Dog plus bone. It’s a simple formula, and one with many potential results, but the outcome is usually a wagging tail on a happy dog.
For Anne and Ivan, the founders of the company Dog + Bone, this formula has been a large part of their lives over the last six and a half years. It all started in Austin, Texas, but now Anne and Ivan reside in Colorado after having moved to the San Juan town of Lake City almost four years ago.
This past summer I had the opportunity to talk with them about the beginnings of Dog + Bone to learn more about the brand, its story, and their life in Colorado.
Anne and Ivan first met as freshmen at the University of Texas. Early on in their relationship they knew they wanted to own their own business together, and for them it was only a matter of time.
Anne told me, “We always thought we would work really well together, and we thought oh someday we should start a business together. But we had absolutely no idea what it would be, no firm plans whatsoever.”
Throughout those years in Texas, even before Dog + Bone had come to fruition, there was something else they wanted to do; move to Colorado. Anne has family in Castle Rock and Denver, so she visited the state frequently as a kid. During those visits she fell in love with the mountains, and after meeting Ivan, sold him on the idea of living in Colorado one day.
But they didn’t want to live in Denver and trade life in Austin for life in another city. They had frequented the San Juans in southwestern Colorado and knew that that was the area they would want to eventually settle in. It’s a part of Colorado where the small towns that dot the landscape are bounded by mountains and wild, untouched spaces in every direction.
Small mountain towns pose a problem when it comes to employment, though.
“We had always talked about living in the mountains, but you kind of have to bring your own job. There’s just not that much stuff out there, so we were kind of brainstorming things that would combine our skills and enable us to live somewhere like that,” Ivan said.
The Idea That Started It All
While the plan to move out of Texas was a slow burn, the idea that sparked the creation of Dog + Bone came about quite quickly. At the time, Anne was heavily involved as a volunteer at a rescue shelter in Austin. She and Ivan were also fostering dogs, so four-legged friends were a large part of their lives.
At the shelter, Anne was focusing on behavioral work. To support the training of the dogs they all wore martingale collars, which is a type of collar that prevents dogs from backing or slipping out if they get too excited. Because all the dogs wore one, there was always a shortage of collars to go around as animals came and went from the shelter.
At home, Anne and Ivan were also running into trouble finding collars for their own dogs.
“We were adopting dogs and we’d go try to find cool collars and leashes and stuff for ’em. And then at that point in time the market wasn’t as large as it is now for pets and we just couldn’t find stuff that we thought was really aligning to our values and aesthetic,” Ivan said.
So, they started to think – what if we made some?
The desire to own their own business and support the rescue community all finally came together. They had wanted to find something that was fun and that they could be passionate about, while also leveraging their abilities. With the idea of making dog collars, they had found it.
Designing their First Collars
With this plan in mind, they set to work and created a few samples. They gave them out to friends with dogs and made some for use at the shelter. Anne’s experience of volunteering there played a major role in how the Dog + Bone Martingale collar was designed.
“Our martingales are two colors and there is actually a functional reason behind that which is for the volunteers at the shelter. They may have never used a martingale collar before and I was noticing that a lot of people found it kind of tricky to put one on a dog the first time, but if it had two colors, if the loop was a different color than the main portion of the collar, it was kind of color coded and it made it a lot easier for volunteers to figure out how to put it on the dog,” Anne explained.
With those first collars in the wild and being worn by dogs across town, the feedback started to come in. Luckily that feedback was positive, and their first product was born.
Now, they needed to create the brand.
Launching the Dog + Bone Brand
While at the time Ivan was working for a consulting firm, he fortunately had experience in brand identity and logo development from other roles throughout his career. The creation of Dog + Bone turned out to be a way for him to get back into the more creative work that he enjoyed, and they were able to create their logo and do other design work in-house.
But what about the name?
Anne told me, “We wanted something that was simple, and Ivan wanted something that he could graphically play around with.”
Dog + Bone fits the criteria of being a simple name, but more importantly it served as a source of inspiration as it represented a mathematical equation with a limitless number of outcomes.
“Something that always kind of played into the initial choosing of it is that I always thought, oh dog plus bone, like a mathematical equation. Dog plus bone equals love. Dog plus bone equals happiness or any number of things,” Anne said.
For both Ivan and Anne, Dog + Bone was starting to mean freedom and the beginnings of a new direction for their life.
