GuestJanuary 30, 2024 AATCC Newsletter

From early alliances formed for survival to the companionships that eventually evolved, animals have played an integral role in shaping the narrative of human existence. One tangible expression of this bond is the textiles we use to adorn, comfort, and protect animals. This article explores the rich tapestry of textiles and textile innovations that underscore the evolving interconnectedness between humans and animals.

Pet Fashion

The global pet fashion market was valued at US$5.85 billion in 2023 and is expected to reach US$8.8 billion by 2032. Although the practice of adorning animals can be traced back to ancient civilizations like Egypt, it was the Victorian era that marked a significant shift in the relationship between humans and their pets. With the humanization of pets during this time, it became more fashionable to adorn pets in textiles that resembled the elaborate attire of their human counterparts.

Young man holding his best friend dog in matching blue hoodies in bright green park background outdoors

photo credit: Getty Images

“In our research, we found that the greater the emotional attachment to a pet, the greater the tendency to perceive and treat it as if it were human, which in turn leads to a greater intention to purchase fashion clothing for the pet,” says Patrick Hartmann, Associate Professor of Marketing at the University of the Basque Country, Spain. Furthermore, pet ownership can help owners construct their individual, societal and emotional identities, providing distinctiveness and status. These owners begin to perceive self-expansion through their pets. “Pet product policies, packaging, and communication could tap into this effect and trigger a purchase by highlighting the pet as a humanized member of the pet owner’s family,” says Hartmann. “Offering personalization and matching outfits for humans and animal members could reinforce the perception of the pet as an expansion of self-identity.”

The rise in pet-fluencers (pet-influencers) on social media has also considerably driven the consumption of pet fashion. Animals, such as Doug The Pug and Tikka the Iggy, have millions of followers across Instagram and TikTok, an engagement that these four-legged hounds are able to translate into sales for any apparel or accessories they model.

Luxury brands entering the pet fashion market in droves have ensured consumers will not have to choose between aesthetics and practicality. Both luxury houses such as Prada, Dior, Versace and Louis Vuitton, and street-wear brands such as Zara and H&M are all capitalizing on increasing consumer interest by launching their own pet lines.

However, vets are becoming more outspoken against elaborate or tight pet apparel that may restrict an animal’s movement, interfere with its communication signals and bodily functions, or cause distress. As a result, consumers have become more interested in practical garments such as winter coats, high visibility clothing, pressure clothing for anxiety, and surgical vests.

Pet Apparel and Accessories

An organic dog bone made with hemp and 100% organic cotton filling and thread, containing zero toxic dyes.
Photo credit: The Kind Pet

For collars, leashes, riding harnesses, toys, and other pet accessories, material has become an important feature that consumers are paying attention to, with washable leathers, Biothane, and organic cotton being the most popular.

Although pet toys are designed to be durable and indestructible, pets chewing and swallowing toy parts is an ever-present danger. Vets are advising consumers to forego long-lasting materials such as rubber for more natural materials such as hemp, jute, natural rubber, and wool.

 

Crafting Pet Habitats

small light brown dog in a yellow and white dog bed, with head resting on a light brown spotted pillow

Anti-anxiety beds with fur-like covers, deep cushions and raised rims have become a popular choice for pet owners seeking to create a safe space for their pets.
Photo credit: Alison Pang

Innovations in pet bedding are accelerating, with the market becoming a distinct industry currently valued at US$4.32 billion. Multi-functional beds that can be used as sleeping bags, sofa seats, and mattresses are the most popular. Anti-anxiety beds with fluffy, padded fabrics designed to embrace and comfort pets are also gaining traction.

Although orthopedic mattresses have been around for a while, durable pet beds are now being designed to support joints as pets age. To this end, the use of memory foam in pet bedding has become widespread. Exciting new material innovations in thermoregulation and micro-encapsulated fabric technologies are also driving innovations in bedding.

Sustainability is a Growing Concern

With a growing emphasis on sustainability, many pet owners are seeking fashion options that align with their environmental values. Sustainable materials, recycled fabrics, and eco-friendly manufacturing processes are factors influencing the purchase decisions of environmentally conscious consumers.

A cat toy made from all natural materials–hemp canvas and organic cotton stuffing, and organic catnip and buckwheat hulls to create a natural fun crinkly texture. Photo credit: The Kind Pet

 

“From a sustainable perspective, we must consider where the materials are sourced, the longevity of the materials, and what will happen to the material at the end of its use, when an animal has worn through it,” says Jennifer Roberge, co-founder of the Kind Pet, a sustainable pet product company. “When possible, it’s best to source fibers farmed and finished closest to home.  Consider the most durable, natural fibers like cotton and hemp, which can be woven into some pretty tough textiles. When finished with natural thread, like 100% cotton, these textiles can potentially be labeled as compostable, with proper certifications, and marketed as having zero microplastics.”

The Integration of Technology and Textiles

Wearable electronic textiles (e-textiles) that embed electronic components into fabrics are revolutionizing how humans interact with and care for animals. Although this US$3.20 billion global market has already marked its presence in human apparel, e-textiles are now gaining traction.

Lee’s research team integrated a set of sensor arrays and conductive polymers that can be embedded into horse blankets or wearables to track heart rate and other vital signs.
Photo Credit: Chi Hwan Lee, Purdue University

“In bedding, e-textiles help monitor sleep patterns and detect signs of discomfort or illness,” says Chi Hwan Lee, Biomedical Engineer and Associate Professor at Purdue University. “In carriers and collars, they facilitate location tracking, and stress monitoring, which is particularly useful for endangered species during transportation. For humans interacting closely with animals, e-textiles can enhance safety. For example, smart beekeeping suits could monitor body temperature, stress, or even detect certain pheromones.”

 

The primary advantage of e-textiles is their non-invasive and continuous monitoring capability. Lee’s team recently tested a wearable e-textile that could help monitor the cardiac health of horses. “Traditional equipment might be more cumbersome and less suited for long-term wear, especially in an animal’s natural setting,” he explains. “E-fabrics, on the other hand, can be seamlessly integrated with blankets or wearables, with minimal interference with the animal’s activities.”

 

A Rich Tapestry

Cream colored cat lying on a green sofa with a white snake toy.

A cat finding comfort in an all-natural toy snake that is 100% compostable.
Photo credit: The Kind Pet

From the historical use of pet textiles as symbols of spirituality, prestige, and love, textiles have evolved to play a multi-faceted role in our interactions with the animal kingdom. In this ever-evolving relationship between humans and animals, the future promises to integrate fashion and functionality with environmental consciousness and technological innovation.

As we continue to explore innovative ways to integrate textiles into the lives of animals, one thing remains clear—the textile tapestry woven into the animal kingdom is a testament to the enduring connection between humans and the animals with whom we share our world.

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author

Nicola Davies, PhD, is a behavioral scientist with a passion for writing.  She can be contacted via LinkedIn.

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