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Q&A with designer collar-wear founder nicole reichlin

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'Whether it’s a liberating run on the beach, a socialised trip to the park, an adventurous mountain trail, or a casual city stroll, our genuine handcrafted leather collar-wear is made for dogs who get out,' says Hunter Bennington founder and designer Nicole Reichlin. Based in Cape Town, Nicole uses only top-grade vegetable tanned leather, solid hardware and age-old hand tooling methods. The result is long-lasting, functional collars and leads that are singular by design – no two collars are the same. Nicole chats to HL about her labour of love.

what is your design philosophy, one that informs your brand, process and unique product?

Functionality first! Before aesthetics comes functionality and practicality because above all else, the safety of our dogs’ lives depends on how durable the collar-wear is. The strength of the hardware, the superiority of the leather and the quality of the dye have all informed the kinds of styles and designs I make, as well as the different ways in which people prefer to walk their dogs. The fact that each product is made of leather, handcrafted, is inherently made to last and ages beautifully is already a major step up in aesthetic compared to poor-quality generic nylon sorts on the market. Another principle that informs my designs are, unsurprisingly, dogs. Each collar is named after or inspired by either a dog I know, or a custom collar that I’ve designed for a customer that's been added to the collection.

where did you learn this skill?

I am self taught. When I realised I didn’t want to be in advertising anymore, that I wanted instead to make this dream business of mine a reality, I looked into having prototype collars made. I was less than satisfied and concluded the only way to get this done properly was to do it myself. I needed to have my own hand over the collars – quite literally. I slowly started putting portions of my salary aside to buy tools and leather and began experimenting and practicing in my spare time. I also consumed hours of leather-craft tutorials via YouTube and books, which I found to be extremely helpful. Luckily, I have always been good with my hands so it didn’t take long before the process started feeling natural and less daunting. Now it’s second-nature; a result of continuous practice.

what is your business model at hunter bennington and what are the biggest informants for you as both a creative and an entrepreneur?

I do what I do because I love dogs and I love that other people, like myself, also want better, cooler, more sophisticated and considered collar-wear accessories available locally. My business model is to always grow and expand based on what other pet owners are looking for – while still maintaining the integrity of Hunter Bennington.

what is it like being a creative in cape town and how do you find your voice in an already quite saturated market?

I think Cape Town is quite possibly the best place to be a creative. It’s one of the few places where you can follow a dream – however obscure it may seem – and actually make a go of it. If you can tap into a specific market and your offering makes sense to the right people, you’re in. I was able to use myself as the ideal ‘target’ for HB. The idea came to me through my own struggle to find cool wares for my dogs that truly expressed our personalities – I knew I couldn’t be the only one. And I was right. There are few similar brands moving within my specific category so I don’t believe the market is yet saturated. My real competitors are instead the big name pet companies who sell mass produced products.

what are your biggest sources of inspiration?

My dogs! 100%

where do you envision or hope this brand will grow?

I hope to have my own brick and mortar store and workshop one day. I’d love to have a place where people can hang out with their dogs (and other peoples’ dogs), grab a coffee, try on collars or even custom fit their own unique collars. For now, however, I’m truly enjoying each step in this journey. I’ve found e-commerce to be a rewarding platform and it’s been a steady, encouraging growth thus far. Shop for your best friend online at hunterbennington.com. Contact Nicole on nicole@hunterbennington.com for custom orders.