Well-fitting coats keep canines cozy in cold

BOULDER — Fran Blum knew her dog Mac needed extra protection from the elements.

“He was shaved for surgery and every three weeks he had chemo,” she said.

After buying dozens of ill-fitting coats that cost about $100 each, she approached someone who made custom motorcycle gear. The result was a leather coat lined with fleece that fit Mac like a glove. It covered more of his body and allowed him to move unrestricted.

About a year after Mac died, Blum pulled out the prototype coat, believing that both healthy and ill Colorado dogs need effective winter gear.

In 2011 she started studying fabrics and patterns and how to shape coats to fit dogs of different sizes and activity levels.

“I knew this market existed because I was it,” she said.

Working with seamstress Denise Rhoades of Thornton, Blum field-tested coat designs on one of her dogs that was both skinny and speedy. The focus was on maximum coverage and maximum range of motion. “We knew that if she couldn’t run out of the coat it was good to go.”

By April, Boulder-based MountainMuttDogCoats was ready to take its Colorado-made, hand-crafted coats to market.

As sole owner of the company, Blum designed a website and dove into promoting her coats. In August she attended the Pet Expo in Denver and stretched her selling to reach more individuals and wholesalers.

“I got a call from a woman who has a dock-diving champion and wanted to know if I’d consider sponsoring her dog, Otis.”

Dock diving is a sport where dogs compete in jumping for distance or height from a dock into a body of water.

“She wanted my coats to keep her dog’s muscles loose and limber between jumps so he didn’t have to burn extra energy to stay warm,” Blum said.

MountainMuttDogCoats continues to sponsor Otis, who ranks 11th worldwide and is a member of Rocky Mountain Dockdogs. Today a few more dogs from the club also sport Blum’s coats.

In addition to Colorado clients, MountainMuttDogCoats’ customers live in New Mexico, New York and Illinois.

The coats are handmade in Colorado and include three styles of coats and two styles of sweaters. Aside from custom fits, the coats come in six sizes, each with specific measurements to keep a dog warm and mobile.

“Most all of my fabrics are from Malden Mills. They’re high-quality, technical fabrics that are lightweight, wind and water resistant and designed to breathe,” Blum said. “They’re worn by athletes.”

Prices for the coats start at $135, and the sweaters start at $40. “They’re valuable because they keep dogs warm and deliver the service they promise,” she said.

Blum self-funded her company at less than $100,000, which is covering fabric, design, production, labor, distribution and support functions. She keeps about 150 pieces in inventory and works out of her Boulder home.

“Last year, our second year, we made coats all through the warm season and stockpiled them,” she said. “I’ve learned that in the dog-coat business, all big companies do their buying and selling in spring and then later in August and September.

“I’m cautiously optimistic about making a profit next year.”

A portion of MountainMuttDogCoats’ profit is slated for donation to the Robert H. and Mary G. Flint Animal Cancer Center at Colorado State University, where Mac was treated.

“There’s been so much to learn. This is so off my page,” she said. “I have an MBA in finance. My background is equity research, not fashion.

“Going into a business I know nothing about and learning it from scratch without doing an apprenticeship or spending time in this industry has been really hard work — but I love it.”

Blum’s experience as a research analyst is helping her fill in some of the gaps in her experience of starting a new business. “I’m all about laying bricks one by one and knowing the value of what I have.”

Since losing another dog to cancer this summer, Blum stresses that, all things considered, the whole point of this business to her is still to keep dogs warm.

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