Business is not always about boardrooms, briefings and black coffee. So, in tribute to the North-East men and women who take a more unusual approach to enterprise, Deputy Business Editor Lauren Pyrah examines the unconventional, alternative or downright difficult careers in the region's economy.
Ever wondered what it’s like to be a... doggie dress maker?
Wendy Prosser, 49, who lives in Dormanstown, near Middlesbrough, is a professional dress-maker, who has expanded into a line of clothes for pets, including dogs and horses.
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What made you think of making clothes for dogs?
I had just started my dress-making business, which was focussed on making clothes for children. I was trying to get finance and the bank asked me for some proof of orders. As I’d just started out, I didn’t really have many, so I thought I would approach a dance school to try and get some orders for dance outfits.
I went down, but the school was closed, so I popped into a pet shop which was next door to pass the time until it opened.
I was chatting to the owner about my company, and they asked if I could make waterproof dog coats in baby blue and baby pink, as they were really difficult to find. I said of course I could, and it just went from there.
Since then, I’ve designed and made loads of different clothes for Doggie Dazzlers, including diamante-covered tutus and onsies for dogs, all specially shaped to accommodate tails and toilet trips. I’m also starting to make designer turn-out rugs for horses, as well as other horse accessories such as headbands and tail wraps.
I make the coats in waterproof material with decorative diamantes securely fixed to them, and I look for unusual colours such as pink and blue because they are rare in horse accessories.
I make the coats in three weights, but I was struggling to source a suitable heavy-weight fabric until I found it in China. I am also happy to make commissions.
What inspires you?
I am always making things for Tinkerbell, my Yorkshire terrier. I like things to look shiny and pretty – I think pets should look good. You wouldn’t know it from looking at me but my style for making clothes is quite flashy and blingy. I use a lot of diamante. I think it’s a nice, fun look for pets.
What’s your favourite piece so far?
I made an amazing, eight-inch tutu for Tinkerbell, covered in about 400 diamantes. It took about six hours to make. They are very time-consuming to make, and that is reflected in the price.
I love the tutus – they are so beautiful. Tinkerbell absolutely loves her a satin tutu – her grandmother Susie lives next door, and she’s got a matching one.
What’s the most unusual outfit you’ve been asked to make?
I made a coat for a dog with an allergy which has a 100 per cent cotton lining. It’s really good, because the dog can now wear a coat without becoming allergic.
How did you set up your own sewing business?
Initially, it was my mother who got me started – we’re originally from Surrey, and moved up north to Great Ayton when I was a child – and she taught me and my sisters from an early age how to sew. When I was about 12, I made a pin-stripe suit and ever since, I’ve really enjoyed making clothes.
I always made clothes for my children and myself but I never really thought about turning it into a business.
But a couple of years ago, I lost my job and then became depressed. I was on the sick and then on Job Seekers’ Allowance for about 12 months. When you’ve been looking for a job for that long, you get to the point where you feel like you are worthless and you can’t do anything.
When I decided to use my sewing, I got help from Redcar and Cleveland’s Enterprise Team, who gave me advice on marketing, IT and promoting the business and helped me get set up.
It is great working for myself, I have to keep pinching myself. I absolutely love having my own business.
What does the future hold for your company?
I’d like to get my products into more stores – at the moment, they are only sold at Breed Above in Moore Street, Redcar – and I am also in the process of creating a website.
I’ve also been told that people are buying clothes for pets including ferrets and rats, so that’s a possible avenue I might explore.
I’d really love to make a tutu for a circus elephant – it would be difficult but I think it would be the ultimate piece of bling.