like on the East Coast?’ I told them it’s nonexistent,” she said. “So they convinced me to start my own business.”
She decided to bring Western-inspired fashion to the East Coast via her new company, Stockyard Style.
“I invested $500 in my first inventory. That got me a few belts and bags, and some beads,” she said.
By September 2009, Summey was back in Pennsylvania and operating her own business. Her first booth was at the Keystone International Livestock Exposition in Harrisburg that fall.
Business “exploded,” she said. “At the time, there were really no bling’ sales at livestock shows. I would make necklaces while I was at the shows and people were literally buying them off my neck.”
While Stockyard Style was growing, Summey was also going through some personal changes. In August 2011, she and husband Troy Summey were married. Troy Summey works as a metal shop teacher at Northern York High School in Dillsburg, Pa., and she is the director of media relations and campus communications at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa.
Knowing that they wanted to buy land and a small livestock herd, the pair searched multiple southcentral Pennsylvania counties to find something they could afford. They ended up in Halifax, Dauphin County, where they now raise crossbred breeding sheep, two beef cattle and a few hogs on their 10 acres.
Troy Summey quickly became a huge asset to Stockyard Style. He utilized his metal shop skills and made fashionable metal shelves and racks — all on wheels — that are now used to set up their display booths at shows.
The business offers a mix of Emily Summey’s own handmade items and merchandise made by others.
“From my first year till now, I’ve had a 12-fold increase in sales,” Emily Summey said. “We doubled sales from 2012 to 2013.”
In her first three years, her handmade jewelry was the biggest seller. Today, belts and t-shirts are on top. Emily Summey designs all of the t-shirts with their own sayings, things like “Keep calm and show on” and “No better life than the stock show life.”
“My demographic is primarily women, but I did carry a men’s line for a while,” she said.
Customers range in age from 12 to 60, she said. “It just depends on the product. Older women are buying bags and younger women want jewelry. But it’s typically all ag-related people.”
Now that Stockyard Style has become an established business, Emily Summey wants to make sure she gives back to all the people and places that helped her get where she is today.
For example, some of the booth registration fees she pays to attend a show are donated to that show’s scholarship fund, like the KILE beef exhibitor scholarship.
She is also part of the KILE beef scholarship committee. To help raise finds for that cause, for the past two years she’s conducted a photo contest with all of the proceeds being donated to the fund.
In the future, “I would like to do a KILE memorabilia t-shirt and donate 100 percent of the proceeds to the scholarship fund,” she said.
She also supports the Lebanon Area Fair scholarship, Pennsylvania Farm Show scholarship, Pennsylvania Cattlewomen, Pennsylvania Beef Expo, Pennsylvania Cattlemen’s Association scholarship, Pennsylvania Livestock Association, Hereford High School Agriculture Department, Southeast Pennsylvania Beef Classic, Eastern National Livestock Show, Harrisburg Academy, Montana Stockgrower’s Association, Pennsylvania Simmental Association, Ohio Junior Shorthorn Association, American Junior Simmental Association, Virginia Club Calf Producers, Pennsylvania State Fair Queens, All American Dairy Show and Pennsylvania Junior Simmental Association.
If any of these or other ag organizations are holding auctions to benefit youth scholarships, Emily Summey frequently donates items.
On top of all that, she contributes to the ag scholarship fund at Texas A&M University.
“I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t got that in-state tuition,” she said.
In addition to maintaining full-time jobs and running Stockyard Style, Emily and Troy have both continued their education. In the fall of 2013, Emily Summey obtained a masters degree in business administration. Troy Summey is currently working toward his own master’s degree.
“A lot of people ask how I do it all,” Emily Summey said. “(Last year) was crazy. We put on a lot of miles, plus classes and worked. You have to have a lot of perseverance and persistence. You just have to be dedicated.”
Looking to the future, she admits that one day she’s just going to have to bite the bullet and jump into Stockyard Style as her full-time profession.
“I’d like to have stores in Harrisburg and State College. You can’t go wrong with a college town,” she said.
No matter what path Emily and Troy Summey take, they both agree that giving back to the agricultural community and mentoring youth will remain part of their lives, and they hope to one day have children who can be raised in the industry they both love and support.