Made in PDX: Sweet Pickles Designs

GladRags cloth pads are proudly made here in Portland, Oregon (my hometown!) so I have a special place in my heart for other companies that manufacture their products here. Portland is a truly unique place, filled with interesting people and lots of resources for small businesses. I recently discovered that our sewing team, when not creating the best reusable menstrual pads around, helps cut out tiny flowers for cat collars. I caught up with Shana, the lady behind the cat couture and the founder of Sweet Pickles Designs to ask her all about her company, Portland, and cats, of course!

Shana & Pickles of Sweet Pickles Designs

Shana & Pickles of Sweet Pickles Designs

Hi Shana (and Pickles)! Can you tell our readers a little about SPD?

Sweet Pickles Designs offers a collection of handcrafted cat collars and bow ties and was created with a vision that all cats deserve to share their unique sense of style. All products are handmade in Portland, OR.

How did Sweet Pickles Designs get started?

You can read the long version of the story here! And yes, we really did chase her along the side of I-5.

In short, after rescuing Pickles, I couldn’t believe the awful collars the pet stores and boutiques had for cats. They were so bad I didn’t even want to buy any of them after going to every pet shop in town. I did end up buying one with dragonflies printed on it so she could have identification, but I was not happy with it at all. I decided I was going to make a collar for Pickles that I liked. After several months of playing with designs and filling Pickles’ closet, I decided it was time to see if other people liked them too. On April 20, 2010, Pickles and I opened Sweet Pickles Designs.

Pickles modeling a flower collar

Pickles modeling a flower collar

Since then, we’ve released bow ties (Holiday season 2012). We are releasing flowers this month. Actually probably this week! We are in 40-50 shops now including some bigger places like Petsmart (online only), New Seasons, and You can see the full stock-list on our website.

Tell us a little about your product line and how they’re made.

We currently offer collars and bow ties. We are a team of 4 seamstresses (including me) making the product. Everyone currently works out of their house, which is starting to get a little insane. Besides having petals for our upcoming flowers cut at Spooltown, we make all our products from start to finish in-house (in Portland).

You recently did a photo shoot for the Oregon Humane Society. Can you tell us about that experience?

As of last summer, once a quarter we go to the Oregon Humane Society (OHS) and photograph the longest residents/special needs kitties, aka their 9 Lives Club. It’s always an incredible experience and one of my favorite things we do. I really look forward to doing it.

My boyfriend is our photographer (that’s what he does) and I am so lucky to have him volunteer to do these shoots with us. I won’t lie, it’s a lot of work (it usually takes all day) and I fall in love with every single one of the cats we photograph. We spend a lot of time with each one, it’s hard not to fall in love plus the cats are always so sweet and ridiculously adorable. Plus OHS and their volunteers are so wonderful and really help make it all happen.

Ponyo, available for adoption at OHS

Ponyo, available for adoption at OHS

It really does take a team to make these shoots happen, but I think everyone (including the cats) enjoy it. We share the photos with OHS to use however they want and we share the cats on our social media to hopefully help push their adoption. They are always wearing our collars, bow ties/flowers (they get to keep them), so sometimes I do use the photos for product lifestyle shots, but as you probably saw from the 6 cats from the last shoot, it’s really about getting a really great photo of the cat. If our products look good, that’s a bonus, but I end up choosing a lot of photos that you can’t even see our products since they happen to sometimes be the best photo of the kitty and that’s what it’s about.

All the cats from the other shoots have found their forever homes, which really makes it all worth it. I don’t know how much the photos have helped find them their home, but I like to think that they did help, at least a little. 😉

Cat bow-ties strike me as a very “Portland” thing! What’s it like running a small, quirky, business in Portland?

Well, I will say there’s never a dull day in the cat fashion world. Coming from a commercial real estate background, I would say Sweet Pickles could have it’s own Portlandia episode. The emails are I get from customers alone are pretty amazing and sometimes I do sit back and reflect on my day and just start to giggle. Like for starters, last week, we made a set of 4 matching bow ties for someones 2 cats and 2 chickens to wear at their wedding. See? Pretty amazing and I bet you just giggled. But honestly, how great is that to think that someone was able to have all their pets participate (while matching) at their wedding. I love it.

As a female business owner, have you encountered specific obstacles or opportunities?

I think the pet industry is interesting. As I mentioned earlier, I was in commercial real estate (for 10 years) prior to Sweet Pickles, and that is a very male dominated industry. That is one reason why I love the pet industry; I get to work with so many other women. I think about 70% of the buyers at the pet stores we work with are women and my team happens to be all women. I have also met a lot of other women who own other pet supply companies who have been so supportive and have actually become good friends with a few of them. I have a monthly standing call with one of the woman; she makes cat toys and we are are at similar points with our businesses. We go over obstacles and challenges we may have encountered over the last month, bounce ideas off each other and it really has become a support structure for both of us. It’s pretty wonderful.

And finally… do your bow-ties fit dog collars, too? We have two very handsome office pugs who could totally rock them.

OH YES! We make bigger dog size ones that are the perfect size for pugs! We don’t sell online, but you can custom order or you can pick up them at one of our Portland retailers.  😉

Thanks for chatting with us, Shana!

About the author of this post:

tracypuhl is the owner of GladRags and is passionate about period positivity and empowering women everywhere. When she’s not in the office, you might find her attempting to run a faster 10k, traveling, practicing yoga, or pointing out how cute her cats are being right now.