The story of Fantail: interviewing our product designer Elisa
3 dog bed collections and an exciting project for cats in the works: safe to say that Fantail is hitting the ground running. About time we sat down with our product designer Elisa to talk about where it all began. Get ready to dive right into Fantail’s origin story!
Elisa and Fantail: how it all began
Tell us, Elisa: how did you get wrapped up in Fantail?
Elisa: “Well, it all started one night in 2017 at café Roskam in Brussels (laughs). Samuel, Fantail’s CEO, was a friend of my sister so we often ran into each other. He said: “I have an idea. Are you interested in hearing me out sometime, cause I think you’re the right person for the job. Call me and we’ll talk.”
“I was studying architecture at the time and Samuel was a part of Vadigran, the animal product business founded by his family. I didn’t see how we could work together. But my dad said: you never know, this could be an interesting opportunity. And so we met up to discuss his idea.”
How did that go?
Elisa: “Actually, he just came out and said: “Every dog product that’s out there right now, is ugly. And the quality is bad. I want to create something beautiful and high-quality yet still affordable.”
“It definitely sounded interesting, and this was right about the time I needed to find an internship for my studies. Next thing I know, we’re brainstorming names for this new brand we wanted to kickstart. I tried out lots on my family (laughs), but in the end, we settled on Fantail – cause we’re a fan of tails.”
So you’ve really helped shape Fantail from the very beginning.
Elisa: “It was Samuel’s idea, he’s the one who saw the opportunity. But he needed someone for the design part, and I guess that was me (laughs). For a long time, it was just the two of us, getting Fantail off the ground.”
How did you experience the switch from architecture to pet design?
Elisa: “Obviously it was something else entirely than what I had been doing up until then. Everything happened on a much smaller scale, and the turnaround was a lot quicker. That made it really interesting. I also felt like I was learning so much. About pets, but about business as well. Fantail’s a family business, so working there feels different. In a good way (laughs).”
And now you’re a full-time pet product designer.
Elisa: “Yep, I officially am since January 2023. For a while, I was able to combine Fantail with my own renovation projects as an architect. But the time finally came to choose, because Fantail has grown a lot. So now I’m all in!”
The origin story of Origin
Let’s rewind the clock to the very first Fantail collection: Origin.
Elisa: “Samuel and I decided we wanted to create a high-quality dog bed that was beautiful, used the right fabrics and followed the current trends. And so our research began: we got to know the market by visiting stores, we went to international design and fabric fairs, we toured factories, … Long story short: we really educated ourselves.”
“It’s during one of those fairs we found our first supplier. In Europe, cause that was really important to us: to produce as locally as possible. I remember flying out there with Samuel and putting together the models and the colours. We were so excited that we immediately started sketching in-store concepts on the flight back.”
How did you decide on the models and colours?
Elisa: “We decided on a matrix-of-threes to make it easier for ourselves and for dog owners. 3 models, 3 sizes, 3 neutral colours and 3 trend colours. Of course, always keeping into account what a dog needs. For instance, lots of dogs really like their dog bed to have edges to rest their head on. That’s why the Snooze and the Snug models have edges. Stargaze is more for epic stretchers.”
“As for the colours: back in 2018, Scandinavian design was all the rage, so that definitely influenced our trend colours. For the basic colours, we went with neutral greys.”
Sounds like you follow ‘people’ trends more than ‘pet’ trends.
Elisa: “Yes. Always. Every year, I try to visit Maison & Objet in Paris and Salone del Mobile in Milan. Especially the furniture fair in Milan is 2 to 3 years ahead of the trend when it comes to design, colours and materials. There are very little stands for dog products, but it’s a great place to get inspired.”
The magic of memory foam
Let’s talk memory foam. How did you choose the dog bed’s filling?
Elisa: “Back then, the more high-end dog beds already had memory foam. They really focused on that orthopaedic element, and it made sense for Fantail to focus on that as well. We started researching fillings and came across a lot of options. Should it be cork? Hennep?”
“In the end, we asked ourselves three questions: what feels good for the dog, how can we ensure the stability of the bed and how can we make it long-lasting? We started testing, and memory foam came out as the winner.”
We’ve already talked about memory foam here, but can you summarize what it is?
Elisa: “It’s actually a kind of mattress that people use as well. It moulds to your body shape, so it’s super comfy and provides full support. It bounces back when you get off the bed so it’s very stable. Dogs benefit from memory foam just as much as we do, especially older dogs or dogs with joint issues. But honestly, it’s so comfortable that any dog loves sleeping in it.”
Fantail actually uses memory flakes instead of memory foam. What’s the difference?
Elisa: “Memory foam in itself is actually one big piece. It’s heavy. That’s okay for us humans, cause we usually stay still when sleeping so there’s plenty of time for the foam to mould to our bodies. But dogs move around a lot more. That’s why we opted for shredded memory foam, which is also recycled from memory foam mattresses, so that was a bonus.”
Elisa: “By shredding used or damaged memory foam, you’re giving it a second life. The whole mattress isn’t thrown away: the remaining quality material gets shredded into little pieces. That’s perfect for dog beds. The mattresses are lighter, so they mould to a dog’s body quicker. It’s the best option for us, and it’s sustainable. Win-win!”
“We combine the memory flakes with polyester fibre, the exact composition depending on the model. For instance, we’ve placed dividers in the Stargaze model so the foam stays in its place.”
