By Kathryn Skelton
Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine
Inspired by a portly granddog and the closure of her longtime Portland nail salon, Robin Healey traded a rough economy for a ruff one.
Healey started Kiki Couture-Fido Fashions, making custom dog collars, bow ties and coats a year ago, months after closing Robin’s Nail & Skin Care.
She could hardly believe it when Down East magazine came calling this fall for its Christmas issue.
“My daughter’s been keeping track; I think I’m short 10 states (out of all 50) that I’ve sold to,” said Healey, 58.
It had been a difficult decision to close her salon in December 2012 and a while in coming. In the recession, fewer customers were splurging on themselves.
“You hang on and hang on for the emotional part of it, even though you know you’re not making any money,” Healey said. “The ‘treat’ money was gone.”
Meanwhile, she’d been sewing doggie couture for her daughter’s dog, Chianti (nicknamed Kiki), for years. The Boston Terrier was too stocky to wear anything off the rack.
“Whenever she would take (Kiki) places, people would ask, ‘Where did you get this?'” Healey said. “That’s why my family, my daughter, gave me that nudge, then my son and my husband.”
She formally launched the line last April at a University of Southern Maine craft fair. That’s when she discovered people were still willing to splurge on pets.
Healey sells on Etsy and uses social media outlets such as Facebook to advertise new inventory. She spends 25 to 30 hours a week at her dining room table, overlooking Allen Pond, sewing sparkles, fleece, camo and polka dots.
“I don’t have that worry anymore with getting into Portland in the snow,” she said.
Kiki, sadly, died last year, but Healey has three model dogs at home: Uncas, an English setter, Marley, a cocker spaniel, and Tessie, a French bulldog.
Bows and bow ties, with a double-elastic back to slip securely through a collar, start at $7.50, collars at $15.
Collars come in three sizes and she’ll be adding a forth soon, 1.5-inch wide, for extra large dogs. Coats come in four sizes and she plans to add a fifth for tiny dogs.
Healey has also fielded a number of requests for custom pieces, like one from the owner of a hairless Dachshund.
“She sent me the measurements and he has an itty-bitty jacket and he wears it all the time,” she said.
Down East magazine featured Kiki Couture-Fido Fashions last month as one of its 133 Maine-made gift ideas. Healey would like to expand the business, adding more wholesale pet store clients, and keep growing “one dog at a time.”