Haute Couture: High Fashion in the Pet Industry
The term pet owner is slowly being replaced by pet parents, as more companion animals are being looked at as members of the family.
More than a third of all pet owners are Millennials, who have overtaken Baby Boomers as the biggest pet-owning generation. Millennials are not afraid to make full use of their spending power—especially when those purchases are a way to show their love for their beloved pets.
As consumers spend more on their pets than ever before, and Millennials lead all generations in doing so, it is becoming evident that pet clothing is a category seeing a resurgence in popularity.
Personalized clothing, licensed outfits and matching accessories like eyewear, collars and ID tags, are part of today’s lifestyle as consumers try to up their game on social media, where Millennials are apt to post about their furbaby.
Premiumization is a hot trend, and luxury pet products are starting to make their way to the forefront. It’s no surprise to see pets dressed to the nines, thanks to consumers giving their furbabies the “Mini-Me” treatment.
Ashley Harris is the founder and CEO of Bark Fifth Avenue, a fashion boutique that specializes in all things “high-end pooch.” She doesn’t see the pandemic as slowing down the popularity of pet fashion.
“Needless to say, 2020 has been quite the year,” Harris explained. “Routines have been upended, we have ZOOM meetings and a never-before-seen lack of toilet paper. However, one thing is for sure and that is pets have never been more fashionable!”
In an effort to overcome the mental and emotional stress of having their lives disrupted by quarantining, people are finding happiness in comfort in their companion animals, which translates into increased bonding between pet and parent. According to Harris, this can be seen in an unprecedented spike in pet-related sales, which she expects to continue to grow.
“As far as pet fashion is concerned, all I can say is Chanel, Chanel, and more Chanel,” she noted as the standout brand this year. Other styles that are trending with her customers include Swarovski studded sunglasses, graphic printed tees and dresses, pearls, fringes, faux fur, and plenty of charms and pet jewelry.
“Given these oh-so-fashion-forward trends, just exactly who is looking for such fashion worthy apparel and accessories for their pet?” Harris queried. “It’s the fashion-conscious pet parent, of course! In the case of my store, 83 percent of women between the ages of 25 and 34 are seeking such luxury couture for their pets. Not surprising, as we know pet humanization has been a thing for a while now… and who wouldn’t want to put an amazing pair of Swarovski studded glasses on their pooch!”
Tinkerbelle The Dog is a social media celebrity and runway star who is well known in the human side of the fashion industry. With the help of Sam Carrell, who rescued the pint-sized pup from a New York shelter in 2012, Tinkerbelle has amassed more than 400,000 Instagram followers. The five-pound papitese (papillon-maltese mix) had her career launched in 2013, when she was part of Ralph Lauren’s “The Dog Walk” fashion campaign. Other high fashion brands that have worked with the self-proclaimed “diva dog” include Gucci, Burberry, max-bone, VIP Puppies, WagWear, Otello, and MiAmore Pets.
“These brands are very classic and chic,” Carrell said. “They show off Tinkerbelle The Dog’s style and personality. Each brand has designed clothing for Tinkerbelle to wear at events, photoshoots, and/or appearances. They’re one-of-a-kind haute couture and the outfits usually only appear once in public as a celebrity can never repeat an outfit.”
What is it about these brands that attracts Carrell to their product lines?
“These outfits are designed with Tinkerbelle in mind, so they’re high-end fashion model designs,” she explained. “They always draw extra attention from the media and press. Tinkerbelle The Dog stands out from other influencer pets, and these are timeless outfits that keep her looking classy, tasteful and refined.”
Echoing the notion that today’s younger consumer is driving the pet fashion category is Christopher Cargnoni, the founder of Fresh Pawz, a brand that considers itself to be a different breed of accessories as it bridges the gap between streetwear culture and the canine companion.
According to Cargnoni, the Millennial consumer is generally a young professional waiting to have children, instead being a pet owner who spends his/her disposable income on products that follow their trend-chasing culture. Millennials are constant social media users and this ties into streetwear lifestyle that is extremely popular in the today’s fashion industry.
