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Natural Marketplace: What's New in Natural Pet Apparel and Accessories

Posted: June 18, 2012, 5:45 p.m. EDT


Updated looks, bright colors and durable materials are in demand for earth-sourced apparel and accessories.
By Maggie M. Shein 

Pet owners shopping for dog apparel expect to see fashionable items that keep up with the trends, make a statement and feature natural, organic or eco-friendly materials, according to retailers. The latest trends, industry participants noted, point to a demand for sweaters, booties, harnesses and leashes, bright colors or patterns, and cotton and leather materials.

“People are ultimately drawn to the design of something and the aesthetic appeal along with the price point, and then the material may pique their interest and be the tipping point,” said Helen Song, owner of Wagababa, a store in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Wagababa carries natural and eco-friendly clothing and accessories from Eco-Pup, Simply Fido, Furrybeads and Toru. One popular line, Furrybeads collars, is handmade using child-safe, wooden beads and stainless-steel cable with a tensile strength of 300 pounds.

Natural dog clothes
Raincoats can be natural and waterproof at the same time when the cotton fiber shell is laminated. Photo Courtesy of Eco-Pup
“We’ve tried a lot of materials in our store and I haven’t had much success with some, like hemp, because it gets very wet here,” Song noted. “The beaded collars are waterproof and good for small or big dogs. People need durability, and they want something that wears well.”

Colorful Designs
Other retailers and manufacturers agreed that consumers may be swayed by natural materials but that design, function and durability remain key determining factors.

“People want to feel that the product is natural, but it has got to be something that appeals to the consumer in terms of aesthetics,” said Barbara Savidge, co-founder of Olive Green Dog, an Austin, Texas, wholesaler and online retailer.

Olive Green Dog relaunched its online retail business in December 2011 and simultaneously added 55 percent more products. Some of the company’s popular apparel items include those from Creature Clothes and Found My Animal, according to Savidge.

To keep up with the demand for fresh, updated looks, Found My Animal released several new leashes and collars for 2012, including the Scout leash, made from cotton webbing; commercial-grade olive canvas collars; Vintage leashes made from hand-spliced and whipped brown rope; and the Rescue leash, which is a bright orange, hand-spliced, marine-grade rope.

The company uses nontoxic dyes, reclaimed leather pieces and other reclaimed and recycled materials whenever possible. In addition, the New York company donates leashes to rescue organizations, and its packaging shows how many animals the company has helped.

Dog sweaters
Reclaimed cotton fibers find new life when turned into a sweater. Photo Courtesy of West Paw Design
“Each piece is made under one roof and is unique, not mass made,” said Bethany Obrecht, president of Found My Animal. “We have a following of people that like our accessories because they’re well designed and we use the very best materials.”

Bark Slope, an online retailer in Raleigh, N.C., carries high-end apparel and accessories for pets, including Found My Animal’s product line and a large range of leather collars.

“We carry things that work appearance wise and that have an upscale feel to them,” said company owner Kade Kimber. “It can be difficult with natural product lines to find ones that match our clientele. Bright colors and a bright design sell well, and people like that.”

The quality and appearance of a product are more important to today’s consumer than a specific material, Kimber reported, but he has seen increased interest in recycled products specifically. Over the next year, Bark Slope plans to greatly expand its product count and specialty lines, including natural and large-breed categories, according to Kimber.

When it comes to apparel, pet owners expect the color palette to be freshened up more often than other products, said Kathleen Johnson, COO of West Paw Design, a Bozeman, Mont., manufacturer.

“In terms of color, fun and vibrant is attractive to people looking to make a fashion statement,” Johnson noted.

Industry Voices
What are customers looking for with natural apparel?

“Most people don’t come in saying, ‘I need an organic T-shirt for my dog,’ but if they find out that one company’s sweatshirt is the same price as another and it is natural or organic, they see it as an added bonus.” —Helen Song, owner of Wagababa in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

“The trend right now is, ‘Let’s say what it really is.’ They want complete translucence on what a product has to offer: Where did it come from and what is it made of? It’s a back-to-basics movement.”
—Barbara Savidge, co-founder of Olive Green Dog in Austin, Texas

“Recycled products seem to be gaining more market traction. Reusing products to create other products speaks more to the consumer, because it offers them a great product and they know they are helping to recycle that.”
—Kade Kimber, owner of Bark Slope in Raleigh, N.C.

Using customer feedback, West Paw Design will launch an updated color palette for its fall/winter collection of Reknitz sweaters, which are made of reclaimed cotton fibers that have not been recolored. The stretchy, uniquely colored sweaters aim to provide full coverage on a pet’s chest and belly.

Vancouver clothing and accessories manufacturer Eco-Pup also expanded its line of North American-made harnesses and leashes with new designs and bright colors. The vestlike harnesses are made in a pullover design and feature organic and reclaimed cottons, according to company founder Susanne Postill.

In addition, Eco-Pup’s classic hoodie now comes in a hemp and recycled polyester fabric. Eco-Pup uses natural vegetable-dyed and low-impact dyed fabrics, along with water-based ink in its prints, to keep chemicals at a minimum, Postill added.

“People look for organic or eco-friendly clothing and are a lot more conscious of where their products are coming from, too,” Postill said. “But in general, anything bright, with a fun, cute print on it, sells and is always popular.”

The company’s heart and squirrel prints are big crowd pleasers this year, she added.

Leather Leads
Bright prints and fun designs are not the only things catching the eyes of this season’s consumer. Leather and cotton are popular in natural apparel aisles because of their practicality and durability, manufacturers reported.

“Leather lasts longer than other materials; it’s practical,” said Gaby Gotzens, owner and designer of Collection Gabriella in Chrysostome, Quebec, Canada.

U.S.-sourced leather is a favorite material for her company’s hand-made, large-breed- focused collars and accessories. The company recently released Martingale collars made of wide, soft leather and real bone, horn and glass pieces, according to Gotzens. The company also makes sweaters with wooden buttons and 100 percent cotton yarn.

Leather dog collar with natural accents
Hand-made leather collars impart a classy look, especially when embellished with other natural materials. Photo Courtesy of Collection Gabriella
“There is so much out there, but I think everybody wants something stylish and practical,” Gotzens stated. “You have to combine these things.”

While some of Around the Collar’s leashes, collars and harnesses incorporate hemp, leather is the cornerstone material because of its durability, function and popularity, said Sharon Romero, creative director at the Holbrook, N.Y., company.

“Leather appeals to people,” Romero said.

The Riley collection is one of the company’s latest additions and includes all-leather pieces featuring hand-painted flowers and details. Snakeskin collars and harnesses were added to the 2012 collection.

Even though the quality and design of an apparel item are important to customers, a growing number of them are paying attention to a company’s social responsibility and where a product is sourced or made, according to industry participants.

“Some people don’t care, but to others it’s a big deal,” Romero said. “They want to know where the product is made and what it’s made of.”

In response, manufacturers are making their corporate actions and manufacturing processes more transparent to appeal to the marketplace, and retailers are passing the information to the consumer. Last year, after bringing its manufacturing processes back to the U.S., Pawz Dog Boots LLC began selling 100 percent natural rubber, biodegradable booties.

“Whether all customers notice or not, there are always quality issues when manufacturing anything, and we felt we would have better control moving it closer to us,” said Michael Friedland, president of the New York company.

Savidge, of Olive Green Dog, reported greater consumer demand for information about what a product is, where it comes from and what it’s made of.

“The key trend is being completely candid about everything so people have clear expectations about what they’re getting,” she said. “People get leery about the word ‘natural.’ What it comes down to is what’s best for the pet.”

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