When Kara Lifka started to do agility training with one of her rescued pit bulls, Connor, she struggled to find the right leash. Lifka runs a small pit bull rescue out of her Aubrey home, Ruff n Ready Adopt-a-Bulls, and trains the dogs as much as she can.
Since she has worked with horses since she was 10 and therefore worked plenty with leather products, she decided she could just make a leash up to her qualifications.
The decision to make the leash got her thinking that as long as she was already going to purchase the tools to make the leash, why not make collars too, she said.
“It basically evolved from, ‘I need this leash’ to ‘I’m going to make this leash,’ to ‘Well, why don’t I go ahead and do the collars?’” she said. “Then the collars turned out so nice that I decided we could start a little business here, with the notion that any profits from the company goes toward the dog rescue.”
In March, Lifka launched a business selling the collars, leashes and other leatherware for dog lovers, calling it K9 DuffyWear after her first pit bull rescue, Duffy.
Each leash and collar is hand-crafted in Lifka’s back office from leather strips that she cuts, burnishes and protects with hide rejuvenator before punching holes to add buckles and decorative jewelry. As orders come in online, Lifka works with the customer to learn about the animal before designing and crafting the piece, she said.
“I do it all freeform, and my husband is funny because he’ll look at it — ‘That’s not perfectly aligned.’ He’s an engineer,” she said. “Working with leather, getting stuff perfectly lined up, it really doesn’t work that way. Each piece of leather has its own personality.”
Her husband, Lance, said Lifka likes to work with her hands and really likes to help people and animals, so starting the business works together to help her interests.
“It’s a really holistic approach to selling a collar, so it really ties together all the things she wants to do, and from that it’s really just put her in a very positive place from being able to hit on all of those different areas,” he said. “It isn’t just about selling a collar, it’s getting able to know the person and the dog, and designing a collar for the personality.”
The final product has held up well for her dogs and the rescues she’s waiting to get adopted, Lifka said. Before she made the collars, the new dogs who normally wear their collars constantly would shred a nylon one within a few days. Now with minimal maintenance, the leather collars have held up, she said.
“Since I started making these, it hasn’t happened once, so I’m doing something right,” Lifka siad. “They haven’t gotten the collars off and they aren’t destroying them, so that definitely makes me happy.”
The collars also seem to be comfortable for the dogs, said Lifka’s mother, Martha Smith. Smith now lives in Hilton Head, S.C., and said her dog Gia had never liked a collar before trying one her daughter made.
“When Kara sent the collar, we put it on thinking Gia wasn’t going to like it,” Smith said. “We took it off the first time to bathe her, and once we took the collar off she put her head straight up in the air to get the collar back on.”
Now that Gia has worn the collar for six months, Smith says it still looks brand new, and she still receives compliments on the collar, which is decorated with crosses.
“We get comments when I walk her with her collar now — people just love it. It stands out. It’s different,” Smith said. “All of our friends love the collars too, and it’s the workmanship. I know Kara puts her time into it, and more than that she puts her heart and soul into it.”
While the business started in March, Lifka said she has noticed noticed growth more recently, in the past two or so months, after a popular Facebook page showed her work. That day, the website got 800 hits and the “likes” on Facebook went from 40 to about 230. As the business is primarily online right now through K9duffywear.com, it has brought in traffic from across the country, Lifka said.
“It’s just like any new business; it’s slowly picking up steam,” she said.
She hopes it continues to grow in the near future, as she has signed up as a vendor for Frisco’s Barktoberfest on Oct. 19, and will go to another festival the following weekend in Austin. For the events, she is working on making 10 or so collars for display, then taking orders based on what customers want.
“We’re early in the launch, and the next major step is the shows ... seeing how this product does in that type of venue,” Lance Lifka said. “I anticipate that a lot of it is going to be word of mouth. It’s a high-end product, so it’s not like we’re going for the masses — this is not something we’re looking to really commercialize and have high volumes and get into PetSmart.”
Instead, the goal is to have a business that helps people and dogs and that will eventually help fund pit bull rescues throughout the country.
“I think the vision is where it really becomes an avenue to do a lot of funding for additional rescue work,” he said. “So this isn’t about us getting millions of dollars that are going to go into our pocket. I know she’s going to take any profit and further the cause of pit bulls and animals in general.”
JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.