03/02/1992 at 01:00 AM EST
FOUR YEARS AGO, ROUGH-AND-TUMBLE cowboy Maury Tate was, he recalls, "plumb weary" of his duds. "I couldn't find any shirt I really liked for rodeoing," says Tate, last year's champion calf roper at the Dodge National Circuit Finals, a prestigious regional competition. "So I bought some hot-pink cloth and a little black trim and took it to a seamstress. I wanted it to have a standup collar and tight-fittin' cuffs. She made it just right, so I asked her to stitch me a few more."
Since then, in his hometown of Apache, Okla., Tate, 25, has created and marketed his brand of Mo Betta western shirts, and expects to sell 16,000 this year. Retailing at up to $85, they have caught on not only with Tate's rodeo colleagues but also among some of country music's hottest performers, including Garth Brooks, for whom they've become a trademark. "I know that if I've got one of Maury's shirts on, there's a slim chance that someone else is going to have it on too," says Brooks.
Some customers have literally bought the shirt off Tate's back. "One day Maury went to the bank," says his mother, Nancy, 50, herself a former rodeo barrel racer, "When he came back, he wasn't wearing his shirt. He had sold it to the teller."
Tate introduced the shirts at his tack shop in the same building where his dad, Bub, 51, maintains a real estate office. Even with his successes (including $72,000 in career rodeo earnings), Tate, who has no steady girlfriend, isn't getting too big for his stitches: He still lives with his parents.
Meanwhile, he's fast learning the retailing ropes. "One day a sorry-looking drunk came into my store," he says. "He bought $500 worth of shirts before he stumbled into my daddy's office and passed out. I learned right then and there never to judge customers by their looks."