Canine Couture is French for Big Business
Paris Hilton has fueled the luxury apparel trend for small dogs.
Take a stroll through the wilds of “animal Instagram” these days, and you’ll see a whole lot of well-dressed pets. Thank millennials for this trend. They not only make up 35 percent of all pet owners but are responsible for the lion share of spending when it comes to buying their pets nonessential items, close to $1,235 a month according to one tally. In a recent survey from online retailer Zulily on millennial pet ownership, more than half (51 percent) reported buying gifts for their pets once a month or more, including holidays, birthdays or, say, finding a $460 reversible puffer jacket from the ultra-exclusive Moncler fashion brand on Instagram.
One can trace the current pet apparel boom back nearly 20 years and to one person in particular—Paris Hilton. When she started parading her beloved Chihuahua, Tinkerbell, in front of paparazzi cameras, it was in a never-ending collection of designer outfits. Hilton’s impact is huge, with her 19 product lines grossing $3.5 billion at retail. What does this have to do with pets you ask? Well nothing and everything. Living in an influence economy means trends come and go lightning-fast, and influence is very personal. And before there was a Marnie the Dog, Lil Bub or hundreds of other animal influencers to follow and inspire, there was just Hilton and Tinkerbell.
According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), this past Halloween, 30 million consumers spent $499 million on costumes for their pets. Group costumes were this year’s hot apparel trend, according to Zulily, which carries more than 250 separate product lines, including costumes. Or, for an IRL comparison, just scroll back to Halloween on a dog friend’s feed. There were the Prince Harry and Meghan Markle combos and any number of Marvel characters (bulldog Hulk, anyone?). The LeBron James Labradoodle along with a few of his starting five in Lakers jerseys was a crowd favorite. Merchandisers should take notice here to not just stock costumes for Halloween, but the right costumes based on relevancy and local tastes.
It’s no longer just costumes moving the merchandising needle. While Halloween may dominate the national conversation and much of the cash register, refined, everyday apparel for pets has become a growing necessity for that millennial consumer who wants their dog’s leash to match their sneakers—more on that later. Today, there are more than 250 categories of pet apparel available with 33 percent year-over-year growth for the category. Their biggest sellers though? Clothing that serves as carriers for their pets, like pet-pouch hoodies and slings, reported a whopping 622 percent growth in sales.
Back to the idea of wanting a leash to match your sneakers—the micro-trend of “canine streetwear”—is a subset of pet retail and high fashion that may exist only in the minds of its exclusive practitioners. We’re talking hoodies that accommodate pointy ears and mini Moncler puffer jackets that retail for more than $400. Designer Heron Preston, whose clothing often resells for 300 percent over retail, has launched a line in collaboration with dog accessory company Very Important Puppies that has a NASA theme, with co-branded neon orange leashes selling for $120. In the world of streetwear and high fashion, such voracious brand consumers are known as “hype beasts.” Like the people you see camped out in front of the Apple Store for the release of a new phone, hype beasts do the same, but for rare sneakers and $500 sweatshirts from brands like Supreme and Virgil Abloh (Kanye West creative director turned artistic director of Louis Vuitton men’s wear line), whose personal label, Off-White, also sells a V.E.L. (Very Expensive Leash) for $340.
While it’s true luxury brands like Louis Vuitton (monogrammed dog carrier: $2,690), Ralph Lauren (cashmere sweater: $95) and Tiffany & Co. (leather dog leash in signature Tiffany blue: $320) have long sold canine accessories, streetwear brands, which thrive on a mixture of hype, exclusivity and Instagram, are perfectly positioned to cash in on the pet boom. There’s even an entire ecosystem of canine streetwear e-commerce. Sites like Very Important Puppies is just one example. Milan, the high church for high fashion, is also the home of Poldo Dog Couture, the creator of that shrunken Moncler puffer vest mentioned earlier.
Instagram, coupled with the trend for twinning (trying to dress like one’s furry pal) is the real progenitor of this hype-dog trend. You won’t find any of this on Chewy.com or at your local PetSmart. Rather, its either direct to consumer or hyper-targeted e-commerce. For instance, Pawmain sells a knockoff of a hoodie by New York brand Supreme in its signature red font that hype beasts and hype dogs have been known to shell out thousands for. Pawmain is really the home for trendy millennials looking to twin with their pets. Most of their inventory is based on self-parody word play—for example, Chanel is Chewnel. “The Dog Face” jackets it offers mimic ones from The North Face.
Years into the future, as we look back on this moment, sociologists may be left scratching their heads trying to figure out the meaning of spending one’s disposable income on knockoffs of luxury brands for their pets. The answer is to just not take any of it too seriously and chalk it all up to the madness of social media. In the meantime, enjoy the fun and consider the opportunities that may exist for your business to participate in the hype!
Courtney Harold is the vice president of sales, marketing and business development for World Pet Association (WPA).