Cargnoni views his typical customer as a dog owner between the age of 20 and 35, who is into pop culture, reads websites like Complex magazine and Hyperbeast, and shops at fashion forward retailers like Nordstrom’s and Zumiez.
“The main reason we created Fresh Pawz was to add what we felt what was missing in the pet fashion market,” Cargnoni said, adding that Fresh Paws has taken what is traditionally a mundane product selection and—thanks to his brand’s high quality and exclusive designs—made it exciting and relevant.
When Cargnoni noticed there was no representation of the streetwear pop culture world in the pet market two years ago, he tagged Fresh Pawz as “the official streetwear brand for dogs” and even trademarked the slogan. He feels that young consumers “want brands they connect with, and when they see our designs they connect right away and it’s hard for them to not make a purchase.”
With licensing agreements that include Hello Kitty, Care Bears, Nickelodeon and Major League Baseball, Fresh Pawz boats a wide variety of streetwear-inspired accessories for dogs, such as leashes, collars, harnesses, hoodies and rain jackets. The brand’s most recent product launch is its dog sneaker, the Beluga 544, named after the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 (Public Law 89-544) and the color beluga.
“This shoe took over a year to develop,” Cargnoni recalled. “It’s very intricate to produce, actually. The inspiration for the shoe is the same as the overall brand—we realized dog shoes on the market served a lot of purposes for outdoors and protection, but they were not that exciting to look at. They were functional but not trendy, so that’s where the idea came from. How do we create a shoe that fits our target consumer but also make sure it’s functional, and that’s where our first design evolved. These are the first actual sneakers for dogs, as we focus on the fashion forward pet owners. They are protective with the rubber soles and breathable with the upper knit mesh.”
Le Chien Bleu NY officially launched in August 2017. The pet clothing manufacturer was founded by Joung Youn Lee, with Anita Lee joining the brand as its director of marketing. Today the brand’s products can be found in Nordstrom, and Le Chien Bleu NY also has plans to open its first flagship store in Dumbo, Brooklyn.
Known for its unique prints, pullovers and cooling jackets, the brand showcases new designs each month, which enables Le Chien Bleu NY to fulfill its mission of being at the forefront of its fashion forward approach to pet clothing.
“As an artist, I always keep my eyes open for new ideas that can come from any aspect of everyday life,” Joung Youn Lee said. “I follow the latest fashion shows and build mood boards on Pinterest. We also research new developments in fabric technology: this is how we got the idea to use thermal materials for a new line of cooling jackets when we attended a pet expo in Orlando last year.”
“I have a maltipoo [maltese-poodle mix] named Benji,” Anita Lee said. “As we all know, both maltese and poodle dogs have hair, not fur. Therefore, Benji shivers if he is cold. While dog moms want their furbaies to be fashionable and stylish, we create comfortable, functional and good quality clothes for our furbabies.”
Considering their brand’s clothing line to be a high fashion offering using premium materials, the team feels that pet clothing has been changing over the years, with “cutesy and cheesy” styles evolving as consumers move toward an area where designs are more stylish and durable.
“Dogs have more sensitive skin than humans, which is why we select organic and high quality fabrics,” Joung Youn Lee explained. “We produce our clothing lines in New York City in order to keep the highest manufacturing quality. All our outfits reflect a fashion forward style, without compromising comfort.”
According to the team, feedback from consumers has been nothing but positive, as pet owners appreciate the fact that Le Chien Bleu NY clothing is made using 100 percent organic cotton and bamboo, which are the same products used for premium baby clothing. The company’s founder takes great pride when she gets feedback on the fit of her clothing.
“We have gotten so many comments from the owners of small and skinny dogs who had a very hard time finding clothes that fit on their puppy until they found us,” she said. “We have experimented a lot in order to perfect our fit for all types of dogs, so they can feel comfortable whether they are running around or sleeping in our clothes.”
