According to the National Pet Owner’s Survey of 2011 to 2012, in the U.S. alone, 46.3 million households own at least one dog. These dog owners, according to the survey, conducted by the American Pet Products Association, plan to spend 52.87 billion dollars on their pets. If you’re considering starting a line of clothing for dogs, you stand a chance to get in on some of that expendable income. You can make clothes that are practical, such as jackets or sweaters to keep a dog warm, or doggy wear that is decorative, such as costumes to allow owners to take pictures of their dogs during holidays or for participation in dog shows; some clothing lines have aspects of both styles.
Perform market research in your area to see what kind of clothing for dogs is already available in your area through independent retailers and chain retailers, and at what prices. Ask to speak to the manager or owner of a pet supply store to get an idea of what sells best in your area. This can give you a clear picture of not only what type of dog clothing is already on the market but what sells well, so you can tailor your clothing line to cater to local businesses.
You need to develop a wide variety of clothing, keeping in mind the weather in your area. Colder climates will require items like sweaters, jackets and raincoats for dogs; warmer ones need doggie T-shirts and other light wear. Certain breeds of dogs — like greyhounds, whippets or Chihuahuas — have short hair, requiring warm coats.
Design prototypes of your clothing for dogs in different sizes and styles. If you are unable to sew or don’t have the equipment to do so, make detailed drawings of your ideas with exact measurements obtained from various breeds of dogs. Take these drawings to a tailor to fabricate them and fit them to your own dogs or your friends’ dogs. If you volunteer at a local animal shelter, take the measurements of dogs there and design clothing for them; this will give you an idea of the sizing for your line.
Make several copies and sizes of each of your styles to build a small inventory to have on hand to sell to a retailer.
If you’re making decorative clothing, take care not to include any items that a dog can ingest, like loose buttons, sequins or beading.
Bring your sample styles to local pet supply stores and dog groomers to see what the interest level is in your line. Ask the people you speak with to purchase a small amount of your inventory to sell on a test basis before purchasing a larger amount of the clothing, especially if you are new to the dog clothing business. Some sales experience will be very helpful, as your clients will be familiar with merchandise pitches and will have some idea of what they’re expecting.
This type of approach works best with smaller, independent retailers than larger chains. Having a local retailer sell your line in the beginning will give you a foot in the door and a good reference for obtaining financing to fund and expand your dog clothing line.
Follow up with your clients to ask if more of your line is desired.
Develop a detailed business plan for your dog clothing line to obtain funding for your enterprise in the form of a small business loan or a private financier. Include a description of your business, a projected budget for the year, funding sources and supplier information. You will also need your tax returns for the three years beforehand and copies of your business license, along with any other documentation of your business, such as the business name or trademark.
Once you obtain funding, dedicate money to obtaining a steady supply of materials to make your dog clothing, including fabric, trim, closures and sewing supplies like thread and machinery. Ensure your suppliers have a continuous supply of these materials to ensure the same quality for all of your garments.
You will need to determine where you will make and store your clothing. A home-based business may make the most sense if you’re just starting out unless you already own a pet supply business from which you can sell your clothing.
If you had someone else make up your clothing samples and initial inventory, hire an employee to make your clothing or learn to do so yourself.
Register your business name for the dog clothing line if it is different from your own, and trademark any logo you design with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Obtain a federal tax identification number from the Internal Revenue Service for your business and a state tax identification number from your state’s revenue agency.
Get a license for your business through your local state business license office. Regulations vary from state to state, but pet clothing should not require any special permits other than a normal business license, as no food or dangerous materials are involved in manufacturing it.
The U.S. Small Business Administration has a list of state business license offices you can contact to find out the specific regulations in your state and municipality.
Join a professional pet retailer association, such as the American Pet Products Association, an organization that helps pet businesses obtain information about consumer purchasing habits for pets. The organization provides assistance for pet businesses in terms of shipping, importing/exporting materials, liability insurance, financing, and other aspects of selling and promoting your line of dog clothing.
Attend the Global Pet Expo to exhibit your dog clothing line to a variety of major pet retailers, an event held yearly by the American Pet Products Association. Members of the APPA can also exhibit their products, such as lines of dog clothing, to attract the attention of major pet retailers from around the country. The well-known annual event can allow you make valuable contacts for your line of dog clothing.
Establish a website for your business so you can sell your dog clothing online. If you are unfamiliar with how to design a website, contract this task out to a web developer that can host the website and set up a way for customers to pay for your products.
Contact online pet retailers to see if they will purchase your line of dog clothing to sell on the web as well.
Advertise your line of dog clothing in pet-specific publications online and in print. If your line of clothing features organic fabrics purchased through fair-trade suppliers, you can also advertise your products through green-living publications for consumers looking for natural items for their dogs.
Contact your local animal shelters or rescue groups to see if you can put on a fashion show with some of their dogs to not only publicize your dog clothing line but also raise money to support the animals. An adoption event is a perfect way to do this — you’ll receive positive publicity for your dog clothing line and some of the dogs will receive good homes.