With owners lavishing $44 billion on their pampered pooches -- more that $1 billion of that on canine couture -- it was only a matter of time before fashion-forward brands such as Ralph Lauren, Burberry, Juicy Couture and Kiehl's went sniffing around four-legged divas. It seems that designers looking to expand their business, having exhausted options from teens and young children to babies, are now -- yes, you saw it coming -- going to the dogs.
The reason seemingly sane people snap up everything from puppy sandals to canine cashmere (go quick to pick up Ralph Lauren's version on sale for $54.99 from $95 at Polo.com) is clear: "Pets are acquiring a more significant role in the family, and with that, they are tending to be treated more in human terms," said Bob Vetere, president of the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. Mr. Vetere cited baby boomers' empty nests as well as the growing number of dual-income couples without kids as other explanations for the extra cash flowing toward pets.
Packaged Facts, a division of MarketResearch.com, predicts pet expenditures will grow to $52.4 billion by 2009.
The allure of the rich bitch explains the more than 120 exhibitors clamoring to come to the second annual Pet Fashion Week, slated for Aug. 18, as well as the roughly 15,000 pet boutiques that have sprouted up all over the country. Even once-wary pet-apparel buyers are signing on.
"As more designers come into the marketplace with really unique designs, they catch the eye of someone who might not have bought dog clothes before, people who say to me, 'I think this stuff is dumb normally,'" said Angie McKaig, CEO of PamperedPuppy.com.
The 4-year-old site, which Ms. McKaig calls an online magazine and one-stop luxury-pet-products portal, now gets as many as 300,000 visitors every month. A recent survey of those visitors found that more than 60% of them own a least four pieces of clothing, four collars and 10 toys per pet, and that owners spend at least $50 on pet holiday gifts.
Cameron Woo, co-founder and publisher of Berkeley, Calif.-based Bark, had to admit that even his bling-averse readers, who he said "tend not to dress up their dogs in clothing," are purchasing plenty of products, albeit ones with "more function than fashion." Brands such as L.L. Bean and Orvis offer protective clothing such as raincoats, sweaters to ward off brambles and ticks, and booties to protect paws from salt, snow and gravel. But recently, he said, a quick survey of his database of potential advertisers turned up a shocking number of companies in the apparel space.
John Ryan, owner and publisher of Hollywood Dog and New York Dog magazines, agreed. "I swear 10 new companies are being launched every day that sell dog clothes," he said. Mr. Ryan's publications, kicked off two-and-a-half years ago when he began to commonly spot Burberry-clad dogs in Central Park, now bring in more than $100,000 in annual ad sales.
The Ralph Lauren tipping point
Although much of that revenue has come from small companies (he notes a pattern of high-powered execs who have started up doggie-apparel businesses named after their pups), he said Ralph Lauren's recent ad in Vanity Fair touting its $18,000 crocodile-clad dog carrier was "the tipping point."
The explosion in pet apparel is apparent especially in paw-wear. "Two years ago, you could not get shoes for pets, and now there are probably at least three dozen designers coming out with shoes for dogs," Ms. McKaig said. Rumor has it even Adidas may be entering the dog market, a lucrative place to be when popular Poochey Shoos fetch as much as $80 for a denim-hued pair -- er, foursome.
And, of course, in addition to owning a Juicy Couture hoodie (available at NeimanMarcus.com), the well-dressed dog also needs to be well-coiffed. Following in the footsteps of John Paul Mitchell and others, L'Oreal-owned Kiehl's in November launched its For Your Dog line of conditioner, shampoo and cleansing spritz after numerous requests from its customers, at least half of whom are dog owners, spokeswoman Amy Focazio said.