Video by LookAlive Productions
ABOUT SOPHISTICATED PUP AND MICHELLE O'HOLLAREN
I started Sophisticated Pup in 2006, shortly after I got my beloved pug, Penny. I was finishing up my master's degree in Visual Arts Management at Columbia College Chicago at the time, and my adoration for my new puppy and my interest in design and entrepreneurship melded together to set me on a path that would become my life's work. I had long been an artist and designer, creating has always been my passion. My professional career started when I received my bachelor's degree in Visual Arts Education from Indiana University, and worked as an art teacher in the Chicago Public Schools as well as a museum educator at the Art Institute of Chicago prior to starting Sophisticated Pup.
Initially I started creating designs for my little pug, she was so fun to dress up and spoil as a tiny puppy, and then I started making products for other people’s dogs. My product line began as mostly pet apparel and accessories for dogs, all of which I made myself in my one bedroom apartment in Chicago. When I realized this was something that I wanted to grow and pursue as a business, I began working with local sewing houses to produce my dog coats, dresses and accessories in smaller batches. I created my first website, www.sophisticatedpup.com and started selling the products online in 2006. In my first attempt to get my products into stores, I loaded boxes of dog coats in the back of my VW Jetta and went from one pet boutique to the next selling the coats right out of the back of my car! It still amazes me to this day that I was able to get shop owners to take me seriously and actually bought the coats and put them out on their shelves the very same day! My little Penny was right by my side at every store I stopped at.
Over the years, I would learn more about selling my products, I attended pet industry trade shows and received orders for my products from more and more boutiques not only in the Chicagoland area, but across the US and some internationally as well. I would take my products to street festivals in the city and art fairs. Chicagoans that love their dogs know the name Sophisticated Pup, they know me and my little pug that has been by my side at so many events over the years. We are often sought out by those that are looking for that special something for their pup at events.
In recent years, we have moved away from selling as much pet apparel, we still sell a ton of dog collars, leashes, bow ties and accessories for pets. We started adding pet-themed home decor and gift items to our product line. I design unique, and often times Chicago-themed pillows, mugs, art prints and other items all that have dogs on them in my original art. We have found a lot of success with our pet-themed home decor items and have been thrilled to have major retailers like Carson Pirie Scott and Hallmark bring them into their stores. I love creating whimsical designs with dog silhouettes or dog illustrations in fun colors.
Sophisticated Pup has been fortunate enough to be featured in numerous print and television media outlets. In 2012 I was even a top 10 finalist in the Martha Stewart American Made Awards with my product line. In 2015 I was also recognized by Pet Age magazine in their “Pet Industry 40 Under 40” feature story. These are humbling accomplishments that have helped to validate me that I am on the right track. As a small business owner, sometimes we need that reassurance!
Today I work out of my home-based studio in Wicker Park, where I create my designs. I do a significant amount of sewing there and also outsource sewing to local sewing contractors, keeping everything made in the USA. All of my graphics for my pillows, mugs and art prints are created at my iMac in my studio. I no longer have my beloved pug, Penny by my side, as she sadly passed away in May of this year, after a long 8 year battle with Canine Liver Disease. She was a fighter. She was my muse, my inspiration and my best friend, and I miss her everyday. She could have never known how she changed my life and the trajectory for my career when she entered it 12 years prior. In an attempt to mend a broken heart, we welcomed a french bulldog puppy, Phoebe, into our home in June. She is a free-spirit and a clown, and she now sits by my side in my studio while I work at my computer or at the sewing machine, filling the void and the big shoes of her late big sister, Penny. She will carry on with me as the second generation of Sophisticated Pup.
Sophisticated Pup products can be found on our website: www.sophisticatedpup.com, on Amazon.com, on Etsy.com, and many independent pet boutique and gift stores. You can also find us at street festivals and art fairs in Chicago.
Penny and Michelle