Hayley Whitfield, a former management consultant, swapped the office for her luxury dog coat and accessories brand – Wolfpack. Launching this fall with a selection of luxury coats to help your dog adjust to the freezing New York winter.
Hayley is also a valued AWNY Committee Member working with the events team to create many of the wonderful AWNY events held this year.
Tell us about Wolfpack and why you decided to start this business.
Wolfpack is a high end brand of dog apparel and accessories created in dedication to my Miniature Poodle Rosa. It is centered around luxury leather jackets – think burgundy embossed leather with Italian antique brass accessories at the high end and a distressed vintage brown parka at the lower “urban” end. I’m launching my first collection in October, in preparation for the chilly winter air.
My desire to create the brand stems from my first experience with a New York winter and attempting to dress Rosa in warm clothes. I grew up in rural Victoria and spent 5 years in sunny Sydney before relocating to New York in 2014, so needless to say to an Aussie audience, that I was not prepared for the polar vortex that I walked into and I certainly didn’t have the appropriate attire to deal with it!
I had never before considered dressing my dog and to be honest I was a bit embarrassed about doing it! I sense my dad rolling his eyes at the thought. After navigating various dog jackets for their durability, warmth and aesthetic I found myself a bit lost and frustrated and decided that I wanted to create something for Rosa that was more like her – this maturing, elegant New Yorker. And so the burgundy leather jacket was born and so was the idea to develop a whole collection around it – luxury for the urban wolf.
You are at the very beginning of your business, what have been the hardest lessons in getting started so far?
Patience, persistence and trust!
Patience and persistence have been the most important skills I’ve had to develop so far. I started my business 6 months ago and I have been learning everything from scratch. With a background in management consulting, I didn’t have any knowledge about garment design, materials sourcing, production partnerships or how to launch a product into a wholesale and retail environment. I had no contacts and no idea where to start. I just followed my nose and chipped away at the challenge.
Never creating a product before, I foolishly expected that by just working hard it would translate into results. I am interacting with so many different groups along the supply chain that I actually don’t have much control over my pace and progress. So I have learnt to manage my own expectations around timelines! I’m dealing with some fabulous Italian suppliers who march to their own beat, progress at a leisurely pace and then drop a bombshell like disappearing for 4 weeks to holiday in August. Not anticipating this, my launch date has been completely derailed. But you don’t know, what you don’t know.
On reflection, I think the most important lesson I am learning is to trust that myself – my pathway, my decisions, my progress is ok, even though there are no visible signs or feedback. I am learning to trust myself and to be comfortable in what often feels like a suspended state of the unknown. There is no validation from a superior when you are the boss. There is little consumer feedback before you have launched a product. So I am learning to trust my instincts and not be paralyzed by the unknown. Whilst this is daunting, it also makes me feel a lot more present and alive.
Where are you looking for mentors, how have people been with sharing information and their networks?
So I haven’t found a mentor yet, but I’d love one! I’m straddling the pet industry (typically quite novelty, lower end retail) and high end fashion and it’s been tricky to find someone with insight across both domains.
However, I have formed a pretty good network by immersing myself within the industry. I have attended pet charity events, casual classes at Fashion Institute of Technology and trade shows for textiles and finished pet products. I’ve connected with other business owners within the pet industry and designers within adjacent categories like leather handbags and accessories. What’s amazing about this city is that everyone knows someone – it’s so diverse – I have found networking in New York to create quite magical connections in a very organic way.
I’m also engaged in some free business seminars through Brooklyn’s SCORE chapter and I’ve applied for some cool women’s mentorship circles through LeanIn and Ok Real. I believe the way you approach a problem is completely influenced by your frame of mind, by the way you feel in the moment. I find women in particular do a really great job of supporting one another, so that we can each take on new challenges in the best frame of mind. So I’m on the look-out for a great female mentor.
What has been your ‘Ah Ha’ / ‘I’ve made it in the USA moment’
So I am definitely not (yet!) at the “I’ve made it” moment! But I certainly am in the intoxicating inspiration phase. New York is an incredibly vibrant, diverse city. In 2015 I left New York to travel the world with my husband for a year. Deciding that I would dedicate 2016 to cultivating my first business, I knew wholeheartedly that the best place for me to do was New York. This city buzzes with ideas, enthusiasm, niche interests, energy and I am thankful every day for the continued inspiration and momentum that this city affords its residents. So I certainly haven’t made it in the USA yet, but I sure am loving it’s inspirational energy!
What advice would you give someone thinking about starting a business?
Starting my own business was something that I spent time thinking about for years before getting going. The hardest part for me was simply making the decision to start – to give myself permission. If there’s anyone else feeling this way, give me a call! I would love to sit down and chat with you about your idea and how you could get going, in a way that is not overwhelming and allows you to ease into the process of trusting yourself.
In general though, my advice: Don’t waste time feeling overwhelmed and get comfortable with imperfection….
Starting a business can seem overwhelming, there are a million things to do and you could do all of them. There are several versions of your idea that might all be great. So where to start, where to focus? The answer to me is: start anywhere! Pick a task, start small, one foot in front of the other. And give yourself permission to be imperfect. The most helpful lesson I have learnt is to approach design tasks with an iterative expectation.
There are many evolutions of everything I create – whether its branding, product, or strategy. I have learnt to simply start small and build upon it. This has been my saving grace. Typically, I’m not much of a perfectionist, but I have noticed myself falling into that trap and perfectionism is paralyzing! I have found that an iterative approach releases me from that paralyzed state and I would greatly encourage anyone starting out to find a way to release themselves from any paralyzing expectations! Get comfortable with the idea of imperfection – expect it, accept it – and enjoy watching your ideas improve with each iteration.
Other than yourself, what piece of Australia have you put into your business?
The underdog mentality!
Lisa Messenger’s book ‘Daring and Disruptive’ spoke to me. I read it on a flight to Perth and was compelled to highlight all the quotes and scribble my ideas along the margins. Lisa shares insight about being a girl from a NSW country town, recently divorced and having the balls to start a business in a contracting market. I love her story because it’s not about getting everything right, it’s about giving it go, making mistakes, being the underdog…. I think it’s very relatable as an Australian – we love an Aussie battler.
Starting a business without any idea of what you are doing, no understanding of the industry or the sales cycle and no real connections to help you out – to me, that’s a great representation of an underdog journey. Aussie culture teaches me that it’s ok to be the underdog and I think that keeps me sane most days.
What is next for Wolfpack?
The launch! I’m transitioning from development into production and I’m so excited to see my designs manifest into something tangible. This is an incredibly exciting moment and it will be the first real opportunity to get substantial market feedback – I will be throwing my baby out into the world! After I get a true sense of the market’s response, I will then be able to pivot / plan my next move for the business. And the most fabulous part, is that anything could happen next. It’s such a great feeling and I’m so pleased to have given it a go.
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