Ticks, mosquitoes and blackflies — these three pests plague anyone who spends even a little time outdoors in Maine. And recently, as more and more tick- and mosquito-borne diseases are affecting the population, these tiny creatures aren’t just an annoyance. They’re outright dangerous.
Dog Not Gone, a small company based in Kingfield, is offering a solution.
Recognizing the need for people to protect themselves and their pets, this family-run company has recently expanded its product line to include outdoor apparel and accessories made of No Fly Zone, a permethrin-treated fabric that effectively repels ticks and other pests, including mosquitoes and blackflies. The company started out making products just for dogs, this past January, but the new line is for humans.
“The biggest obstacle with the material is product awareness,” said Julie Swain, who founded and owns Dog Not Gone with her husband, Bill Swain. “People don’t know it’s an option — and it’s a great option.”
Permethrin, an insecticide recommended to the general public by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is bound to the fibers of No Fly Zone fabric through a process patented by Burlington Labs, an innovative textile company based in North Carolina.
“The permethrin is adhered to the fibers while they mill the [No Fly Zone] fabric, and the resulting fabric is insoluble,” Julie Swain said. “Even if the dog or human is wet, it doesn’t come off on your skin.”
This nontoxic aspect of the technology is important to the Swain family.
Living in the western Maine mountains, the Swains enjoy skiing and hiking with their two children, ages 6 and 10, and their 8-year-old dog, Max. So they’ve had plenty of opportunities to test their own products.
“We’re real outdoors people,” Julie Swain said. “So the company works well with our lifestyle.”
This past spring, in the midst of blackfly season, Julie Swain hiked up Bald Mountain in Oquossoc with a group of friends. Naturally, she outfitted her group with Dog Not Gone products: vests, hats, kerchiefs and gaiters made of No Fly Zone material. No one in her group got bitten by black flies, she said. Meanwhile, they passed other hikers who were complaining about the bugs.
Their road to success
Today, the Swains sell Dog Not Gone products directly to about 100 businesses throughout New England, and their distributor sells their products to about 100 more. Their customers include L.L.Bean, Reny’s, Amazon, Blue Seal, Wal-Mart, Orvis, Kittery Trading Post, Maine Military Supply, and many small pet stores and hardware stores in Maine and New Hampshire.
Looking at their long list of customers, it may encourage other small business owners to know that Dog Not Gone started out as a “hobby business” in 2005, selling at local craft shows. And at the time, they had just one product: a blaze orange dog visibility vest.
“Every year we’ve gotten a few more customers,” Julie Swain said. “And in the last few years, we’ve been growing a lot — at least doubling our customers each year.”
With a business degree from Bentley College, Julie Swain used to own and run a fleece clothing store, Carrabassett Polar Wear, in Kingfield. One day, a group of bird hunters stopped her store. Among them was Patti Carter, current president of the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association Yankee Chapter. Dissatisfied by the dog safety vests on the market, Carter created her own dog vest design and wanted Swain to make it.
They made a deal. If Swain created the dog vest and supplied the group of hunters for life, she could have the design for her own business ventures.
“Our first big order was 200 vests for this one company — it’s an online company, a catalog,” Julie Swain said. “And I made them all myself, and I was like, ‘I’m not doing this any more.’”
So they started manufacturing the Dog Not Gone vests at Maine Stitching Specialities, a factory in Skowhegan with a long history of producing quality textile goods. Over the years, Dog Not Gone reached more customers through national pet shows, sportsmen’s shows and through word of mouth.
A new mission
It wasn’t until about two years ago that Dog Not Gone really took off.
In 2014, the Swains purchased Maine Stitching Specialties. It was also during that time that L.L.Bean approached them with the proposal that Dog Not Gone use No Fly Zone to produce a line of tick- and fly-repellent products.
“L.L.Bean found out about us because our friend had a vest on his dog and [an L.L.Bean] buyer was hunting with our friend,” Julie Swain said. “So it was really lucky.”
“Everything just kinda started happening, falling into place,” she said. “Now we have the setup to control the manufacturing. We have a great product. And we want to focus on marketing, getting the brand and product awareness out there.”
Pairing high-visibility colors and insect-repelling technology, Dog Not Gone sells No Fly Zone dog vests, collars and collar kerchiefs; horse vests; and vests and accessories for humans, including hats, bandannas and gaiters.
“It’s still catching on,” Julie Swain said. “People are still apt to grab bug spray because they don’t know anything about the product yet.”
Dog Not Gone products made of No Fly Zone are good for 70 wash cycles, Swain said. But if you air dry the product after washing it, the repellent should stay active for the life of the garment.
“I sell a lot in Maine and New Hampshire, and I’m trying to break down Massachusetts and southern New England because it’s tick central, and they have no idea about this material — none,” Julie Swain said. “It’s like they don’t believe me.”
Looking to the future, the Swains have big plans for Dog Not Gone. They’re currently working on a line of No Fly Zone maternity clothing that will help protect women from Zika virus, a mosquito-borne disease that causes birth defects and has recently spread to the continental U.S. in southern Florida.
“I think especially over the next few years, with Zika on the news all the time and Lyme disease on the news all the time, we’re going to really grow,” Julie Swain said.
For more information and to purchase Dog Not Gone products online, visit dognotgone.com.