The whir of oversized sewing machines echoes throughout a modestly sized warehouse deep in Northwest Portland. It’s the hum of productivity sometimes interrupted by the loud scratch of shipping tape being ripped from its roll or the occasional bark or grunt let loose by a member of the canine posse that has free run of the place.
Cycle Dog, as you may now be able to tell, does things a little bit differently. For one thing, it’s not every day you see wagging tails and wet noses sniffing and shuffling around a factory floor. But for a business that’s passionate about animals, it only seems natural that “bring-your-doggy-to-work day” lasts year-round. However, the team at Cycle Dog have also set themselves apart by making sustainability a priority in that every single item — from chew toys to travel bowls — incorporates some sort of recycled material. And thanks to the addition of one unique accessory to the business’s flagship product, they’re becoming inextricably tethered to beer.
“We’re starting to become known as the dog collar for the brewing industry because we’re the only ones who offer a bottle opener on it,” said Lanette Fidrych, founder and president of Cycle Dog.
That patented piece of metal that doubles as the leash attachment is what turns heads at the backyard barbecue when the family pet is able to add cracking tops to its repertoire of tricks. And while there’s been a bottle-opener boom of sorts — as a society, we’re apparently so thirsty we need them on belt buckles, zippers and hidden on the bottom of flip flops — Lanette and her husband Paul Fidrych never set out to become the beer lover’s pet supplier.
“We didn’t have a grand plan. We kind of stumbled on it,” said Paul, head of marketing and product development. “If we did a lot of research, we probably would’ve been scared.”
Really it all began with a flat bike tire. Well, a lot of flat bike tires. Like many Portlanders, the Fidrychs prefer to go by bicycle, commuting from home to work and back again. And even the toughest inner tubes will eventually succumb to the city’s pock-marked roads. So when a patch job no longer cuts it, cyclists like the Fidrychs are left with a limp, lifeless black hose. Unlike vehicle tires, which can be broken down into tiny crumbs and reused, the rubber used to make bikes roll isn’t easily recycled. That means far too many end up in landfills each year. But Lanette was determined to keep her tubes out of the trash by giving them a new purpose. She didn’t know what at that point, though that didn’t stop her from adding to the growing mound of hoarded rubber in the couple’s basement.
“It’s such a robust material, it just seemed like such a shame to throw it out just because it didn’t hold air anymore,” she said.
Fortunately before the entire bottom floor of their house was overflowing with tires, Lanette found inspiration in their new puppy. She decided to try to fashion the tubes into a leash because of their elasticity. Working in product creation and management at Nike, you can begin to understand how she could look at dead tire and envision something like a dog collar. Her position also came with access to a machine in the company’s sewing room, giving her equipment at home a much-needed break.
“We had a sewing machine from Walmart. You know, the best crappy machine you could get,” Paul said. “And we beat the crap out of that thing trying to get it to work.”
With the assistance of Nike designers, Lanette learned how to operate the heavy-duty machine, which she’d work on after hours. While she grew up sewing, the craft was all self-taught.
“The first time I ran an industrial sewing machine, I thought I was going to sew my fingers off,” she laughed.
While her hands remained intact, the first prototype leashes were not so lucky. Paul gave the initial model a test run with their Labrador. “And I’m walking up the street, it’s all stretchy and, like, explodes,” he said. “And by the third round, it explodes again. I’m like, ‘Just stop making these things!’”
But she wasn’t about to abandon her basement collection of tires. To reinforce the rubber, Lanette attached a strip of fabric to the leash — and this time it worked. Making collars, then, was a natural next step with her husband suggesting they add the bottle opener.
“We didn’t do it as a novelty. We did it because we love beer,” he explained. “It’s always good to have a bottle opener … And craft beers, they’re never twist-offs. But I was like, you know, our dog Regan is always here, so I could just call Regan over.”
The couple debuted the products at a local bike-themed craft festival with a focus on recycled elements. Turns out, that slice of exposure was really all that they needed. The phone started ringing soon thereafter as local shops began requesting orders. Lanette suddenly found herself working nearly round the clock, driving shipments of collars and leashes to customers during lunch breaks at Nike and making pitches to potential clients on weekends.
“After about maybe six weeks, I was busy enough that I couldn’t keep up with working a full-time job and sewing all night,” she said.
