Jane! Welcome to the Girl Gang.
For all of us who are just meeting you for the first time: Start at the beginning! Where do you call home? How did you get your start?
Chattanooga, TN is home and where I have spent the majority of my life , with the exception of a couple of years in boarding school, a brief stint attending college , a year or so living and working in New York in my early twenties, and the stretches spent in lovely San Miguel de Allende where Stray Dog Designs was established and continues to operate.
Stray Dog had quite the spontaneous start. In the summer of 1994, I was in Chattanooga enjoying the life of the young and unencumbered when I accidentally fell in love, promptly married and immediately set off to San Miguel de Allende on an extended “ get to know you” honeymoon with my current husband and business partner. That whirlwind romance and haphazard expat adventure were the inception of Stray Dog Designs. You can head over to our website, https://straydogdesigns.com/pages/the-stray-dog-story to read the entire sordid back story including pictures of the loveliest of street dogs, La Princessa and Carlotta, for whom the company is named.
Before bounding off to Mexico with Billy, I had been busily avoiding a “real job”. I waited tables, worked for several years at a funky, local store owned by an innovative and inspirational female entrepreneur, and had a little decorative painting gig that focused mainly on children’s rooms and furniture.
My spotty education (did I mention I dropped out of college?) and scant work experience were less than ideal business building blocks. Basically, I could draw, had a spirited imagination, and knew a smidgen about the wholesale market from my stint in retail. Shockingly, I was a treasure trove of business know-how compared to Billy, who came with a very romantic and completely impractical MFA in poetry from UVA.
Miraculously, we have managed to keep the “dog” up and running for over a quarter of a century! The marketplace is not even remotely what it was at our start (before the wide world web, mind you) and we have morphed and changed and reinvented ourselves upteem times over the years but I still do all of the designs and they are all still hand crafted in our workshop in San Miguel de Allende, which is where we can mostly be found, when not at home in Chattanooga.
What a start you two had - a get to know you honeymoon turned fabulous business and career together!
Let's circle back to the San Miguel de Allende workshop and the brand's core values and mission – “We believe every home is as unique as the stories that live within it. That’s why there’s a story behind every Stray Dog Design; real hands that made it, real life that inspired it, and a real person we named it after.” – the JW Core Values are always top of mind for me, tell us about what the Stray Dog Designs mission means to you.
At its crux is a celebration of individuality. I hope and think that an enthusiasm for self expression permeates every aspect of our business : from the unique(and oftentimes surprising) interpretation of the artisan that takes my design from paper to reality(product ?), to the playful personality of the homeowner that will proudly place a kooky crunchberry lamp in their foyer, and the myriad of creative and capable characters in between that maintain, encourage and promote our eccentric , little enterprise.
While I always strive for originality and uniqueness in my designs it is the originality and uniqueness of each and every individual involved that collectively breathes life and vitality into our brand. A variety of voices is the spice of life and , certainly, the lifeblood of Stray Dog Designs.
And you have succeeded - every single piece is so original, thoughtful, and unique. I recently added the Clam Shell with Gold leaf to my collection of Stray Dog Design pieces. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind some of your favorite designs?
I find inspiration anywhere and everywhere….travel, museums, children’s books, the grocery store, you name it…but mostly, I am inspired by nature. I love a walk and am lucky enough to live in a secluded spot on the side of Lookout Mtn, where I have easy access to multiple trail heads. A good bit of the flowering, frondy fixtures and decor you see featured on our site are dreamt up on these paths. I also find pottering around in my weed infested garden to be hugely inspirational.
It sounds like we should take an inspiration trip together 😉 You have the Jane Win Protect pendant – what drew you to this piece?
So many delicious choices on your site but I was particularly drawn to the Protect pendant. I am charmed by the distinctive coloring and snake motif and find the symbolism meaningful as a mother, a business owner, friend, family member and just a citizen of the world. I think the protection instinct runs deep in women and for me that starts with family and in the broader sense includes everything from our environment to our civil rights, freedom of expression, etc.
Gosh that means so much. That is why we started the line!
You and your partner Bill own Stray Dog Designs together (should we start calling him Mr. Stray Dog? I think it works!). Tell us what it is like starting, growing, and running a small business with your husband.
Challenging, to say the least. We have clashed innumerable times over day to day operational practices and it is constantly a struggle not to bring those disagreements home.
As I mentioned earlier, we were completely clueless when we set off on this adventure and as a result we learned everything by trial and error, with the emphasis on the error, which led to a good bit of tension over the years. Nonetheless, we are still here, still married with three lovely and almost grown children and a thriving business, all of which makes me very proud and thankful.
Being a female entrepreneur is NOT EASY. Not that anyone said it would be 😉 Any advice for those out there looking to make the leap and start their own business?
No, it is not easy but neither is it boring and at its best it is thrilling and very gratifying. I wish I had understood at the onset that no matter how creative or original or sellable your concept might be, ultimately it is a business and has to be run accordingly. So, I would encourage taking the time to acquire some basic business principles at the onset. While accounting and management might seem boring and far less glamorous than the designing/ creative side of your venture they are vital skills and worth cultivating. You will find yourself in an uncomfortably vulnerable position if you are entirely reliant on someone else to navigate your accounting software.
Secondly, don’t underestimate the value of your product. I find that women often will make light of their abilities. This tendency , coupled with an innate desire to please, fosters an impulse to offer bargain basement rates. If you undervalue your brand so will everyone else and that is unlikely to be financially beneficial in the long run.
I see that Stray Dog does custom design work… Can you tell us about a custom piece you loved working on?
By far the most challenging, extraordinary and eye-popping custom piece we have ever created was a chandelier for our friends at Kemble Interiors. It is a gigantic ( well over 15 feet tall ) swirling , helix-like iron structure covered with dangling papier mache fish and mouth blown glass baubles. Truly a sight to behold and truly a feat to get installed. It hangs in the cupola of the beach club at the Gasparilla Inn in Florida.
One last question and we will let you get back to designing... Any recent or upcoming inspiration trips? What destinations are on your travel bucket-list right now?
We leave at the end of the month for Italy and I cannot wait! We are dropping our youngest, Franny, in Rome where she will start her college career (empty nest !) and then traipsing through Naples to tour Pompeii, etc and on down to Ischia for a beach week. We will likely return to Rome for a day or two to kiss our baby goodbye then we are off to Paris for a few days where we will attend the Maison Objet https://www.maison-objet.com/en/paris show for the first time. We will also gobble croissants and gawk at sites while there, obviously. I am super excited and I do imagine it will all be wildly inspirational and enchanting . I am open to any and all suggestions for “do not miss” spots, by the way. Hit me up, one and all, on Insta or via the website.