The first product I designed for my Ivy League Classics collection is the the Tailored Dog Jacket. It’s a handmade jacket for smaller dogs made from reclaimed sport jackets, with a classic, preppy, intellectual character.
The seed for the design was planted a few months after we adopted our sweet little mutt, Pipsqueak, from a local shelter. On a morning walk we noticed she was shivering, and we do everything we can to take good care of our pets so of course her shivers made us sad and worried. At that time I was reading a lot about homesteading and DIY lifestyles. I figured: why buy a jacket when I could pull out the sewing machine and make her one?! I loved the idea of her having something that’s more interesting, not something boring or generic found in the big box stores.
With that mission in mind, I found a tutorial on a how to draft a basic dog jacket with velcro straps and sewed it up. The experience was super fun, and I decided then that I would learn to improve my sewing skills and focus on making goods for dogs full time. The first thing I wanted to design was an original dog jacket. And this is how the Tailored Dog Jacket began.
Setting the foundation
I like to begin designing with problem solving. What problems am I going to solve with this project? How will I be making things better?
How can I contribute something good and useful to the world, and not just make for the sake of making?
The simple problem I was solving was filling the need of keeping dogs warm and protected in cool weather. And the big problems I wanted to solve were:
- so many of the options we have available to us are unspecial, generic, mass-produced products made of cheap, poor-quality materials, and that doesn’t reflect the special relationships we have with our pets and their importance in our lives
- providing alternatives to the commonly trendy, flashy dog goods that make a person who prefers classic style feel a little silly walking down the street (think pink and baby blue, covered in dog bones or paw prints)
I had several goals when setting out to start the project:
- it had to be an original design
- that design had to be interesting, not boring
- since I suffer from a mild case of nostalgia, I wanted to cultivate a connection to the past
- it would be refined, yet casual enough to be wearable (I didn’t want it sitting in a drawer somewhere)
- it had to be functional
- it needed to fit multiple sizes of dogs
- to feel special and high quality to use because your relationship with your dog is special
- it would be a classic and timeless design, not a trendy or flashy design
I write about the inspiration behind the whole collection in the post “A study in tweed”. And my ongoing inspiration lives on this Pinterest board:
The design process
One of the ways I cultivated a connection to the past was to use reclaimed wool fabric from men’s sport jackets found at the thrift stores. This also contributed to the classic and timeless style because, well, that’s just how men’s sport jackets look. Knowing that this would be the source material helped shape the design of the jacket — each one would be made up of smaller pieces stitched together to accommodate the odd shapes of the deconstructed reclaimed fabric.
After studying up on some old sport jacket designs, like the Norfolk jacket with its smart and functional throat latch, I sketched out how the jacket would come together. Using Pipsqueak as my small fit model, the first pattern was cut and assembled. Then I assessed the fit, refining it for more functionality: a hidden hole in the back seam for the harness style that clips at the shoulders, and straps around the collar and belly that attach with buttons so that they can be sized to fit different dogs. And inspired by traditional tailoring techniques, I included a special seam finish down the back (called a Hong Kong seam finish) to contribute an accent color or pattern, giving the jacket more personality.
Once the design and fit for the small size were settled, I created the other two sizes: extra small and medium. I decided to stick with smaller dogs, at least for the time being, because as the dog gets larger, different materials and processes are needed to make things for it well. It’s been my experience that life with a large pet is much different than life with a small one, and I just know small pets better.
The learning process
One of my favorite things about being a designer is learning new things. The design process is all about learning, whether it’s new techniques or what materials work best or what will most benefit the user of the design, and then making connections between everything to create something useful.
Through the process of making many of these jackets, I discovered that I prefer cotton and wool to synthetic fibers because natural fibers wear nicely and feel good to touch. And on an upcoming version of the jacket, I’d like to experiment with the locations of the buttons, making the jacket fully reversible.
Ready to roll
So at this point I had my design. And after the designing comes the making! A peek into the making of this dog jacket will be in an upcoming post.
In the mean time, if you’d like to see the one-of-a-kind Tailored Dog Jacket options available for sale, you can visit my shop.