Another fashion brand looking to make a name for itself in the pet industry is Sebastian Says. Founded by graphic designer Suz Delev and inspired by the love of a puppy named Sebastian, this Australian-based brand takes inspiration from all over the world to bring high quality dog essentials.
Sebastian Says carries seasonal collections of bohemian-style dog accessories and each range is carefully considered with investment in mind. Hand crafted by artisans using premium, lasting materials, the company is committed to sustainability with collections focused on vegan and natural alternatives eliminating landfill waste.
“I wanted to design a collection of dog coats and accessories using sustainable materials that is completely cradle to cradle,” Delev said. “The Pinatex material is a leather substitute and a certified B corporation which ticks all of the boxes when it comes to innovation, sustainable practices, supporting farming communities and cruelty free.”
The brand’s identity, adds Delev, is a combination of premium materials and specialized finishings with a keen eye for aesthetic.
A manufacturer that has been making pet clothing for more than 10 years, Royal Animals has never been one to follow trends or even stick with a single identity. That’s why the brand has launched its own couture line in 2020, which is a daring step away from the licensed apparel lines in which it had found such great success.
“In 2008, Royal Animals was the first brand to introduce puff coats nationally to pet stores and pet specialty,” explained company founder and owner Susan Traub. “Today the coat market is far more competitive and, without a doubt, I find it imitative. I look at the marketplace and see the same basic coat over and over with a tweak or two, here and there. It was apparent to me that there is an opening for more pet apparel that is high quality with fine detailing and outstanding workmanship, all elements that will make our couture collection stand out from the crowd. In creating our couture collection, we selected only upscale fabrics and hardware for all our coats, raincoats and accessories.”
With a commitment to blending fashion and functionality, Traub feels the details make the difference. After all, the details are the key to longevity and the product value in terms of its style and durability.
“Royal Animals is classic yet it is also fashion forward,” she said. “Style is never sacrificed for functionality. We see what is happening on the runway, and our unisex designs are filtered through our pet fashion lens. We interpret just the right elements into apparel that pet parents appreciate and pets are happy to wear. Our looks are always comfortable for the pet, which is a top priority for Royal Animals. That is why we use ‘easy on/easy off’ adjustable closures, waterproof materials and reflective strips to help the dog stay safe. Royal Animals is always prioritizing comfort and safety without losing sight of what looks good.”
Possessing more than 300,000 fans on Facebook, 8-year-old Rambo (Rambo the Puppy) is another pet influencer with a keen eye for fashion. His owner, Courtney Canfield, is a social media marketing consultant with a decade’s worth of experience in the social media space and more than five years of hands-on experience managing influencer campaigns.
Thanks to Canfield, this morkie (maltese-yorkshire terrier) model has had his share of national brand campaigns.
“I love dressing Rambo in clothing from Barks First Avenue because no matter what he wears—whether it’s a comfy hoodie or something more formal—he always looks stylish,” Canfield noted. “Barks First Avenue has a wide variety of clothing and styles, and I love that I can always find matching outfits for both Rambo and Fifi (Rambo’s adopted kitty sister), despite how different they are size-wise. This summer, Rambo has gotten a lot of wear out of his Yves Saint Furant hoodie, which is light enough for summer evenings but also cute enough for photo ops.
And Fifi has a matching version of the hoodie. One of my favorite accessories for Fifi is the Vintage Pup sunglasses in pink. She’s a cat, so she typically won’t keep them on for long, but usually just long enough for me to snap a shot of her looking chic [AF]!”
Making a statement has long been a part of haute couture and the forward fashion trends it creates. With their high craftsmanship and eye-popping designs that produces the chic looks that are craved by consumers, manufacturers are going to continue to up their game to attract pet parents, especially Millennials who want to be at the forefront of the day’s fashion trends.
Luxury pet couture is the ultimate statement for discerning consumers and their pets. Offering elegant lines of apparel and accessories, expect these high-end clothing brands to deliver exclusive, irresistible fashions for today’s dogs and cats. Already available in fine pet boutiques, it’s only a matter of time before all pet retailers are offering luxury pet couture to their customers.