According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a “collar” is a band, strip, or chain worn around the neck and a “leash” is a line for leading or controlling an animal. Well, it seems that these definitions are going to have to be expanded to elaborate on the current trends in the pet world where the focus is not only on functional safety and security issues but also on converting these items into high-end fashion accessories.
There’s no doubt that many manufacturers, strongly influenced by fashion designers have forayed into the pet marketplace and have given new definition collars and leashes with sophiscated patterns and colors embellished with beads and crystals and made from a variety of materials from soft Napa leather to padded waterproof parachute fabrics and ballistic nylon.
It’s almost as if in the original reasons for collaring and leashing a pet are no longer applicable.
“That’s a very good point,” says Linda Churchwell, president and the designing force behind Lady Churchwell’s Inc.in Dallas, Texas. “I’m always stressing the importance of safety and comfort to my manufacturers. That’s why good craftsmanship is paramount. Consequently, we use hardware designed exclusively for our ranges to ensure that the items outlast their fashion looks for a particular season. Our pieces are all fitted with D-rings for tags and O-rings that swivel and make it easy to walk with a leash attached.”
“There’s no question that more dog owners are purchasing a variety of collar and leash assembles to match either what their pet is wearing or their own particular wardrobe colors,” says Churchwell. “Changing a collar and leash is like changing a belt to accessorize a particular outfit. Our Ice Collection of collars leashes and harnesses seems to be a perennial fashion. This range is all about bling and we don’t skimp on the number of Swarovski crystals per piece.
“ Tooled leather imported from Italy has proven to be very popular for dogs of all sizes too. And interesting colors combinations like raspberry and lime, green and grape are a nice contrast to more mundane colors.”
The company recently celebrated its eighth anniversary and counts celebrity dogs belonging to Barbara Streisand, Shirley McLaine and Tommy Lee Jones amongst its valued customers.
Metallic colors particularly bronze and gold are going to be very popular this fall and winter,” says Phillip Emigh, co-owner of Tails in the City in Chicago, Illinois. “There’s also going to be a lot of rich dark colors like burgundy and brown and of course black. Our customers love collars featuring a little charm like a bone – very trendy right now.”
“We have designed collections to match our customers’ lifestyles,” says Rick Kent of Cece Kent designs in Morristown, New Jersey. “New York based Mark Paulson is our chief designer and he’s created a very English gentry concept for our Charles range. Our Ralph collection concentrates on a more rugged American style.”
With the holiday season approaching, there’s no question that party collars with lots of sequins, chiffon and lace are going to take center stage. The trend is becoming increasingly popular for big dogs and cats too.
A quick survey of pet lovers revealed that owners who own a collection of collars and leashes hardly ever go to the trouble of transferring their pet’s identification tag from one collar to the next. Some had never even stopped to think that they are compromising their pet’s safety. Especially when they switch to a “party collar”
Because retailers are the front line of communication with customers, the onus seems to be incumbent upon them to raise these safety issues. Or should it be the responsibility of the product manufacturers to add a cautionary note to their label?
Fortunately, some designers are sitting up and taking note and making an attempt to re-introduce functionality as part of a fashion statement with the advent of the latest trend to take the pet fashion industry by storm — the harness dress and matching leash.
“We’re very cognizant of the fashion versus safety issue,” says John Carlos Ynostroza of Gooby Pet Fashions in Los Angeles, California. “ The pet apparel industry was founded on flashy and often outlandish clothing and accessories. Customers have though experience, begun demanding fashionable designs that are also functional items of clothing. The harness dress fits this description.”
“Yes,” confirms boutique owner Mellisse LeWeck of Something to Chew On in Laguna Hills, California. “Harness dresses and matching leashes have really taken off this year and there’s no doubt that its here to stay because it re-enforces that your pup can look fashionable and be secure. Many owners do remove collars and identification tags in favor or making a fancy dress sit properly on their pet and this overcomes this problem completely. The D-ring attachment on the dress can accommodate a ID tag clipped in place too.”
Another attempt to blend fashion and functionality is the advent of the puppy purse that has met with mixed reactions. It’s an outfit with a handle combination that allows the pet owners to carry the pooch like a handbag. It only works well for really tiny dogs.
Also gaining popularity is the trend to customize a collar and leash set.
“Our Custom Collar program allows customers to create their own very special personalized look for their pet,” says Alice Nichols, President of Up Country in Rumford, Rhode Island.
The company’s fabric choices include a selection of individual breed designs, popular safari prints and a selection of toile patterns inspired by traditional French textile designs.
The Polybrite lighted collar and collar covers have been well received at recent pet expos. Once again, the emphasis is on safety and security as these products have batteries that allow them to flash for over 200 hours. They also offer visibility up to one mile.
“The collar covers have a three-function button switch,” explains Richard Brenner, Senior Vice President for Polybrite International in Naperville, Illinois. “It allows the item to flash, or hold steady light and has an off mode too.”
The Dog-Gone-It leash is fitted with several sewn-in pockets capable of holding a variety of objects from waste bags to keys and money.
“They are designed for a hands-free walk,” says Jim Paonessa of Archon Designs in St. Clair Shores, Michigan.
“Interestingly, once the selling domain of large pet supermarket stores and catalogues, quality training collars and leashes are now being carried by high-end boutiques too,” confirms LeWeck.
“Having the right training collar and leash is part of the whole training experience,” says dog trainer Diane Rich of Kirkland Washington. “Even if they are only worn for a short period of time, owners are now putting careful thought into their decisions under guidance from their trainers. Personally, I’ m a huge fan of the limited or no slip collar. Many breeders endorse them too. I would urge boutique owners to take this sector of the market seriously and include them in their general stock.”