American consumers have gotten the message—the planet needs some TLC. Not surprisingly, every day more people join the ranks of those trying to do their part by using eco-friendly products that won’t further aggravate our already over-burdened Earth. Pet product manufacturers have heeded the call, too. They are offering a variety of products that are made with recycled, recyclable or environmentally sustainable materials—and eco-friendly options are popping up in some unexpected places.
Manufacturers of collars, leashes and harnesses have joined the revolution. They are finding ways to make these products more earth-friendly by using natural and eco-friendly materials. Still, manufacturers are challenged to maintain the quality, functionality and style customers seek.
The Competitive Edge
Leather Brothers, Inc., by Omnipet, is among those brands that are incorporating earth-friendly fabrics into the production of its collars and leads. According to Michael Schrekenhofer, sales representative for Leather Brothers, the company’s foray into the eco-friendly arena is timely and strategically sound.
“Having an eco-friendly/natural product, such as our bamboo and nylon collars and leads, that covers the other requisites in a quality dog collar and leash definitely adds to a company’s competitive edge over others,” Schrekenhofer says.
While earth-friendly sells as a concept, Leather Brothers recognizes that being eco-conscious does not relieve manufacturers of the responsibility to make quality products that work well. Performance counts. “We run quality tests on all of our products before introducing them into the market—testing strength, durability, color, sustainability and so forth,” he says.
Cycle Dog makes all of its collars and leads using post-consumer recycled materials—the company is known for its handy use of discarded bicycle-tire rubber. But its owners have also always understood that if the product doesn’t work, it is not sellable. Cycle Dog president Lanette Fidrych says many consumers want nature-friendly products, but they are ultimately looking for items that meet their needs. “Just because it is eco-friendly does not mean people will buy it,” she says. “Cycle Dog puts a lot of time into designing and testing our products to make sure they perform.”
Pet owners are looking for collars and leads that are durable and easy to clean, and that won’t retain odors. Customers also value safety features such as breakaway buckles and reflective surfaces that make the collars visible at night, and they are not likely to waive these requirements as a trade-off for an eco-friendly option. Fortunately, companies such as Cycle Dog don’t expect them to.
“We have just launched our new MAX Reflective line of recycled collars,” Fidrych says. “MAX Reflective offers 100-percent surface reflectivity and is incredibly durable, unlike other solutions that use reflective strips or printing that can wear off.”
Although manufacturers can’t afford to ignore function when designing collars, leads and harnesses, making them eco-friendly adds a layer of complexity. “It is difficult to compose a collar and lead completely of an easily biodegradable and eco-friendly material, since they have to remain strong,” says Schrekenhofer. “Emphasis is put into the raw material and how much is made of eco-friendly materials.”
A few years ago, Coastal Pet Products launched a search to find earth-friendly materials to use for the design of a new line of collars, leads and harnesses. The company considered alternative materials such as bamboo and soy, both of which have found their way in the production of human clothing recently. Still, Coastal’s team knew that whatever it chose, it would have to hold up to the rigors of its quality and safety testing.
“Recycled polyesters are sometimes not as stable, and they can stretch,” says Kim Stout, director of sales and marketing for Coastal. “It is important when [working] with recycled materials to get the consistency that you need as a manufacturer.”
After doing the research, Coastal chose soy for its soft feel, and the fact that it can be harvested from byproduct leftover from the production of soy foods.
“People are happy because its environmentally friendly material,” says Diane Thomas, marketing manager. “They feel good about it, but it also works well—it’s a quality product.”
Since the launch of the New Earth Soy products in 2009, the company has added several new colors and patterns to the line to keep up with customer demand.
“When we originally brought out the product it was geared toward that eco-friendly, environmentally conscious customer, but because the product is functionally so good—it’s also so soft and safe—it has really become more broad based,” Thomas says. “You don’t necessarily purchase it because you are looking for something that is specifically environmentally friendly.”
A product’s earth-friendly quotient is only one factor customers consider when shopping for collars, leads and harnesses. Fashion nips at function’s heels. The most committed of eco-conscious consumers may buy the green option no matter how it looks, but manufacturers understand that if they want to cast a wider net, they must keep color and style in mind when designing their lines.
Of course, designing these products to be functional, environmentally friendly and attractive all at once can be a tough balancing act to pull off. Fidrych says Cycle Dog’s use of recycled materials in its collars and leads makes it difficult to achieve aesthetic uniformity, and individual products are apt to have slight variations in appearance. Hangtags on the products explain the manufacturing process and the resulting quirks in appearance. “I would say it is not a problem with consumers, but it may be sometimes for buyers; they can be afraid of something different,” she says.
In just a few short years, however, manufacturers have figured out how to design eco-friendly collars and leads that are both functional and fashionable, taking cues from the what’s trending in the overall collars and leads market, as well as what’s hot in human fashion.
“The styles and colors that [pet owners] lean toward are becoming increasingly close to that of our fashion market,” Schrekenhofer says. “For instance, if plaid is supposed to be in this fall, you can typically expect to see the same in the pet industry.”
And manufacturers are indeed tailoring their product lines to keep pace with changing trends. Cycle Dog, for example, recently infused its line with color. “Consumers are looking for bright colors now more than ever,” Fidrych says. “We have added 16 new patterns that are aimed toward brighter, bolder colors.”
Coastal has also nailed the trends, having introduced products in bold hues such as fuschia and a bright Barbie pink. But, Stout says, the Soy line’s natural, earthy colors have been a hit, as well.
Given the range of options available, retailers shouldn’t be too hard pressed to find attractive and quality collars, leads and harnesses to meet the growing demand for Earth-friendly products. And manufacturers say that stores that haven’t yet joined the movement are running late.
“Eco-friendly is truly the future, and it will make up a larger percentage of all sales year after year,” Fidrych says. “If the trend has not hit your area yet, it is coming.”