At first glance, it may seem like Mister Migs dog apparel is simply another company making cute clothes for spoiled pups, but the Georgia-based nonprofit is about so much more than just jean jackets for dogs.
“The inspiration behind Mister Migs dog gear is a rescue pup called Migsy, who was adopted and rescued by our founder,” explains Mary Justman, Vice President of WOW In-Sync, a nonprofit that supports adults with intellectual disabilities and those on the autism spectrum who are facing barriers to employment.
According to Justman, Migsy now goes by his grown-up name, Mister Migs. He took on the more official moniker when he became the CEO of the business he inspired.
Adopted in 2009 through Chihuahua Rescue of Georgia, Mister Migs was one of 11 dogs rescued from an overwhelmed individual who was unfortunately neglecting her animals. He was unsocialized and untrained, but thanks to a foster home and his dedicated forever family, the now 11-year-old Chihuahua was able to overcome the obstacles in his life. His human, Karen Lynn (the founder of Wow In-Sync), was so inspired by his progress and determination that she created the dog apparel business named after him.
The entrepreneurial effort helps Wow In-Sync participants gain valuable job skills while working in a real-world business. A proud supporter of the product that shares his name, Mister Migs sometimes visits the operation, which sees participants gain work experience while the Gwinnett Humane Society benefits from the fundraising.
“It’s a nonprofit, so everything goes back either into the work training or rescue — whatever it is that will help with taking care of dogs and taking care of people,” says Justman, who adds that through the nonprofit, participants gain experience that’s tailored to their interests and needs.
“They kind of work with all the different aspects of the Mister Migs operation, depending on where their skills are and what they need to learn,” she explains. “We have participants that have been in the WOW In-Sync program that have come over to be involved in some part of the Mister Migs operation and that are now employed by Mister Migs.”
Those employees are helping to design, create, and promote the products — dog vests known as Migrubbies and MigDivas — which are all made from secondhand jeans.
Justman says a participant on the autism spectrum with an interest in visual arts is behind the camera at Mister Migs, shooting product shots of the denim dog wear.
“She showed a real affinity towards photography, really loved it, and so we brought her into a program to help with the Mister Migs photography,” Justman explains, adding that the budding shutterbug is now being mentored by a professional pet photographer in the community.
“She has really just taken it and run with it,” says Justman. “Some of the product shots she’s coming up with are just amazing.”
Other participants have been hired to sew, and some with a talent for storytelling now work as the creative writers behind blog posts, product copy, and a series of online short stories about the adventures of Mister Migs.
According to Justman, the stories are all based on one central theme, which is also the driving force behind the whole Mister Migs operation.
“It’s all about doing the right thing and being a good community member.”
In addition to helping participants and employees, the production of Mister Migs dog apparel is also helping the environment by using recycled materials. In 2014, the nonprofit hosted a used-denim drive during the Gwinnett Humane Society’s annual PawFest. For each pair of non-stretch jeans donated, it donated a dollar to the the society.
“It’s all about paying it forward,” says Justman, who adds that very little material goes to waste in the production of the Mister Migs dog gear.
“We use the flat-belt seams, we use the pockets, we use the rings, we use the buttons — all the different cool parts of the denim to embellish the little Migrubbies,” says Justman, whose own dog sports a little Migrubbie when he’s ready for some rough and tumble outdoor playtime.
“He can play in the mud, he can do whatever he wants, because I can just throw it in the wash, and in fact it gets better with wear because it’s denim.”
According to Justman, the MigDivas designs are also washable, but with a few more frills than the Migrubbies.
“The MigDivas are a little more feminine, they have some lace, they have some skirts. They’re for the fancier pup.”
Both types of vests use velcro closures, and the smaller sizes can even be used as harness. Little rings are sewn onto the back of the outfits, allowing owners to attach a leash to either. They’re priced a little higher than typical retail dog gear at $45 to $48, but Justman says the price reflects the handmade quality.
“These are little investment pieces because we’ve made them with half-inch inside seams, all top-stitched on top, so they wear, and they wear, and they get better as they wear because they’re denim.”
The Mister Migs collection has been available in Atlanta-area boutiques for some time, and the collection has just recently expanded nationally. Now, pups all over the U.S. are able to sport Migrubbies and Migdivas, while the young adults at WOW In-Sync continue to have access to mentoring and employment opportunities. You can follow the nonprofit on Facebook and Twitter.
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About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.