Canine Fashion

In tough economic times, retailers must be attentive to the shifting spending behaviors of customers, but that doesn’t mean abandoning style.


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It should probably come as no surprise that Pet Fashion Week 2009, held this past August in New York City, drew fewer exhibitors and attendees as last year. In this economy, fashion just might not have seemed to have the same priority for buyers than in years past. Still, style never dies, it only gets redefined with the times, and the show was a success, as it sparked excitement and introduced intriguing new design concepts into the world of canine fashion.

Notably, the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) recently added a pet product design and marketing certificate to its curriculum. At Pet Fashion Week, FIT students showcased some of their top design concepts and attendees got a sneak peak at some of the new innovations coming our way.

Retailers, while understandably cautious, should not write off canine couture; it’s an important component of their merchandise mix. Customers still want to know what the latest fashion trends are, and there’s no reason to believe canine fashion won’t rebound with the certain pendulum swing of economic life. But until that happens, the typical store buyer needs a stronger hook than ever to sell fashionable items. Function, durability and timeless-ness–read that, value–must be part of the design to convince a jittery buying public.

There are a few solid product categories that storeowners may consider for bold fashion statements, but that also help keep the store’s “feet” firmly planted in a solid bottom line.


Dinnerware
This product group was chosen to be the Pet Fashion Week Lifestyle Innovation Award featured category–and for good reason. Diners and watering systems can be both highly functional and aesthetically pleasing, accenting the dog owner’s personal flair for interior home décor.

For example, drawing from a broad range of materials such as stainless steel, ceramic, wood and acrylic, diner sets raised or close to the floor can be designed to accommodate just about every size dog. They can be configured to keep ears dry and clean and even to slow down the pace of eating. Feeding stations can fit into a country kitchen arts and crafts décor or accent an ultra modern home. They can store food and dispense it. Water can be oxygenated as it is sculpted into a fountain, lending a Zen quality to the home.

This rich product category moves off the floor and onto counter tops, too, with treat jars and other storage systems that keep food fresh while pleasing the eye. Treat jars, bowls, diners and hydrating systems display well in stores. They love bold lighting and easily demonstrate for customers.


Collars and Leashes
These, of course, are always must-have fashion accessories, and the category’s functionality needs little introduction. Still, I’m always surprised by the innovative thinking that continually reinvents this category.

Some of my favorites include beautiful collars filled with packets of lavender, cedar or neem wood to repel fleas, ticks and mosquitoes. The packets can be removed and replaced after several months use. The same functional concept also extends to bandanas of all kinds of fabrics and patterns.

Leads that bungee or retract into the collar provide options for utilizations that didn’t exist a few years ago. Leads with lights for nighttime visibility–to see and to be seen–are great ideas, but I always check to ensure the lighting technology is durable and serviceable.


Apparel
These days in particular, the retailer must be able to see additional value in fashion to help customers make a purchase decision. Function must be integral with form. For example, clothes that protect in various weather conditions or that perform appropriately in urban environments or in outdoor rural settings can really help sell the style.

The cold weather season is a natural for warming jackets and paw protection. Apparel is also being designed with therapeutic benefits, such as jackets intended to “hug” or “swaddle” to help calm an animal that is fearful of loud noises such as thunder or fireworks.

Retailers must be attentive to the shifting behaviors of customers during economic ups and downs, but we needn’t abandon style. Retailers must learn how to comment on and interpret fashion as an expression of our times, and by doing so, we help customers stay current and be cool.


Dan Headrick is a freelance writer who, with his wife Pam Guthrie, owns Wag Pet Boutique in Raleigh, N.C. The store has received numerous community and industry awards.

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