“And we only get one shot at this. You can’t launch a company twice,” added Paul. “So that’s when we decided, OK, go ahead and quit. We’re just going to go for it.”
That was in 2009 — a time Lanette described as fairly stale for pet supplies. While it might seem easy to dismiss an industry focused on squeaky toys and pint-sized sweaters, bowties and booties, the enthusiasm for pet goods is no joke. According to the American Pet Products Association, people in the U.S. spent nearly $63 million on their fur babies in 2016. That number has increased every year since 1994. But when shopping for her own dogs, Lanette was “wanting something more than what was available. And there really wasn’t much of a sustainability message in the marketplace either. It was all very mass-produced.”
Cycle Dog is anything but that with its collars, leashes and expanded lineup of items that are hand-sewn. Lanette’s stretched-to-the-limits home machine has been replaced by a fleet of Jukis. What started as one set of hands has grown into a business of 17 employees, including people in production, sewing and shipping.
So how do they turn what is literally a pile of garbage into something an owner would proudly display on a pet’s neck? Well, first the old tires need to be collected — Paul still takes on some of those duties by driving from bike shop to bike shop in the metro area. A number of bigger manufactures, such as REI, Specialized and Trek, also now supply Cycle Dog with used or expired tubes. To demonstrate what happens next, Paul dumped a heaping trash bag full of tires onto a table, which is free of other garbage on this day, but it’s not unusual to find a wayward coffee cup or bottle. What you’ll then notice is that every tube is a little different, which gives each collar or leash a little more character.
“There are some that have patches on them — there’s gashes. They all have a different story,” said Lanette. “Sometimes you see a blowout and you’re like, ‘Aww, that guy had a bad day!’”
The tires are measured and sorted based on width, hand cut with scissors before being wiped down with water and a little soap. After that, varying lengths of rubber head to a sewing station, where the fabric overlay is attached. This is the part of the process that actually flattens the tube and remains a company secret since it took a lot of rubber, sweat and tears to finally get it down. Hardware like the bottle opener is attached at yet another sewing machine, and at that point a flaccid tube has a second life.
“Everything throughout our line still has a sustainability story to it, so that’s been the real core and mission of our company since we started,” explained Lanette.
Which makes them a perfect fit for the increasing number of craft brewers who’ve adopted practices to conserve resources and become more environmentally mindful. Alaskan Brewing was the first to approach the Fidrychs about making a collar with their branding. Their business was still very new, but they figured it was worth a shot and created a design modeled after Alaskan’s label and colors, earning them a client in craft beer. Deschutes, New Belgium and Sierra Nevada soon followed. The Fidrychs feel lucky that they didn’t even need to reach out — it was the breweries making the requests. Turns out, beer fans who love to wear their favorite producer’s T-shirts want their dogs decked out in swag too. Now Cycle Dog works with multiple breweries on custom designs and they’re introducing two beer-centric toys at the Craft Brewers Conference this spring. Both Lanette and Paul said they’ve come to value this new connection with the brewing community.
“There’s a camaraderie in the beer industry, which I think is different from other industries. We come from more sporting goods, and it can be a little nastier,” Paul said.
Additionally, both Cycle Dog and the breweries have discovered that even though they create very different products, they still have a lot in common.
“We love dogs and bikes at Rogue, so it was a natural fit to work with Cycle Dog — plus they’re in our Portland neighborhood,” said Rogue Ales president Brett Joyce. “We’re proud to offer Rogue-branded Cycle Dog collars made from reclaimed bike tubes to our fans and their four-legged kids. The collars have bottle openers on them, so they’re beer-friendly, qualifying them as world class.”
Lanette added that she soon recognized both types of businesses are making something from scratch. “So we’re running our own sewing factory, we’re taking in recycled materials, we’re reprocessing it, sewing it and then turning it back around,” she said. “And I think that relatability is pretty cool and [brewers] get excited about that in the same way we get excited about going to the brewery.”
Not to mention the similar paths of launching at home — brewers in their garages and Lanette in her basement — before working their way up and pouring every ounce of passion they had into their projects. But in the end, it’s hard to deny the inherent connection between beer, dogs and drinkers. Somehow, they just go well together.
“Ultimately what it comes down to is a lot of these brewing guys love dogs, have dogs, have customers who have dogs,” said Paul. “It’s kind of organically grown.” •