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Orunet paws at untapped potential of dog market

Some companies have been targeting their products at growing market segments such as Gen Y or Hispanics, but a Japanese towel company has found another group in the United States that has largely been ignored — dogs.

Dressing the four-legged pets, though unheard of here, is not uncommon in Japan, and Orunet wants to start a canine clothing commotion here with its line for pets called Paws Only.

Founded two years ago by Morikiyo Towel Corp. to develop new toweling products, the Imabari, Japan-based company brought its line to the New York Home Textiles Show for the first time last month.

"There is such a craze about dogs in Japan," said Kenny Nay, manager/partner, H.B. Comfort, American Fork, UT, which distributes the line in the United States. He added that the Japanese have monthly publications about dogs and dog styles.

Abby, the toy poodle of Midori Smith, the daughter of Orunet's president Kazuko Mori, is the line's mascot, and "she seems to know when she is wearing nice clothing and really acts the part," Nay said.

Smith added that Abby feels comfortable in her own clothing, like a security blanket.

"We treat dogs as if they were family," she said.

Orunet's line includes a range of apparel for the many situations any fashion-minded dog may find itself in — raincoats for those wet days, T-shirts for more relaxed, casual times, and, for those special evening events, party dresses.

Orunet also expanded Paws Only with a new organic cotton line of bathrobes, T-shirts and a bone-shaped shower mat that matches the bathrobes. One organic bathrobe (which wholesales for $18 to $20) won a Best New Product award at the show. The bathrobe is not breed-specific, Nay said, though Dachshunds tend to be too long for it. Sized from XS (for a Chihuahua or similarly sized pet) to L (for a 15- to 20-pound dog), it's offered in two natural colorways.

Nay admitted that he was hesitant when Orunet first approached him about distributing the line in the United States. "I'm from Utah; I didn't see a market for it." However, after Orunet generated enough interest from U.S. companies from its website, he agreed to take on the line. And the response at the show was quite favorable, he said, resulting in several first-time orders.

Retailers have also inquired about expanding the line to other animals, and Nay said it's certainly possible to offer towels with embroidered pet images. However, clothing is another story.

"Every time we ask them about clothing for cats, they shudder," he said.

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