Designing from a Dog's Perspective
- Allison Hartz
Our dogs are our constant companions. With the right gear, they can join us comfortably in our outdoor pursuits, allowing us to go farther and share more experiences together.
This belief has been Ruffwear’s path of inspiration, discovery, and innovation from the beginning. All of our gear is designed to solve a problem or meet a need that will enhance humans’ and dogs’ outdoor endeavors together.
That’s why, in 1998, we introduced our very first apparel item: the K-9 Overcoat. Inspired by performance fabrics used in our own outdoor gear, Ruffwear’s initial dog jacket was built with soft and supple, wind- and water-resistant 4-ply taslan fabric, 100-weight fleece lining, and hook-and-loop straps. It was built to be tough, warm, and comfortable -- Yet, we soon discovered that we had a lot to learn about dog apparel.
While the lightweight shell fabric moved well, it didn’t hold up where dogs like to go: crashing through bramble or skirting around trees. We also learned that hook-and-loop closure on dog apparel wears down, collects fur, and comes apart when it gets wet. And it was heavy, causing the jacket to slump sideways.
One of the Overcoat’s first evolutions was switching its closure system to plastic side-release buckles in 2003, bidding adieu to hook-and-loop in our apparel for good. We also dialed in the jacket’s chest panel, length, and contoured shape -- honing in on the silhouette used in today’s apparel patterning.
We also swapped the lightweight 4-ply taslan fabric for burly 1680-denier ballistic nylon that would offer maximum durability. In doing this, we swung too far in the opposite direction. We learned that such sturdy fabric wasn’t needed -- and it was too stiff and heavy.
We ultimately landed on the high performing 600-denier recycled polyester fabric that we use today. This light-but-strong fabric is abrasion resistant and UV stable, meaning it won’t fade. It allows dogs freedom of movement while providing the strength and durability needed for an outdoor lifestyle.
We learned from our Sun Shower™ rain jacket that buckles perform better and last longer when they’re protected from mud, rain, and abrasion. That’s why buckles on our apparel are now sheltered by fabric -- creating a clean, tidy aesthetic that performs well. Over the years, our buckles have evolved, too, as we discovered lighter weight and stronger options.
As dog harnesses and jackets became more widely used, we began receiving questions about using the two items together. At first, we suggested using the harness over top of the jacket, in the same way we wear a climbing harness over our pants. Then, we came up with a simpler solution: the leash portal.
By adding a weather-resistant leash portal to a number of our apparel items, we learned that a harness and coat could work well together. We then asked ourselves whether the two could be fused into one, and we began exploring the idea of combining a harness and jacket. Could a harness-coat combination minimize the amount of gear needed, save time, or otherwise make it easier for humans and dogs to get outside together?
Our design team began experimenting, using the webbing design from our popular Front Range® Harness and sewing it into different dog jackets to learn which performed best. We wanted to use a versatile jacket that would work for a variety of weather and environmental conditions.
The final result became the Overcoat Fuse™. Our first apparel item has, 22 years later, inspired our first harness-coat combination. Innovation and discovery are the rewards, but the ultimate goal is still the same: to enhance outdoor adventures for dogs and their humans. And to this end, the story is not done. The evolution will continue.
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