Posted on 19th April 2023 at 9:22 pm.
Over the past year, 45 creative practitioners and organisations from across Sunderland have received £1000 funding via the CLLD Creative Industries Grant to help support the growth of their business.
We’ve taken the opportunity to highlight some of the recipients of the funding here in our blog to shine a light on their work, their creative business and plans for the future.
Today we’re speaking to Rachel Groves, owner and designer of Sidekick Dog Designs.
Tell us about you and your creative business?
I started my business by accident! When the country was in lockdown in the winter of 2020 I bought some fabric to make my dog, Lucy, a waterproof coat. The first coat I made went well, I enjoyed the challenge of working out the pattern from scratch and I was really pleased with the standard that I achieved. A few weeks passed and then Christmas visits were cancelled. I pulled out some other fabric and spent Christmas Eve making another coat for Lucy. Thinking nothing of it, I posted a photo on Instagram and went to bed. That same evening I had a request from someone I had never met for two coats for her dogs.
From there I got a boost of confidence and designed a range of coats inspired by classic fashion, bought more fabric and began sharing my designs on social media. I made a good number of sales but with summer approaching I knew I needed a plan for the warmer months. I made my first martingale collar in March 2021 and have since developed a range of collars and coordinating leads. I now have a range of raincoats, winter coats and have developed a signature collection of luxury coats.
I came up with the name Sidekick Dog Designs because the relationship between owner and dog is so important. As dog owners we put our heart and soul into everything that we do for our dogs, and I realised that owning a dog is part of my identity, and Lucy is my sidekick.
What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I am working on my brand identity by creating a new range of dog coats and accessories. I love working to commission but the initial vision I have for my brand has been lost a little along the way. I love coming up with new designs and researching sewing techniques and am currently working with some very fine fabric to create a high-end luxury coat.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by iconic garments such as a denim jacket, a boxy boucle jacket or a country style wax jacket. I also take inspiration from internationally known fashion designers by looking at the elements that make their garments recognisable and timeless. One of the reasons I set up my business was because I couldn’t find dog coats that I liked. I wanted something a bit edgy that reflected human fashion, rather than some of the more playful designs that are available. My aim is for owners to step out for a walk feeling their best, wearing clothes that they love with their dog by their side in a coat that makes them proud to be with their little sidekick. One customer sent me a message that said, “I took Minnie out in her matching collar, coat and lead and I felt so fancy!” This is the epitome of what I’m trying to achieve with my brand and my inspiration is more than a design on paper and then in fabric, it’s about creating a feeling of confidence and enjoyment of fashion.
What did you do with the CLLD grant?
I used the grant to increase my presence online and to develop a brand. I have purchased an e-commerce website and alongside I have worked with a consultant to set it up, making sure that it’s fit for purpose. I have also employed a graphic designer to create a logo and monogram which capture the brand and make it instantly recognisable. The grant has also enabled me to get some social media coaching so that I can plan a launch of the new website and reach more customers through social media. I have also purchased new business cards, thank you notes and stickers so that every product is packaged with branded stationery.
How has it helped you grow or support your business to do new things?
Having a professionally designed logo has made a surprising difference to my confidence in my brand. Social media coaching to find the right approach will be really important going forward to help me to: identify interesting content, find my tone of voice, and put my personality across in my online content. Agreeing to this case study is pushing me out of my comfort zone as I don’t like to be in the spotlight but I said yes to it as I knew it would be a valuable experience!
The website is the best way to showcase the different collections of coats and collars – a professional website matches the expectations of the items. The printed materials have elevated my packaging and branding to a level that matches the quality of the items that I am making. Like any fashion retailer it’s important to be able to display my items in ranges and include a variety of different options. This is beyond the capabilities of the selling platforms I’ve been using to date. It is really important that customers can see the different fabric and style options, can browse the designs and see how items can go together as part of a range. This will hopefully increase sales as, until now, I have been unable to achieve this using the preset styles of selling platforms and social media.
What are you hoping your business will achieve in the coming year?
I am hoping to gain a customer base in Australia and the United States. There are huge populations of greyhounds and their owners tend to be more daring with their dog’s fashion than in the UK! I would also like to scale my designs to fit other breeds of sighthound such as whippets and Italian greyhounds.
Where can we find out more about you?
The website is not yet live but it will be soon! I am on Instagram and Facebook @sidekick_dog_designs
The Sunderland Community Led Local Development Programme (CLLD) is a five year programme to deliver local jobs and economic growth, supported with funding from the European Structural Investment Fund.