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Pug love: Entrepreneur parlays passion for dressing up pets into successful start-up

by Keith Barber

Robin Stanley, founder of the Doggie Market, has created a number of stylish outfits for smaller dogs including this black sweater and pearls ensemble.

Robin Stanley began sewing at the age of 12, and there’s no sign she’ll be stopping anytime soon. Crafts have always been a big part of Stanley’s life. She vividly recalls when McCall’s Crafts magazine came out with design patterns for miniature clothes to put on stuffed bunny rabbits. As a member of the Kernersville Arts Guild in the 1980s, Stanley made the stuffed bunny rabbits with accompanying outfits and began selling them at local shopping malls.

Enter Buford, Stanley’s 4-year-old pug. Buford inspired Stanley to start making miniature clothes again.

“There wasn’t any [clothing] on the market that he could wear and I decided to see if I could make something for him,” Stanley said.

Stanley then made a dress for her sister’s dog, and it snowballed from there. Last year, Stanley founded the Doggie Market, an online marketplace for handmade dog outfits.

So far, Stanley’s clients have mostly been friends, family and coworkers. She said each order offers a new challenge. Stanley told the story of Gabriel, the long-haired dachshund of a co-worker.

“Gabriel would have accidents when people came over and she couldn’t find any little thing for him so I made him a little camouflage vest with a pocket on the back,” Stanley said.

Mission accomplished: Stanley’s custom outfit camouflages the fact that Gabriel is wearing a diaper.

Stanley displayed a firefighter turnout coat she designed for her brother’s dog. The corduroy fabric is embroidered with, “My dad is a firefighter,” and includes a cotton print lining featuring Dalmatians. Stanley’s aunt, Deloris, is one of the women she credits with teaching her how to sew. Deloris does all of her nieces specialty knitting.

Stanley’s process is fairly straightforward. When a friends, co-workers or clients order outfits for their dogs, Stanley asks them to measure their puppies. She then goes online to find the raw materials. Every so often, Stanley shops at quilt stores and specialty outlets like Mary Jo’s Cloth Store in Gastonia. Then she begins cutting and sewing. In a few short days, Stanley has created an original fashion statement for some lucky canine.

Stanley keeps her prices reasonable. Doggie dresses run $18; coats are priced between $35 and $50; sweaters are priced between $20 and $40. As a pug owner, Stanley said she knows how difficult it is to find outfits for Buford, and she eventually hopes to develop a pug line. Pug owners, like all dog owners, are passionate about their pets, which translates to a big market for Stanley’s wares.

“[Dogs] are becoming more and more a part of people’s families,” she said. “I know the girls at work think of their dogs as their babies, and I think of Buford the same way. We treat them like little kids. I know they’re not but that’s how we all treat them.”

Buford is the face of the Doggie Market. He’s a good sport when his mom makes him model her latest creations.

“I’ve tried just about everything on him and he hates it,” Stanley said.

“But he seems to like to pose and I always promise to give him a treat if I try a dress on him.”

Stanley has launched a website — www.thedoggiemarket.etsy.com — where dog lovers can place their orders for handmade canine fashions. Stanley’s business has steadily increased over the past year, but no matter how big the company gets, quality and affordability will never be sacrificed.

“I just want to make items that you can’t buy anywhere else — handmade, custom items,” Stanley said. “I hope to make it affordable for everybody.”

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