Arts & Life
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This article was published 25/9/2018 (735 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Married couple Carrie Orton and Tom Dueck fostered their first puppy eight years ago.
"Parents" of two pooches of their own at the time, Orton says their reasoning was simple: "we love dogs and just wanted to help them get a good start in life."
In 2016, while they were caring for their 45th and 46th fosters, a pair of Cane Corso-cross pups named Hera and Callista, Orton was flabbergasted how the two seemed to get bigger "every 10 minutes."
"They were large pups — expected to be about 100 pounds each full-grown — and both grew out of their baby collars super-fast," she says.
Sure, she could have gotten proper-size collars free from the rescue organization that matched them with the dogs. But because she enjoyed a challenge, the self-taught seamstress thought she’d try to make her own collars out of swatches of colourful fabric she had sitting around her house.
Satisfied with the end result, she and her husband took the dogs on an outing to the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market. Almost immediately, shoppers there began stopping them in their tracks to comment how adorable Hera and Callista looked in their flashy accoutrements.
"Because everybody was like, ‘Oh, they’re so cute,’ I made a few more collars for them, figuring if enough people noticed the dogs because of what they were wearing, maybe it would help them get adopted quicker," she says.
Before long, Orton’s friends and family members were requesting hand-crafted collars for their own dogs. After being told for the umpteenth time her wares were as good or better than what was available in big-box pet stores, she launched an online business in February, dubbing it Diva and Dudes Collar Co. in honour of "the original diva," her seven-year-old border collie cross, Mistletoe.
Orton, a featured vendor at the Made in Canada Etsy Sale that runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday at the Centennial Concert Hall, markets dozens of mix-and-match styles of collars and leashes, in a variety of sizes.
She laughs when asked whether a dog really cares that what’s around its neck is from her spring, summer or fall collection, admitting it’s obviously the owner’s decision to switch to a collar featuring autumn shades this time of year versus one emblazoned with butterflies or flower petals.
"I try to have a collar and fabric choice for everyone’s taste, from classic gingham and plaids to vibrant colours to what I call my ‘tuff’ collection — collars with sugar skulls, crossbones or superheroes," she continues, adding that owing to demand, she recently introduced a collar adorned with images of sloths — "last year it was hedgehogs, this year sloths seem to be the ‘it’ animal" — to her catalogue.
Aside from her online store, Orton’s collars are also available at a number of retail outlets, including Poco Inspired at 495 Madison St. and Sweet C Bakery at 1171 Kildare Ave. E.
"I was talking to a friend of mine, telling her I wanted to carry Manitoba-made items in my store, and she told me about her friend who was making these super high-quality dog collars," says Cori Poon, who together with her husband, Jeff Poon, opened their bakery in October 2016.
"People are blown away by the quality of her collars but also the fact they’re locally made," she continues, noting her dog Pekoe — "that’s right, like the tea" — sports one of Orton’s collars.
"Society is really striving to be more involved and aware of what they buy and Carrie’s company really embodies that whole spirit of ‘buy local’ that so many people are looking for nowadays." (No word if Sweet C’s Transcona location was the reason Poon went with a Diva and Dudes collar boasting pink flamingos.)
Orton, who has shipped collars as far as Australia and Germany, says ever since her business got off the ground she hasn’t been able to go for a drive or stroll without eyeing every dog out for a walk and musing to herself, "You know what would look good on him or her?"
"It’s hard to separate business from pleasure anymore. Even when I go to the dog park or something like (the Winnipeg Goldeyes’) Bark at the Park, I always pack a few business cards, just in case," she says, adding if somebody has a cherished piece of fabric — even an old flannel shirt they can’t bear to part with — she happily accepts custom orders for collars using supplied material.
One more thing; because Mistletoe has become the face of the company, posing for Instagram photos almost every time her master comes up with a new design, it’s gotten to the point where she no longer gets excited when Orton slips a collar around her neck.
"In the old days, she used to equate (putting on a collar) with going for a walk and get all eager and stuff, but now she barely opens her eyes," Orton says with a chuckle. "I’ll be all, ‘Good girl, don’t you look pretty’ and she’ll look at me as if to say, ‘Do we really have to do this again?’"
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