Manufacturers report that what is popular in human apparel is also in high demand for dogs, and products that offer style, function and a good fit—even for larger dogs—are successful sellers.
"The 2019 dog apparel marketplace is influenced by worldwide trends that incorporate tried-and-true retro-cool stylings with hot color choices," said Jarrad Freeman, vice president of sales for Montreal-based GF Pet, which is exclusively distributed in the U.S. by Sykesville, Md.-based Pet Palette. "Buffalo plaids and camouflages are trendy again, but need to be used creatively and not overwhelmingly."
While function is important, fun patterns and styles are what often catch consumers’ eyes.
"Our pets are family, and many of the trends emerging in the pet fashion industry are unsurprisingly similar to human fashion," said Krystn Janisse, content creator for Homes Alive Pets, which has stores in Alberta, Canada. "Novelty T-shirts, denim, and playful patterns, like llamas, cactuses and unicorns, are showing up everywhere you look."
Demand for sustainable, eco-friendly materials continues to rise, particularly among millennials.
"People are becoming more eco-conscious and are purchasing clothing for themselves that is both fashionable, without sacrificing practicality and comfort, and made from sustainable resources," said Rebecca Gadd, CEO of Gold Paw Series of Gresham, Ore. "So they’re seeking the same kinds of garments for their pets."
Increased extreme temperatures across the globe have consumers seeking products that protect pets from the heat and cold, industry participants report. These weather events "are convincing more and more owners to ensure their dogs are ready and protected for extreme heat, blizzards, ice and heavy rain," Freeman said.
In outdoors-oriented communities, shoppers look for garments that keep their pups safe at night.
"For this mountain community, anything reflective/lightup helps when the days get shorter and it gets darker quicker," said Kim McCohan, chief happiness officer for Bend Pet Express, which has stores in Bend, Ore.
Offering apparel sized to fit larger dogs presents an opportunity for manufacturers and retailers.
"The smaller-breed-dog sizes do sell the most, but we also get the most requests for larger-breed sizes because their selection in the market is very small," said Chris Cargnoni, founder of Fresh Pawz, a Los Angeles-based streetwear apparel brand for dogs.
Recent new apparel releases reflect demand for both style and functionality.
In March, Gold Paw Series released new prints for its Stretch Fleece—summer mod and winter mod—as well as the new colors dark hunter green and bright cornflower blue. The company also introduced three new color combinations for its Duluth Double Fleece: coral/summer mod, garnet/winter mod and leopard/black.
Pet Palette relaunched the GF Pet Ice Vest, which has been improved with new Elasto-fit technology to expand for the perfect fit. The vest is designed to keeps pets cool; owners simply wet the vest, wring it out and then put it on their dogs. GF Pet is using the same technology to release a new "glamping" themed fall line that will include boots.
Fresh Pawz offers a range of branded apparel for dogs. The manufacturer has secured licensing for iconic brands such as NASA, Hello Kitty and Care Bears, and has added hoodies with patches and reflective vests to its lineup.
Ensuring Proper Fit
Letting customers try outfits on their pets or allowing them to envision how something will look on their pets are ideal ways for pet retailers to help increase confidence in a potential purchase, industry insiders assert.
Rebecca Gadd, CEO of Gold Paw Series in Gresham, Ore., suggests putting a stuffed dog on display wearing the apparel, "as it helps shoppers visualize their own pet wearing the garment."
One-on-one in-store demonstrations teach customers how to measure their dogs and understand how a particular clothing item should fit, reducing the number of returns and exchanges for retailers.
"We get a number of apparel items returned due to improper fit because many people simply don’t know how to measure their dog correctly," said Shane Somerville, owner of Paddywack in Mill Creek, Wash. "We try as much as we can to teach them how to measure for garments, ask them to bring their dog in if they are uncertain, and offer exchanges for items in resellable condition if the size they chose doesn’t work."
Proper fit is crucial to ensure the effectiveness of any garment, but particularly those that serve a purpose such as keeping dogs warm in cold weather or dry in the rain. And when pets try products on, it offers the perfect opportunity for retailers to not only help with sizing, but also explain the benefits and features of a product.
"In-store we can help try on different styles, explain the features, and give tips and tricks for getting the most out of their dog’s apparel," said Krystn Janisse, content creator for Homes Alive Pets, which has stores in Alberta, Canada.
Responding to Dog Owners’ Needs
Dog apparel manufacturers must stay on top of constantly changing fashion trends as they develop new products. However, functionality and materials remain at the forefront when it comes to designing new styles.
For many apparel manufacturers, customer feedback determines the evolution of classic designs and provides inspiration for new styles.
"We are always searching for new technologies as well as ways to apply tried-and-true technologies to an expanded range of product options," said Jarrad Freeman, vice president of sales for Montreal-based GF Pet, which is exclusively distributed in the U.S. by Sykesville, Md.-based Pet Palette. "But no matter what the new development, it always needs to directly respond to customer demands or to solve a common customer issue."
Deborah Olmsted, owner of The Urban Canine, which has stores in Spokane, Wash., agreed that apparel must meet dog owners’ needs.
"My customers reside in the Pacific Northwest (PNW), so most dog owners are looking for function first, design second," she said. "Most PNW dog owners are outside year-round and want their pup to be comfortable outside, too."
Some manufacturers reported that customers let them know about small adjustments that can make a huge impact on a dog’s comfort or the ease of putting on the article of clothing.
Fresh Pawz relies on customer feedback to expand existing designs to accommodate more breeds of dogs.
"[It’s] helping us form our apparel category for the better, such as adding stretch, zippers, Velcro, etc.," said Chris Cargnoni, founder of the Los Angeles-based streetwear apparel brand for dogs.
Manufacturers are also focusing on materials that cater more to eco-conscious buyers who wish to include their pets in their sustainable lifestyle.
"Many items in our line feature recycled content fabrics by Bluesign-certified mills that are not only great to wear, but great for the environment," said Rebecca Gadd, CEO of Gold Paw Series in Gresham, Ore.
The company also uses fabrics that both block harmful UV rays and reduce heat absorption.