Jessica Knight, founder of new pet accessories brand Outback Tails, learnt a good lesson in business when US pet retailers asked her for Aussie-themed dog accessories: sometimes, you don’t have to give the market exactly what it wants.
“I was like, I just don’t want to do that. I had no desire to create stuffed-koala dog-toys and dog beds with daggy Aussie motifs on them. But the requests just kept coming and coming,” she says. The demands were coming via the 10-year business she’s been running with her husband Jamie, Dog Owners Outdoor Gear (DOOG). “I couldn’t do it because it just wouldn’t have excited me and I wouldn’t have been proud of it.”
A much better idea hit her as she was at a gallery looking for Indigenous artwork 12 months ago. “I had this brainwave – the artwork was such a good way to get that Australian theme across but in a really stylish and beautiful way,” Jessica says. With the idea solidly in place, she began work on her Outback Tails startup while still co-running DOOG. She immediately contacted one of the artists whose artwork she’d seen in the gallery, Pauline Napangardi Gallagher from the Warlukurlangu Artist co-op in the Northern Territory, and asked Pauline if she’d like to work with her on a range of dog accessories.
“Pauline and her manager jumped on it. They were really excited. Dogs are a massive part of their community and there’s always dogs in the background of all the photographs of them doing their beautiful artworks. They were really, really excited to be involved and now Pauline’s paintings are featured on this beautiful range.”
It’s a style that will also challenge the US market’s idea of Indigenous artwork, according to Jessica. “It’s more of a modern Aboriginal artwork that I don’t think has really been seen in the US market. It’s not all that orange, brown, black, typical prints you’d see down in at the Rocks [in Sydney].
“This is a little bit more contemporary and a little bit more beautiful. It’s easy to match with your homewares. It’s quite unique,” Jessica says.
The launch range from Outback Tails includes leather collars and leads, dog beds and ceramic bowls, all featuring Pauline’s artwork and all road-tested by Jessica’s 10-year-old pug, Wilbur.
“He’s got a different collar or lead on every day,” Jessica says. Walking Wilbur is the equivalent of daily product testing and advertising for the brand. “People will ask, ‘Wow, that’s amazing. Is that an Indigenous print on your dog collar?’ I’m like, ‘Yes, I designed them.’ He’s worn them all,” she laughs.
“It’s really important to test products because quite often you’ll have a design that you’re absolutely in love with, and you should show a wide range of people to get a few opinions. Everyone’s got different tastes,” Jessica says. “I tend to put them all out and get everyone to choose their favourite, as well as mine. Whatever gets the most votes is usually what I go with.”
Jessica is already working on her next collection for the brand, a grooming product range featuring dog shampoos and coat-freshening sprays, using native Australian bush ingredients, such as Tasmanian Pepper Berry and Emu Apple. “Again, I’m using quite unique ingredients that you haven’t seen in a pet grooming range before. That’s what I’m working on now,” Jessica says.
She hopes that the range becomes successful overseas and opens people up to new ideas about Australian art that challenge the stereotype. “And just getting rid of that cliché idea of what is Australia, because we’ve come so far since then and we’ve got so many amazing artists and so many amazing Australian designers. And it’s nice to just showcase that to the international market in a different way,” Jessica says.
So what do her US retailers think of the range?
“I really haven’t shown them yet. I’m just putting it all together and will show them, ‘This is what I’m doing’. Hopefully, they’ll like it. And if they don’t, I’m sure somebody else will, because it just looks beautiful.”
The range is available from October on outbacktails.com