Why fashion brands are chasing the pet market

From H&M to Hermès, fashion brands are pouncing on the chance to launch pet lines.

Today, pet parents can buy everything from bow ties to designer dog carriers from major luxury houses including Prada, Fendi, Louis Vuitton and Miu Miu. Last month, Sandy Liang announced a collection of matching human-and-pup bomber jackets and mulled cardigans with Little Beast. Next April, True Religion enters the space with a collection of leashes, collars, toys and beds through a licensing agreement with Wiesner Products.

While clothing and accessories for four-legged friends are not new, more brands are giving pet care a try as the size of the market grows. Nearly one in five American households adopted a pet during the pandemic, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), driving up the need for snacks, toys and bedding. Meanwhile, the fresh-and-frozen pet food category has exploded, thanks to brands like Nom Nom and The Farmer’s Dog, while drug companies have stepped up research of life-extension technology for pets. Now, with a global pet economy that Bloomberg Intelligence puts at half a trillion dollars by 2030, more fashion companies are getting into the mix.

True Religion has been working to get into the pet space for several years now, CMO Kristen D’Arcy told Modern Retail. D’Arcy, who joined the company as its first CMO in July, was eager to get involved, especially since she adopted her dog two years ago. (Her pup, along with other True Religion employees’ pets, is featured in the campaign imagery for the upcoming pet line.) “To be a lifestyle brand, you have the good fortune and opportunity to play in these adjacent spaces, and that’s what we’re doing here,” D’Arcy said.

True Religion’s new collection features everything from harnesses to cold-weather accessories. Denim, a staple of True Religion’s products, is woven into some of the products, including bedding and leashes. “What consumers have come to love about the brand is our attention to detail,” D’Arcy said. “All of those elements… you will see translated into the product line for pets.”

Going forward, True Religion will launch a new pet collection twice a year (once in the fall and once in the spring), D’Arcy said. The items will be available on True Religion’s website, as well as through select wholesale partners in the apparel and pet spaces. The brand plans to promote the new pet line through an influencer campaign involving humans and their pets. Some participants will be True Religion staffers and their dogs, while others will be pet-owning athletes and celebrities who reached out about the campaign. D’Arcy estimates that a combined 100 participants (pets and humans) will take part.

Sandy Liang’s new dog-and-owner collection, which debuted online in November, includes colorful fleeces and knits, many with bows or buttons. Like other luxury petwear, its prices are in the double or triple digits. Styles vary from a Lil Grass Fleece Jacket ($695 for humans, $88 for pets) to a Little Bommy Puffer Jacket ($965 for humans, $149 for pets). “Combining Sandy Liang’s feminine yet edgy ready-to-wear designs with Little Beast’s expertise in the pet industry, this line of winter outerwear and accessories is a stylish dog mom’s dream,” a press release states.

In March, Tommy Hilfiger got into the petwear space with its first-ever dog collection. The line — created in partnership with dog product licensee Kanine — features preppy polos, branded hoodies and slick raincoats in the brand’s trademark colors of red, white and blue. Items range from a $30 Squeaky Rope Frisbee to a $150 Button Front Sweater. “Dogs are oftentimes seen as an extension of our personal style, self-expression and wider family,” Tommy Hilfiger said in a statement at the time. “It’s been a fun project bringing this collection to life and connecting with a whole new global audience.”

Besides brands and designers, celebrities themselves are starting to roll out pet lines. In August, Martha Stewart launched a line of six food formulas for dogs, cats and puppies on Chewy.com. In July, Snoop Dogg’s petwear brand Snoop Doggie Doggs announced it was expanding beyond Amazon and into retail with Petco, Healthy Spot, PetSmart, Kohl’s, Faire, Pet Supplies Plus and Wholesale Pet. Last September, Dolly Parton created her Doggy Parton apparel line in partnership with SportPet Designs. It includes shirts, squeaky toys and a “blonde bombshell” wig.

Anna Andreeva, managing director of equity research for e-commerce and global brands at Needham & Company, told Modern Retail that while consumers may pare back on other goods during economically-challenged times, they won’t skimp on their pets. “Historically, during recessions, this is a pretty resilient type of demand,” she said. “The spending on the pet is more of a need, versus a want, so I think the durability of the space is why you’ve seen some of these newer players come into this category.”

However, Andreeva pointed out, people are acquiring dogs at a slower rate than they were during the heyday of the pandemic, which has led to a pullback in demand for some pet-related items. In fact, the pet ownership rate for dogs had largely stabilized by 2022, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. (The percentage of households with cats, on the other hand, increased last year.)

“The hard goods or supplies category is very levered to new pet ownership trends,” Andreeva said. “And when those are down, that’s obviously not great for the whole category. So I think it’s going to be interesting to watch how well these newer players really do with this category.”

Indeed, some major pet companies have reported a slowdown in spending. Petco’s revenue decreased 0.5% year-over-year in the third quarter as customers bought food and medical supplies over other categories like accessories. According to CFO Brian LaRose, Petco’s discretionary supplies business was down 9% year-over-year.

“While we saw a surge in pet adoption during the pandemic period, coupled with stimulus that facilitated discretionary spending, the current economic environment means many consumers are increasingly discerning in their spending and actively seeking out more value,” Petco CEO Ron Coughlin said on an earnings call. “It’s clear we must adapt our business to meet the needs of consumers in this environment.”