“I can honestly say our filling is unique. Nowadays you can come across dog beds that look like a Fantail, but I can ensure you: none of them can compete with our quality. Our dog beds are heavier and thicker, as they should be.”
A question we often get from our customers: is memory foam washable?
Elisa: “The filling itself should not be washed, no. The easy explanation is that the memory flakes will start sticking together, removing all the great qualities of the material. That’s why we’ve put our filling in a water repellent inner cover, so nothing can go through.”
“But go ahead and wash the outer cover: you can unzip it easily and throw it in the washing machine at 30°C. Don’t tumble dry it, though. To preserve the shape and size, you need to let it air dry. You can get a spare cover to always have a comfy bed ready for your dog.”
The road to Endurance
So we’ve established that Origin’s filling is sustainable. How about the fabric?
Elisa: “We started our sustainable journey from the inside out. We really proud ourselves on the fact that we’ve made our filling sustainable from the start. As for the fabric: back in 2017, recycled fabrics weren’t a thing yet. We used smart fabrics for Origin. They are stain resistant, water repellent and washable, which makes them longer lasting. It was very innovative for sofas back then. And doesn’t every dog deserve its own sofa? (laughs)”
So no recycled fabrics just yet…
Elisa: “No, not yet. But the years started to pass, and Origin was a huge success. New trends started to emerge, and we wanted to get in on them. It was the perfect moment for a ‘bed review’. What could make our dog beds even better? Are there perhaps new, more sustainable fabrics on the market now? We found our answer during a design fair when we visited the stand of our supplier. Right there in the middle was a huge plastic bottle. They told us about their new 70% PET recycled fabrics. And so, the Endurance collection was born.”
Origin vs. Endurance: what’s the difference?
Elisa: “Endurance uses 70% recycled fabrics, whereas Origin doesn’t have recycled fabric. That’s definitely the biggest difference. That being said, Endurance is also sturdier – what’s in a name. The fabric we chose is 30% stronger than Origin and also a lot thicker. So if you have a rowdy, big dog, Endurance is there for you (laughs).”
Wondering which Fantail collection suits your dog the best? Read the blog on the differences between Origin, Endurance and Mellow.
Mellow: the softest collection
Last spring, you launched a third collection. Introducing: Mellow.
Elisa: “Endurance was quite a hard fabric. After that collection, our gut said: we need to go for something softer. We also felt that the whole Scandinavian trend had started to pass. It was time for something new. We went back to our supplier and discussed some new fabrics. We ended up testing three. One was the popular “bouclé” fabric, which was beautiful, but not functional for dogs. Their nails quickly got stuck. So we went with velour: beautiful and functional.”
How did you end up choosing the colours for this collection?
Elisa: “In every collection, we include 3 neutral colours and 3 trend colours. For Mellow, we had 10 colour options, and honestly, we liked every single one of them (laughs). In the end, we had all of them made and took them with us to Anido, a fair in Kortrijk. There, we asked visitors to submit their top 3. The results were quite clear, so we followed their picks.”
What were the first reactions on Mellow?
Elisa: “We consistently ask our co-workers to test out new products before we take them to market. It always leads to honest feedback. This time, everyone loved it. We already knew the smooth fabric was easy to clean, but the testing showed that Mellow is easier to vacuum than our other collections that use woven fabrics. An added bonus for dogs that shed.”
So Mellow is beautiful and functional. What about sustainable?
Elisa: “Mellow is made of 100% recycled smart fabric. So I would definitely say it’s sustainable (laughs).
Did you change the filling?
Elisa: “Just like with Endurance, we did an entire review of our materials when working on Mellow. We were happy to go from 70% to 100% recycled fabric, but what about the filling? We started to experiment again. I think we still have like, 10 boxes of different fillings laying around the office, going from buckwheat to casings of seed. We challenged our supplier for more sustainable solutions as well.”
“But in the end, the result was either too heavy - up to 30 kg - or too expensive. So for now, we’re sticking with the combination of recycled memory flakes and polyester fibre. But our search for better materials won’t stop. That’s why we keep visiting fairs, challenging our suppliers and reading up on the newest developments.”
You also do Life-Cycle Assessment studies.
Elisa: “Yes, we even have someone in-house doing LCA studies. He calculates our carbon footprint by looking into our transport, our materials, … and is always on the lookout to reduce our CO2 emissions. We’re not CO2 neutral just yet, but we are carbon offsetting, which means that we compensate our emissions. We’re currently sponsoring a reforestation project in Peru with GoForest.”
Looking back and looking forward
After 6 years of Fantail, what’s the part you like the most?
Elisa: “Ironically, I don’t have any pets myself. I used to have a hamster once, but that’s it (laughs). That being said, my life has lots of dogs in it, and I love them all. So obviously I like the part where I get to create something for them.”
“But what I like the most… I think that’s bringing dogs closer to their owners. I get a lot of pictures from happy customers and I love how their Fantail gets a prime spot in the living room. No more tucking away an ugly dog bed in a corner: your dog deserves a spot right there next to you, in a bed that compliments your interior. They get to be a part of the family.”
What’s next for Fantail?
Elisa: “Well, I can tell you that Mellow isn’t the only thing we’ll be launching this year. And our next product won’t be for dogs. But that’s all I can say for meow – I mean, now (laughs).”
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