Pet Artisans Are Taking a Bite Out of the Economy

Pet Artisans Are Taking a Bite Out of the Economy

By: Charlene Davisphoto

Although we are in the worst recession since the Great Depression, the booming pet industry is blissfully unaware that everyone around them is pinching pennies. Recently, the American Pet Products Association reported that Americans spent $43.2 billion on their pets in 2008, and estimates that figure will rise to $45.4 billion this year.

Pet lovers cross all economic spectrums, but even cash-strapped consumers are still managing to find ways to spend money on their favorite canines and kitties. This means while the rest of us are snacking on Ramen noodles, Fido and FiFi are noshing on organic pet vittles and sporting trendy collars with bling.

Teri Voss and Tracey d'Ouville, co-founders of Barkey Barkerson (, felt that in spite of the current economy now was an ideal time to launch a new business. "We've yet to experience tighter credit or lack of consumer spending," says Voss. "In fact, we've found every company we've sourced to be more than willing to do what it took to earn our business. Guess that's the upside of the economy, right?"

Barkey Barkerson specializes in pet and people gear: more specifically, dog collars and leashes and apparel for pet 'parents'. "We source all of the materials for our collars and leashes in the US, and then design and make them literally in our kitchen," says Voss. "My business partner, Tracey, does all the sewing and assembly." The apparel (t-shirts, sweatshirts, and hats for men, women, and kids) are all original designs that are sourced out to local decorators, with Voss and d'Ouville collaborating with them on materials and layouts.

Other pet artisans who are continuing to thrive during these difficult times are:

• Robert Semrow, a/k/a The Pawtographer™ (, widely known in the South Coast Metro area of Southern California for his creative animal themed portraiture and products. "I create elaborate themes and then immerse the pets (mostly dogs) into the scene which become heirloom portraits," says Semrow. "I also paint them on a variety of unique products, from jewelry to blankets and almost anything else you can imagine."

• I See Spot ( is a fashion house for discerning pet owners. This amazing dog apparel, designed by Sharon Bolger and Sandy Maroney, offers an eclectic line for pets in keeping with current fashion trends. Dani Caouette is a huge fan of theirs and says these are two very creative women and talented designers. "I have a Chihuahua and although I was never that girl who dressed up dogs, when I met Sandy and Sharon, I couldn't resist," says Caouette. "The clothing is as functional as it is adorable. My dog doesn't mind wearing the outfits because they help keep her warm and comfortable." The I See Spot collection includes hand-embellished tanks, tees, dresses and jackets using premium materials such as custom appliqu├ęs, ribbons, Swarovski crystals and pearl accents.

• Sharon Hartnett, owner of Wool and Kashmir (, designs hand-knit couture sweaters, beds and blankets for cats and dogs which are sold to high-end pet boutiques and spas, as well as individuals. "I take my cue from the runways of Milan, Paris, Tokyo, and NY when designing my couture sweaters," says Hartnett. "I want to give my clients couture designs for their pets without sacrificing comfort and functionality." Hartnett's designs are knit in the USA with eco-friendly yarns from natural, renewable resources.

• Folk artist, Natalie Timm, makes Nat's Pet Mats™ ( that are personalized folk art mats for dogs, cats, ferrets, and bunnies that can be customized with the pet's portrait and lettering. Not only are they available on Timm's website, but she also sells them at select pet and feed stores along the West Coast. These uniquely designed, eco-friendly mats are made with repurposed, unused vinyl flooring that are hand-cut and painted on the back so the vinyl side faces down. This means no new flooring is manufactured and remnants are kept out of the landfill.

Five years ago, 64 million households owned at least one pet. Today that number has increased to 71 million homes. And with baby boomers becoming empty nesters and turning their attention, time, and money to their beloved pets, this trend will continue to rise which will keep pet artisans barking all the way to the bank!


About the author:

CHARLENE DAVIS ( is a nationally published writer specializing in business, e-commerce, parenting, and food. She has written Design and Start an Online Travel Business in a Week, Start Your Own Photography Business, Start Your Own Clothing Store, and How to Sell Clothing, Shoes, & Accessories on eBay, as well as two additional books co-authored with Jacquelyn Lynn, Make BIG Profits on eBay and Start Your Own Senior Services Business (all published by Entrepreneur Press). Charlene wrote this feature article exclusively for the Association of Artisan Businesses (, an organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the artisan industry.