All Costumed Up
In the pet world, it seems that every day is a celebration and the animal costume business is booming.
“Five years ago, it was the odd dog that got kitted out for Halloween with a witch’s hat and antlers for Christmas,” recalls Justine Roig, co-owner of Chi-wa-wa Ga-ga, a fashion forward boutique situated in the French Quarter, New Orleans.“Today it’s possible to spoil your dog rotten with the enormous selection of costuming available and fill your pet’s calendar with events.”
Roig says it’s a combination of many things; more people are treating their pets like family members and including them in family occasions and celebrations. And consequently, to meet the demand, more pet clothing manufacturers are springing up countrywide and focusing on these family holidays and fun days that call for festive costuming.
Major carnival events like the New Orleans Mardi Gras now have pet parades as part of the festivities. This year, the Mardi Gras Barkus Parade drew more than 2 000 different animals for the themed Hairy Pawter and the Sorcerer’s Bone event. Noah would have had a hard time cataloging all the different pet species that turned up; wizardry get-ups included monkeys, goats, pot-bellied pigs, ferrets, iguanas and even two turtles who came along for the ride in a wagon with rhinestones glued to their shells.
Howard Beige, Executive Vice President of Rubie’s Costume Company, one of the largest manufacturers and suppliers of fun costuming worldwide, endorses Roig’s viewpoint. His company’s pet costume sales have increased 60 per cent in the last five years.
“Like Mardi Gras, traditional occasions like Halloween now also cater specifically for Fido and friends,” says Beige. “Previously mom and dad would take the kids trick or treating and leave Fido at home. Now Fido dresses up and goes along and the neighborhood provides special doggy treats.”
“If your dog doesn’t want to dress up, don’t push it,” says veteran Californian pet parade organizer Justin Rudd. “You can still get away with a fun bandana, or an elaborate leash entwined with flowers and feathers and party along with the rest of the animals.”
Rudd of Belmont Shore, Long Beach, Calif, leads a very active social life with his constant companion Rosie, an English bulldog with typically curvaceous legs and a dazzling smile accentuated by her lolling tongue and breathless Marilyn Monroe wheeze.
“ I dress her everyday,” says Rudd of his beauty who is the reigning Miss Belmont Shore, a title she won in a recent contest. “Sometimes it a simple string of faux pearls, other times its all pink netting and glitz. It depends on the occasion.”
Rudd started organizing regular parades about five years ago after he had suggested to a handful of dog-owning friends that they all meet and go for a walk down dog-friendly Second Street in Belmont Shore.
“It was such good fun and the dogs seemed to have such a good time together. Easter was around the corner and following on the idea of New York City’s famous Easter parade, I decided to follow suit for pets and their people. I was flabbergasted when over 350 entrants showed up all dressed in their colorful finery.”
A rush of media attention followed, including appearances on the Jay Leno show and Rudd’s organization Haute Dogs (pronounced hot dogs) was born.
Next he staged a Howl O’Ween parade and celebrated Christmas with Operation Santa Paws.
Local pet stores were inundated by costume-seekers wanting outfits. They were happy to be involved and assist with advertising. All Rudd’s events are fundraisers for various animal charities.
“With pets, you can create occasions to make it a year-round business. There’re endless possibilities,” says Rudd who practices what he preaches. He has a canine cotillion and a bikini contest planned along with his next Howl o’ween and Santa Paws charity events.
Pet storeowners stumped for good ideas can draw on some of Rudd’s innovative occasions and adapt them to make them their own.
Recently for Father’s Day, he staged a Beautiful Bulldog contest hosted by Rosie. She wasn’t allowed to take part in the beauty pageant because it’s common knowledge that she sleeps with the organizer.
Over 100 bulldogs showed up to drool over the beauty title and store owners heard the “cha-ching” of money in their registers as owners clamored to buy finery ranging from tuxedos and frilly dresses to party hats and tiaras.
The bottom line, any event, no matter how big or small creates business interest.
And while business owners agree that pet parades and fashion shows aren’t the mainstay of their enterprise, it’s great publicity and keeps them in the public eye.
Our customers love to take part in the fashion shows we stage,” says Roig. And, across the country in North Conway Village, New Hampshire, Brian Ahearn of Four Your Paws Only agrees.
“We recently had a fashion show celebrating the seasons. It was a lot of fun for every one and a successful fundraiser.”
Both Roig and Ahearn also concur that apart from event merchandise ranging from the Fourth of July stars and stripes outfits, pumpkins and wizards for Halloween and snowmen and reindeer to celebrate Christmas, the biggest costume draw card year round is wedding regalia.
Sandy Mahoney and Sharon Bolger, the design team for the I See Spot label, are being hailed the Vera Wang and Monique Lhullier of pet bridal fashions.
“A lot of people are including dogs in their wedding parties or having weddings for their dogs,” explains Mahoney.” Consequently, there’s a huge demand for pet bridal fashions.”
The collection includes a velvet tuxedo; a ring bearer T-shirt where bridal couples can attach their own rings for puppies to bring down the aisle. There are also Mother of the Bride and Always the Bridesmaid T-shirts for other canines in the wedding party.
Roig admits that she can’t unpack bridal fashions fast enough.
The important thing about pet costuming is the safety and comfort aspect.
According to Beige, his company applies the same safety rules to pet costuming as they do for infants and small toddlers. The focus is on soft, lightweight fabrics, no loose ties and no ornamentation that could possibly be swallowed.
“Always go for bigger rather than smaller,” cautions Ahearn, who also warns his customers to stay from tight elastic particularly around the head and neck areas. “Don’t let them wear it even for a minute. If the pet is irritated, remove the offending item immediately.”
Apart from typical seasonal costumes like pumpkins, snowmen and Easter bunnies, blockbuster movies are the greatest source of inspiration for the costume industry.
“This year, it’s all about Bat Dog and Darth Vader,” confirms Beige, who points out that New Year’s Eve costume parties that include Fido and Fluffy are definitely growing in popularity too.
Interestingly, while the majority of pet costuming is aimed at smaller pets; big dogs can also have their day. Rubie’s Costume Company manufactures four pet sizes from small to extra-large – exactly as they do for people.
“Larger pets (dogs, goats and pigs) are potentially a huge market and shouldn’t be overlooked,” says Roig. “Little dogs can be fussy and particular about their clothing. Bigger pets simply don’t care – most of them will wear just about anything.”
TO STAGE FASHION SHOW OR A PET PARADE
- •If it’s a fashion show, invite customers to participate – it’s great public relations. Provide the outfits and have it catered.
- •Make it in aid of a charitable cause.
- •If you’re planning a parade, pick a theme; anything from James Bond characters to veggies in the Vegetable Patch. Alternatively, link to an existing event like Mother’s Day or Halloween.
- •Map out the route and spell it out too!
- •Check whether you need permission from local authorities.
- •For either a fashion show or a parade, ask neighboring local stores to display posters and look for volunteer helpers. Once again, customers are often only too happy to be involved.
- •Invite the media. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your event is too small for local TV stations to cover. You may just make the six o’clock and the eleven o’ clock news!
This article is from Pet Product News International