After spending more than a year studying apparel design at the Art Institute in Portland, Emily Lariviere realized her aspirations had strayed from those of most of her fellow students. Listening to classmates talk about couture wedding dresses or becoming the next thing in fashion, Lariviere held onto a closely guarded secret.
“I didn’t want anybody to steal my idea,” she says, laughing, “but it hit me that I just wanted to make dog jackets.”
Born out of that early inspiration and a desire to find a better-fitting, hipper-looking jacket for her own dog, Lariviere launched Muffinhead in November 2010 after finding other dog jackets wanting — either being too “cutesy” for her rough-and-tumble Pit Xavier, or too cheaply made.
“I felt a bit of lackluster with what was out there,” Lariviere recalls. “I didn’t feel like [the jackets] expressed who Xavier was and they had kind of a weird fit for his body.” After gathering several retail jackets, Lariviere hired a seamstress and came up with a pattern based on qualities she liked and didn’t like. “I know there are only so many ways to fit a dog’s body,” she says, “but there were a lot of little things I had to take into consideration” — for example whether a jacket goes over the head or fits through the arms and legs.
After coming up with a pattern she liked, Lariviere realized that to move forward she needed help. She found that in business partner Amy Giehll, a like-minded Maine transplant (coincidentally from the same small town of Orchard Beach as Emily). The two bonded over their love of animals and commitment to rescue work. “I wanted someone who shared my vision,” says Lariviere. “I mean, if people aren’t similarly passionate about your mission than it doesn’t feel like a step forward. She’s been such an amazing asset and has a big heart.”
Portland-based Muffinhead is quickly becoming a known brand, recently winning a 2013 Top Dog Award for Apparel. Much of that success obviously comes from the labors of Lariviere and Giehll, but it’s also thanks to a business model that fits perfectly with local consumers and 21 st Century ideals. All of Muffinhead’s handmade jackets are produced from recycled, made-in-the-USA textiles, with additional locally-sourced materials, which Lariviere says is in line with her and Giehll’s philosophies. “There’s nothing about our company that isn’t totally consistent with how we live.”
That includes their commitment to engaging in the animal rescue community and donating product as often as possible to area rescues and shelters. Seeing a recent article in Spot on the plight of shelter dogs housed outdoors in Madras, Oregon, Lariviere was one of the first to respond, gathering a box of remainder jackets and shipping them within days. Lariviere says this type of altruism was built into her business plan. “We were asked early on to think about companies we might like to emulate, and all the ones that came to mind were companies that were giving back. If we were just interested in turning a profit, it would be much easier to do that, but that’s not in line with who we are as people or what we believe. Amy and I joke that our day jobs feed our wallets, but Muffinhead feeds our souls.”
Lariviere is looking forward to building on the success Muffinhead has had in the last two years and is optimistic about continuing to be a larger part of the community, even knowing there is plenty of work ahead.
“Any small business is like having a child . . . it’s a lot of work, but you get so much joy and fulfillment that it’s all worth it. I mean really; when people picture Muffinhead, they should picture Amy and I sitting in one of our apartments, drinking wine, watching “Mad Men” and cutting dog jackets. Every two minutes one of us shows the other what we’ve just done and we’re like, ‘That’s so cute!’”
Indeed. Check out Muffinhead’s wares and learn more about its sustainable practices at MuffinheadDog.com.