These days, determined is still the best word to describe Widlak. Determined and busy.
In addition to her day job in the Office of University Development at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, she and her husband own a horse farm in Grass Lake, Michigan that has been a labor of love for the past year as they’ve prepared it to house her current partners Galvatron, a seven-year-old Thoroughbred and Star Scream, a three-year-old Connemara/Oldenburg cross.
“I think it’s just about ready for the horses to move in,” Widlak says. “I love riding and competing horses, but I also love having them, caring for them, and making sure they are happy and healthy even more. Having them at home has always been the dream.”
More recently, another dream has taken root for Widlak as she’s begun to explore her creative and entrepreneurial interests as the owner of Stockbubble, an Etsy store dedicated to custom stock ties for competitive equestrians. The idea came to life when Widlak went to purchase a new tie for herself and couldn’t find one she liked.
“I’ve always been the type of person to make my own Christmas presents and take the DIY route when possible,” Widlak explains. “My DIY side took over and, after a trip to the fabric store and a lot of head scratching about how to work a sewing machine, I had my first prototype. We’ve made a lot of improvements since then as far as the design and materials, but I still have that first tie I made and even wear it to shows sometimes!”
A staple of the equestrian uniform in the English disciplines since the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (when it was worn as a safety measure during fox hunts), the stock tie has remained part of competition fashion for riders in the modern dressage and three-day eventing disciplines, though twenty-first century tastes have evolved to allow for bolder and more individualized patterns. That’s where Stockbubble comes in and where Widlak has learned a lot about her customers’ individual tastes through trial and error.
“When I first launched Stockbubble, I basically went to the fabric store and picked all my favorite patterns,” she says. “I quickly learned that not everyone has the same taste and that’s when I turned to Instagram for help. With Instagram, I’m able to post fabric polls to see which fabrics are the most popular, ask questions, and interact with potential customers. If there’s one thing I learned at Albion, it’s that there’s never one right answer – what works for Stockbubble might not work for other businesses and vice versa, so I always try to keep an open mind and be ready for change.”
Change, of course, is the one constant in work, life, and the horse world and Widlak believes that a liberal arts education like the one she received at Albion has been the right preparation for her experiences in all three areas – particularly when challenges have appeared.
“It would have been so easy to throw in the towel our first year!” Widlak says. “Sales were hardly a monthly occurrence, our social media wasn’t growing, and it took a lot of my time every day. The only thing I really knew was that I loved stock ties, I loved making stock ties, and I loved telling people about my stock ties. That passion for the product and connecting with people was really what propelled me through.”
Determination and passion are often the hallmarks of Albion alumni and Halley Widlak is certainly the embodiment of these characteristics. While finishing her dream horse farm and working at her day job, she’s found the time to expand the Stockbubble product line to include belts, men’s traditional ties, and dog bandanas with a customer base that spans the U.S., as well as internationally to Ireland, Japan, and Canada.
Asked what advice she would give to current Albion students who have an interest in a career in the horse industry, Widlak says, “Think outside the box! When I was younger, I thought I wanted to be a horse trainer. While at Albion, I really found a love for finance and was determined to fit that into my life too. Try not to assume you have to pick one thing over another; mash your passions together and see what you get. Recognize what makes you happy, get creative, and build a fun life filled with lots of things that you love!”