Four-Legged Fashion

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Kevin Heady knows a thing or two about sophisticated fashion. As a custom jeweler, creating one-of-a-kind pieces for an urban and chic clientele, Heady has gained a reputation for superior craftsmanship and attention to detail.

So what happens when the artist can’t find a product – in this case a luxury collar for his King Cavalier Charles spaniel – that lives up to his expectations? Well, he makes one.

“I thought if I can design jewelry, I can easily do dog collars,” recalls Heady, who determined there might just be a market for canine-wear crafted of exotic skins and using current fashion trends.

So he set to work securing several sources for high-quality alligator skin as well as a production team consisting of a tanner in Georgia and a Texas boot maker to handle manufacturing. That’s how Fidos Fashions was born.

So far, the collection has been a hit. Heady estimates sales in the last six months are about double the total during the prior six-month period. The Fidos Fashions division now ac- counts for about 30 percent of his total sales, but he expects that will continue to grow.

All of the collars are designed by Heady using next-season’s hot colors and handmade to the highest industry standards. The skins for the collars come from purveyors in Brazil and Louisiana and Heady has plans to launch a new snakeskin line in the fall.

Taking chances is nothing new to Heady. Jewelry-making began as a hobby for him many years ago. Unlike other artistic mediums such as painting and sculpture, which he had a harder time with, he says could get his hands around work- ing with metal. “I have always been fascinated by stones; col- lected them as a kid,” he says. “Jewelry allowed me to channel that into a creative mode. Basically I was creating sculpture in wearable form.”

During the years that he worked in the wholesale fashion industry in Dallas, Heady saw a growing need for upscale, contemporary accessories. By 2004, he was ready to strike out on his own, creating his jewelry business.

Today, Heady’s collections are in upscale boutiques around the country, including Eliza Page and Be Sheik here in Austin. Still, most of his work consists of one-of-a-kind and custom pieces for a loyal clientele.

The canine fashion world was a different animal altogether. Heady says at first he was placing the collars in pet boutiques, but soon realized they fit better in fashion boutiques where people were searching for interesting gifts and one-of-a-kind pieces.

To be sure, the products are aimed at a more high-end customer. Fidos Fashion’s collars start at $120 and go up to $240, depending on size. The price may seem lofty, but Heady says enough people are willing to pay for quality – recession or not.

“My customers are the people who see their pet as an extension of themselves,” says Heady. “It’s the customer who is buying Prada and Gucci for themselves and they want their dog to be outfitted in the same way. That’s what I’m providing.”

But are enough dog owners willing to shell out $200 for a collar with the economy still in a rut? “I think people are a little leery of spending money on something nice for themselves right now, but if they spend it on the dog, it’s justifiable,” Heady offers.

One client, a wealthy Houston woman who always struggled with what to buy her husband, purchased a couple collars last Christmas. The husband, an avid dog lover, was so impressed with the collars that he bought ten himself to give out as gifts.

According to Heady, it’s not unusual for his collar customers to come back for several more. “They want one for spring and summer, or women want one to match a particular outfit of theirs or a pair of shoes. One just isn’t enough.” He’s even launched a line of cuff bracelets for women that match the collars.

Currently, Fidos Fashions is producing about 100 collars a month, and Heady says that’s about all his existing manu- facturing structure can handle. Growing demand could mean changes in production – but he’s not ready to go there just yet.

Right now, he has his hands full with newer additions to the line, including silver dog tags, some encrusted with semi- precious stones. He’s also working on collars set with stones and has more ideas percolating. “I want it to be a full-fledged jewelry line for dogs with the collar itself as the base.”

He says many of his sales, both with the jewelry and Fidos Fashions, come through his charity work. Over the years he’s been part of the committees putting together such events as the Paramount and State theatres’ anniversary gala and Zach Scott Theatre’s Red Hot & Soul. He usually donates collars or jewelry pieces for the charity auctions, which draw new eyes to his work.

Though charity work is nothing new for Heady, he’s gotten more involved through Fidos Fashions with animal welfare groups such as Animal Trustees of Austin and Paws Shelter. One unfortunate side-effect of the ongoing recession is that nonprofits in general are receiving less money from individual donors and other benefactors. Animal charities in particular are getting hit harder, since they often rank below human services nonprofits in the giving spectrum. At the same time, owners facing financial hardships are releasing their dogs to shelters or rescue groups at alarming because they’re unable or unwilling to care for them anymore. “These groups need all the help they can get right now,” says Heady.

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