Benola Finds a Market Niche with Socially Responsible Pet Products
We've seen a rise in artisan and eco-friendly dog interior brands that not only wish to make an impact but carry a desire to bring dog owners together in the name of a good cause.
Benola exemplifies these ideologies, with its desire to create a brand that would change the way people perceive the world -- even if on a small scale -- by pushing toward more positive, eco-friendly dog products.
We corresponded with Benola founder Andrea Huspeni to talk about the work she strives for and the passion she carries for animals. From stopping puppy mills to ending animal cruelty, Huspeni talks about her dreams of expanding and bringing awareness of a better environment -- for both people and their dogs.
Dogster: When did Benola begin? What inspired you to create the company?
Andrea Huspeni: I have always wanted to do something with dogs and utilize my background in ecommerce, but I wasn’t sure what that meant. This changed in January of 2012. I was on a break from graduate school and was doing some soul-searching on what would make me happy. One day, I happened to visit the New York International Gift Fair, and I ended up in the global artisans section and started talking to all the brands represented there. Each person was so proud of what they were doing, so excited to be part of this community and stood firmly behind their product.
Their dedication to their brand was something that could not be faked, and it was kind of like a "ding, ding, ding” moment. I wanted to be part of that community, and I thought there was ample opportunity in the pet product industry to do so. I ended up teaming up with a partner in Guatemala that has worked with Anthropologie, surf retailer Reef and others, so I knew I was in good hands.
Tell me about your passion for dogs.
My passion started when I was young. I have grown up with dogs my entire life and have always felt a very strong bond with them. I knew I would be involved with these animals in some aspect throughout my entire life, and I have.
Besides having two dogs, I have fostered in my home state of Minnesota, participated in transportation runs across state lines, and continue to raise awareness about issues I am passionate about -– putting an end to puppy mills, discussing the importance of adoption and standing behind harsher punishments for animal abuse, fighting and neglect.
My beliefs can be found on Benolaonline.com. Besides creating a line centered around my love of dogs, I also incorporated my view of adoption in the collection. My dogs Bentley and Lola were two of the dog models, but the other dogs striking a pose were rescued and fostered through a local rescue called Badass Brooklyn Animal Rescue. They were gracious enough to let me have them for a day, and if you look at the pictures, you can see how their sweet demeanors shine through.
Lola and Bentley are the dogs Benola is named after. Do they play a role in the company besides its namesake?
Lola and Bentley are my dogs. I have had Bentley going on 13 years and Lola for three years. Besides the name, they are where my heart belongs. I don’t have children at the moment, but they are as close to kids as you can get for me.
How would you describe the look of a Benola product?
I wanted to develop a line that made owners envious of their dog products. Hopefully, I accomplished this mission by not only providing a high-quality line with a modern feel but one that was able to tell a story due to it being handmade by artisans. Be it the dog bed that people wish were pillows or dog toys they want for their children (which they can!) or a bowl they admire, I really wanted the best for people’s beloved pets.
The current Lucy collection’s design is subtle enough to blend into home décor but also provides a unique look, which I haven’t seen anywhere else in the dog product world.
I see that Benola products are made with principles of eco-friendliness and artisan aesthetics. What's the importance of these principles in canine accessories?
It is extremely important to me, and I wanted to incorporate this into my brand. From a personal perspective, I wanted to be eco-friendly and provide some sort of social impact -- even if a small one -- into my daily mantra. And even though it took a long time to get to market, due to logistics and development, it has been worth it. I love that I am making a difference. Knowing that I am helping a woman educate her younger siblings or a father afford a uniform for his son (a necessity for school in parts of Guatemala) feels amazing.
From a macro level, I think it is imperative to give back in this world, and I think more and more people are jumping on board. Kate Spade did this with her women artisan “Hand in Hand” collection, Donna Karen collaborated with others for the Haiti Artisan Project and furniture store West Elm’s Etsy pop-up stores showcase emerging artists’ creations. The list could go on. But nothing was being done in the pet industry; it was lagging behind in the social-conscious model.
So, I set out to provide a high-quality product with a story behind it, while simultaneously allowing artisan to continue to practice their craft, which may otherwise have fallen by the wayside due to mass-produced products.
I also see that Benola hopes to provide an intersection were people can share, learn, and listen to other dog lovers. What was the inspiration behind this, and how is it working?
Who wouldn’t want to engage with dog owners? In my mind, good dog owners make good people (I may be a bit biased).
The concept is still evolving, but I think the dog-owner community is an extremely strong force, and one I really enjoy engaging with on many levels. Currently, I am integrating blogging and video sharing, along with maintaining a steadfast following on both Facebook and Twitter. I am hoping this will continue to grow and other sharing components will develop.
What's in the future for Benola? Are there any exciting new ventures people can look forward to?
I plan to expand. I am hoping to increase the Benola offering in three ways -- depth of the product offering, more items, and increasing the number of countries involved in this initiative. Guatemala was just the start but I would love to get Nepal, Peru, Turkey, among other countries.