Bangor business blends love of dogs and fashion

Jack Frost is back, bringing with him crunchy lawns, icy windshields and foggy breath. My dog Oreo isn’t a fan.

You see, he doesn’t have much to keep him warm. I think I’ve met burly Mainers with more “fur” than Oreo.

As a concerned mother, I’ve often thought about how my 1-year-old pup will endure winter. I want him to join me snowshoeing and skiing. I can picture him chasing snowballs and rolling through snowdrifts, if only he had a way of staying warm.

There’s really only one option: winter apparel.

I know there’s a certain stigma attached to people who dress their dogs, but whatever. Oreo shivers during rainstorms. Sending him naked into Maine’s winter wonderland just seems cruel.

But here’s the thing — even if Oreo didn’t have super short hair, I’d probably try to dress him up anyway. I may be an outdoorsy girl, but I also like fashion. Right beside the muddy hiking boots in the back of my Subaru are a pair of high heels. I carry a sparkly purse as comfortably as a Camelbak. Like owner, like dog — whether he likes it or not.

Yet when it comes to buying Oreo doggy duds, there’s one huge problem. His neck and head aren’t exactly proportionate to the rest of his body. No need to be gentle about it — he kind of looks like a cartoon character. People who meet him in person often say, “Oh, I thought he was bigger!” No. He just has a big head.

The standard pet store clothing just doesn’t fit him. I have to buy a few sizes too big to accommodate his beefy neck, then the coat flows off his back and sags at the waist. It’s just not functional, let alone fashionable!

So it’s a good thing I ran into Cynthia Rollins, owner of Dogn’i Apparel, a small Bangor-based business that designs custom clothes for dogs, among other canine products.

I met her in August at the American Folk Festival, at her booth of Dogn’i merchandise; and I wasn’t the only person at the festival to deem her business extremely cool.

The people of Bear Brook Kennels were among the many admirers of her extensive line of dog apparel and accessories. As a direct result, the Brewer kennel is now the location of the first Dogn’i kennel shop, which will hold a grand opening celebration from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, at 19 Bennett Road. At the event, Rollins will take orders for custom apparel, and the kennel’s dog trainers will be on hand to chat with dog owners.

But I couldn’t wait for that — so a few weeks ago, I scheduled an appointment with Rollins to have Oreo measured for a few double-lined fleece jackets at her home in Bangor. He did a lot of barking and wasn’t much help. Rollins was unperturbed. As we searched through the reams of fabric organized in her sewing room, she told me about her business.

She began designing dog clothing in 2006 at her home in Newburgh.

“I had chihuahuas,” Rollins said. “It was very hard to find jackets that fit them properly because they weren’t purebreds — they were kind of long and had long legs, and so I just started making custom dog jackets for them.”

It wasn’t long before her friends took notice, and she began making clothing for their pets. And when she moved to Bangor in 2009, her hobby transformed into a small business.

Over the years, her product line has rapidly expanded to a variety of jackets (fall, winter, rain), bandanas, dog carrier bags, toys, beds, collars and leashes.

“It’s been an education along the way. I’m learning a lot about different dog breeds, and they all have different shapes and sizes,” she said. “You know, when you take a dog for a walk, if a jacket doesn’t fit good, if it’s too tight or too big, then they’re not comfortable walking.”

While her products are about functionality, they’re also about style. Through fashion blogs and magazines, Rollins keeps up to date with the latest trends, and the materials she chooses are often based on the color pallets being used by top designers. Just looking at the variety of patterns she’s using this fall — which include Thanksgiving and Halloween-themed patterns — it’s clear she has fun with it.

“We try to make things that you can’t get anywhere else,” Rollins said. “Because many things you can get. There are a lot of pet stores and competition out there. So we want to make things as unique, as specialized as possible, so that people can really have fun with their dogs and enjoy them and be fashionable with them.”

Her most recent product, the Hashtag Bandana, is embroidered with any hashtag saying a customer requests (#Ilovedad, #hikingdog, #marryme). And Rollins even creates matching clothing sets for dogs and their owners — flip-flops and hats that coordinate with dog collars and leashes.

While it was easy to get carried away with all the fun products, I eventually chose two plaid patterns for Oreo’s fleece jackets. He showed his approval by rolling on the fleece with vigor.

Yesterday evening, I picked up the Oreo-shaped jackets and brought them home to test out. Wearing a red plaid-patterned fleece, Oreo sprinted around the yard, chasing his playmate Dexter. The jacket fit him like a second skin. And when we go for a hike, I can attach his leash to his harness through a lined hole in the back. Mission accomplished. Oreo is now prepared to face Jack Frost. We’ll see about the snow.

To learn more about Dogn’i, visit dogni.com.

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Professionally, Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the "Outdoor" and "Living" pages. She's a wilderness romper and fashion-forward bookworm.