Welcome to Wear Wag Repeat Podcast Episode 12: Hayley Whitfield of Wolfpack NYC is getting into the details of how to create a dog accessories brand – from coming up with a concept and identifying your customer, to finding manufacturers and wholesale accounts. At a startup you have to wear many hats, so listen to find out how this entrepreneur handles it all.
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Wolfpack NYC was founded by Australian native Hayley Whitfield and was fueled by her desire to create a beautiful winter coat for her mini-poodle Rosa. Hayley is based in New York and was a Management Consultant by trade, then she decided to leave her corporate gig to start a business manufacturing high-end fashion for dogs.
Hayley didn’t have any experience in product design or manufacturing, but she was so taken by New York’s entrepreneurial energy and the buzz of its garment district, so she figured she’d give it go. Fast forward 18 months and she has now launched a collection of luxury Italian leather dog coats and accessories, selling online and through partners across the globe.
Tori: You made the switch from corporate to startup, these are two very different worlds. What have you found to be the most challenging part of the transition?
Hayley: In my previous role I was a professional services consultant for large organisations in telecommunications, healthcare, government etc. It had nothing to do with fashion, product design or pets. The biggest challenge was going from being very good at one thing, to now taking on 15 new jobs at once. I have to accept that I’m not an expert at any one thing anymore. I’ve learned to accept where I am and learn how to run a startup. My dog Rosa has been really good to help me not sweat it.
Tori: Since everything falls on you, have you outsourced anything in your business?
Hayley: The only thing I outsource at the moment is manufacturing. That’s done here in New York City. I tried out three different companies before I found the one I use now. It’s really helpful to have them close by. They focus on leather, and have that expertise, so that’s one of the reasons I love working with them.
Tori: Wolfpack products are quite high-end, they target a niche customer in the luxury segment. Tell me a bit about the collection and do you think there’s much opportunity in the luxury segment of the market?
Hayley: Initially, I didn’t think it was luxury. I just wanted to create something beautiful and long lasting. That was the challenge I had when I bought things for my dog Rosa, they all fell apart after a while. I ended up in this luxury category by accident! It’s an area that under utilized in the marketplace. It’s an urban, fairly affluent customer. In New York, especially, I can really appeal to that group.
Tori: When you work for yourself I know it can be an emotional roller-coaster and there’s no team or manager to acknowledge your success or to reassure you that you are heading in the right direction. How do you celebrate successes?
Hayley: Generally I’m just by myself with my own ideas, there’s no manager to tell you you’re going the right way. There’s not a lot of feedback. So I had to learn that it’s my own perception of whether things are going well. I found that when I hit a milestone, I immediately started working towards the next one. So, I realized it’s really important to slow down and pause and recognize those accomplishments. I love to travel and take vacations, so that’s usually when I pause and reflect on how far I’ve come.
Tori: What are the “seasons” for dog fashion?
Hayley: There are 2 seasons, summer and the winter. But since I’m so small I can do customer orders and custom colors. That’s really fun to work on and I love when those opportunities come up!
Tori: Tell us about your dog Rosa, the inspiration for Wolfpack NYC!
Hayley: Rosa is a mini poodle. She’s 4 and half years old and is the most intelligent dog I’ve ever met. I had no idea dogs could be this smart. Living in an apartment, we wanted a poodle because she’s small and doesn’t shed. She fills my entire heart with so much satisfaction.
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