by Ardeana Hamlin
of The Weekly Staff
BANGOR, Maine — When Cynthia Rollins began making jackets for dogs in 2000, she was responding to the plight of her two Chihuahua-mix dogs who needed something that fit and was warm to wear during cold Maine winters. She was living in Newburgh then, and there were other animals at her farm, including three goats that also shivered in the cold. So, in addition to two jackets for her pups, she made three matching jackets for the goats to wear. “Goats get cold, too,” she said with laugh.
People noticed. Family and friends asked her to make jackets for their dogs. One thing led to another. A business began to take shape and grow.
Since those days of sewing for dogs in her basement, Rollins has built a successful online and craft show business called Dogn’i (pronounced dog n eye) Apparel. But as of Nov. 2, her business has taken a new path. She now has retail space, Dogn’i Kennel Shop at Bear Brook Kennel in Brewer, where her products are now sold. Having the store makes it possible for her to give up doing craft shows in southern Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, she said.
“This summer Dr. Feher of Bear Brook came to me and offered Dogn’i a room at the kennel for the store,” Rollins said. “He wanted to be able to offer something special to his clientele. It’s a whole new dimension for my business.”
Having a store gives Rollins another way to let the public know about her products and services, she said. It will allow her to dispense with craft shows entirely, or to do far fewer.
She offers custom fit canine coats in all sizes and several styles — the cape style, a style with front leg sleeves and a style with sleeves for all four dog legs. Some have collars that add an extra layer of warmth around a dog’s neck and add a touch of chic. All are equipped with a large metal grommet to give access to the dog’s collar so a leash can be attached. The jackets can be customized with the dog’s name, or a logo. Dog owners can opt to have matching caps made for themselves.
“Their dog will never have to run into another dog dressed the same as it is,” Rollins said with a smile.
One of the practical aspects of a dog wearing a jacket is that when the canine out in rainy or snowy weather, the jacket keeps its fur from getting wet, she said.
Rollins measures each dog to make sure the its new jacket will fit. She can make jackets for any size dog; recently, she was asked to make jackets for three bull mastiff dogs. She also can alter commercially made jackets to better fit a dog, or add material to it for better protection and warmth.
For clients who live far from Bangor, or even far from Maine, Rollins can arrange an appointment by Skype. Using long distance video technology, she can instruct the dog owner how to take the dog’s measurements, and help him or her choose just the right fabric for the jacket.
The jackets Rollins makes are constructed of soft fleece in a wide range of colors and patterns. “I go to New York at least once a year to shop for fabrics,” Rollins said. She follows human fashion, making note of what colors will be fashionable at each season and choosing her fabric color palette accordingly.
Dogn’i Apparel makes only basic, practical, warm things for dogs, such as jackets and bandannas, Rollins said. She doesn’t make dog costumes.
She also makes a line of dog collars, leads, harnesses and carriers for dogs under 15 pounds in fabrics of its owner’s choice. And if an owner wants to dress up the dog’s collar, there are “Collie Flowers” for girl dogs, and for a formal touch the “Bow Wow” tie for boy dogs.
“I use the fabric scraps [left over from the jackets] to make the flowers and the ties,” Rollins said. Once, she was asked to make collars and leashes to coordinate the colors chosen for a wedding, a special order that was fun to do, she said.
Rollins, who still works full time as an insurance salesperson at Sargent, Tyler & West in Bangor, is assisted in the sewing of Dogn’i Apparel products by her mother Marion Veino and her sister Bonnie Gomme.
Dogn’i Apparel also offers leather collars made at Highland Belts and Fine Leather in Brewer.
Veino & Co., a division of Dogn’i Apparel, makes high-end leather belts, also made at Highland, for humans. The belts are sold at Valentine Footwear in downtown Bangor.
Rollins said the pet industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the United States. Most of her sales come from women ages 25 to 55, though many men also find their way to her website. “People love dogs, they like to talk about them,” she said. “They always have dog photos on their phones. They feel good about their dogs looking good.”
For Rollins, there is no shortage of ideas for products she can make and market. Currently, she is seeking knitters, either by hand or by machine, to knit jackets for dogs. She’s also thinking about adding a line of necklaces for dogs that would be made by her cousin Jeannie McIntire of Waldo, owner of Nean’s Bracelets. And her son, who is a builder, is coming up with ideas to make dog beds of wood to add to the product line.
Rollins takes pride in the fact that her products are handcrafted in Maine and family produced.
“I love the creativity,” she said. “And I like seeing people have fun with their dogs.”
For information, call 907-4289, visit dogni.com or stop by Dogn’i Kennel Shop at Bear Brook Kennel, 19 Bennett Road in Brewer.