What to buy your dog for Christmas

PUBLISHED: 10:57 01 November 2016 | UPDATED: 15:28 21 November 2016

Debbie Humphreys of Headcorn-based Redhound for Dogs

Debbie Humphreys of Headcorn-based Redhound for Dogs

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

Buying a seasonal gift for your dog is high on pet lovers’ agendas at this time of year and it’s possible to find and order rich pickings hand made in Kent. Words by: Rebecca Durrant. Pictures by: Manu Palomeque

Laura Miles, Lucy Miles-Barnes and her son Marley with their dogs Ebony (left) and MaddieLaura Miles, Lucy Miles-Barnes and her son Marley with their dogs Ebony (left) and Maddie

A host of Kent-based online pet retail businesses boasting hand-crafted products ranging from dog coats, fleeces, jumpers, collars and fashionable bandanas are gearing up for the Christmas rush.

One such entrepreneur who has seen a huge boost in business in six years of trading and always enjoys a busy Christmas season is Debbie Humphreys of Redhound for Dogs, based in Headcorn.

With her background in wedding dress making and her own cold-hating whippet Bruno at the heart of the business, Debbie and her team make practical and stylish dog attire in their Kentish barn as well as outsourcing production to a knitting factory in Leicestershire due to an increase in demand.

The company kits out dogs (mainly hounds but terriers and dachshunds too) with Italian lamb’s wool jumpers, fleeces, snoods, coats as well as padded collars.

A wholesale supplier to pet shops and high-end pet boutiques, Debbie has also had recent success with her book Dogs in Jumpers and her knitting kits.

She explains: “The knitting kits are really popular at Christmas and I’ve got a brand-new bowtie kit coming out this festive season in red tartan, which is quite fun. It’s also fun for the dog and it’s not going to hinder them; it’s not really dressing them up, it’s just a bit of harmless fun for a day.

“The book did really well last Christmas and this year we have coasters and a notebook to accompany it and we’re also doing a Christmas gift box that will contain either a bandana or a bowtie, a scrabble letter collar tag and some treats,” she adds.

Debbie and husband David, a full-time book-keeper and who is also hands-on at Redhound (he used to do all the knitting on their original knitting machine) decided to launch the online business after returning from a stint living and working in Devon where they owned a small gift shop.

It was here Debbie first knitted and sold her dog jumpers. “I approached a knitting factory in Torquay to help me out with my designs and they produced a few jumpers for me, which again sold in the shop really quickly.

“Then I thought I’d have a go at making a coat – which I was quite capable of doing having had all those years making wedding dresses. I had my little model Bruno to try it on and then people would see him wearing his coat and say, ‘I want one of those’.”

The couple relocated to Kent and launched Redhound for Dogs online in 2010. The day after launching online Debbie exhibited for the first time at the Country Living Christmas Fair and scooped the Editor’s Choice Award.

“It was a really big endorsement that we were doing something right and that there was a gap in the market for what we wanted to produce. We settled in Kent, I love it here, most of my family are here and I pretty much grew up here,” Debbie adds.

She stresses that everything she makes has to be practical, should look aesthetically pleasing and should fit properly. The coats are made for different seasons and include waterproof wax coats, quilted showerproof coats and the new quilted wax coats. Whippet-specific fleeces are her best seller.

Debbie’s future plans include turning the fleece jumper design into a T-shirt for dogs that have had surgery, are elderly or injured.She has just launched a sew your own dog coat kit and has new wool jumpers and wool dog coats, in three new colours – without a leg in them so they will be a better fit. “If I know a dog is going to be happy on its wet wintry walk because it’s got one of our coats on, then that makes me happy.”

Debbie and David’s Christmas Day celebrations invariably comprise a walk along the beach and a huddle under a picnic blanket with dogs Bruno and Frankie (their rescue Lurcher), sporting their new hand-knitted festive jumpers.

Salt Dog Studios

Walking on Christmas day with their pet dogs in tow is also a festive tradition enjoyed by sisters and business partners Lucy Miles-Barnes and Laura Miles of Salt Dog Studios, a bespoke collar and pet accessory business based in Whitstable.

Also inspired by their dogs to provide hand-made goods with a personal touch, the duo set up the company four years ago and run it from a studio at their mum’s house.

They produces comfortable, stylish collars which don’t try to mimic the nylon or diamanté-studded items typically found in pet shops.

The range started with collars and leads, six months later bandanas were added and within a year came harnesses and cat collars.

Lucy says: “We were both fed up with working in finance and wondered what we could do that was a bit different and combined our passion for our dogs. We thought maybe we could start making collars for them as we could never find anything we particularly liked.”

But there is plenty of choice for Salt Dog Studio customers who can select items to be made from a variety of more than 100 fabric designs.

A lot of their fabrics come from America and they also have a range of hypoallergenic organic hemp collars and leads, ideal for dogs with skin allergies.

The online business has found global success and closer to home people from the local area pop into the studio to have their dog personally measured up.

The cocker spaniels who continue to help motivate the sisters include eight-year-old Ebony belonging to Laura, Lucy’s five-year-old orange roan Maddie, and six-year-old Gracie, who belongs to their mum.

The sisters take the dogs with them to the studio every day and they double up as models for the products.

Every Christmas there are 10 to 12 festive designs ranging from classic holly to cartoon snowmen and gingerbread men.

Bandanas are the most popular seasonal product because they are cheaper and many people order early and put them on their dogs from 1 December. Some may order 10 at a time. A lot of people still order collars and leads.

Production is shared between the sisters, who are self taught on the sewing machine. Laura looks after the finances and technical aspects of the website, while Lucy heads up the photography and social media side.

The sisters say the best thing about working for themselves is a mixture of receiving positive feedback, having the flexibility to be able to take their pets to work and meeting nice people.

“It restores your faith in humanity a bit when you hear about all the bad things in the world and then you talk to people who love their dogs as much as you do and you think there’s some nice people in the world,” Laura says.

Find out more

www.redhoundfordogs.com and www.saltdogstudios.co.uk

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