Late Nights and a New Lifestyle
At this point they had their product, they gave the brand a name, and they were on their way to creating a company. But, as any entrepreneur who’s done the same knows, they were just getting started.
Initially, both Anne and Ivan were occupied with jobs and passions of their own. Anne at the shelter, and Ivan still working for a global design firm. Anne began working on Dog + Bone and putting her full energy behind it, but Ivan was still in the corporate world during the day.
This resulted in many late nights as they worked to get things going.
When Ivan got off work and returned home, he would help Anne out with the new business. “Sometimes at two or three in the morning I’d be working on the web site or doing product photography or designing something. I think being a night owl kind of helped with it,” Ivan said.
It wasn’t long before Dog + Bone work crept out of those late-night hours and into the day job, though.
“I mean, I would be texting him at work like hey, can you do this for me? Or do you have a second? He was suddenly being pulled in two different directions for some years,” Anne said.
At some point Ivan would need to leave his corporate role so that he could join Anne in focusing on Dog + Bone full time. The business was getting to a place where it could support a move like that financially and Ivan was also ready for a change in his professional career. Spending your days helping other people run their businesses takes its toll when you have a business of your own you are wanting to put your time into.
Ivan leaving his job would allow them both to invest all their time in growing the company, and it also brought up another opportunity – one they had been dreaming about for some time. They could then live wherever they wanted.
Fulfilling the Dream of Moving to Colorado
Starting Dog + Bone “gives us a way to give back, like in this case, to the rescue community, but it also gives us a little bit of flexibility and freedom in terms of where we can live,” Ivan said.
With neither of them beholden to an office or having to fly around the country for client meetings, and being the owners of their own business, that dream of moving to southwest Colorado was quickly becoming a reality.
“It’s kind of funny. I mean the universe sometimes just points you in a direction and sometimes it just totally kicks you and I feel like we were kind of getting the kick. I mean, we knew we wanted to live out there. We knew it was on the horizon,” Ivan said.
What was that kick?
Anne and Ivan had taken multiple trips to the San Juans throughout the years and often passed through the town of Lake City. Their destination was usually the backcountry, but they would always stop by the San Juan Coffee Company and fuel up with a sandwich, a cup of joe, then continue their trek out into the wilderness. On one such occasion they were planning on going through the usual routine, but the coffee shop was gone and the building was for sale.
Named the Watson Shoe Building, after Charles A. Watson who had his shoe store there, this building was originally built in 1901. The building that first held the address of 308 N Silver Street had burned down, so the new structure was built of fire-proof brick. This description of the building comes from Lake City’s National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, filed in 1977:
“The one-story, red-brick building with a flat asphalt roof functioned originally as a shoe store. Then it contained, in succession, the Hinsdale County Electric Light & Power, a stationery store, a tobacco and confectionery shop, Charles M. Harkness’ People’s Market Co., and a series of restaurants. It has a large, fixed-sash facade window.”
During its tenure as a restaurant or bar things must have gotten a little wild as Anne described that there are bullet holes in the ceiling. But even with the gunslingers providing a unique touch, the building was move-in ready. The previous owner had done a lot of work to the inside as well as updated the plumbing and electrical.
Even more serendipitous, this building was for mixed use and had a commercial space in the front and an apartment in the back, which had been added in 1976. They had known they wanted more room for production but seeing this property they realized they could also have their own retail store, while also using it as a residence.
“This building gave us the opportunity to open up a shop, do production and live in the back. So, when we saw it was available for sale, we were just like oh let’s figure out how to do this,” Ivan said.
Besides being in the state they wanted to move to and providing them with all the space they needed for ramping up their production, it also gave their life new room.
“It happens to be in Hinsdale County, which has something like 96-97% public land, so it’s this amazing playground plus the perfect work and living space for us,” Anne said. With the potential for that much freedom out their front door, it was time to leave Texas behind and take their four dogs and cat with them.
Settling into Life in Lake City
Austin has about 250,000 more residents than Denver as of the last census count in 2018. It is not a small city by any means and, as is the case in Downtown Denver, being in the urban sprawl feels like you’re completely disconnected from the natural world. For people who much prefer the outdoors, the concrete, glass, and buzz of a city provide a sharp contrast to the lush, raw outdoors.
Both Anne and Ivan had gotten fairly used to city life in Austin, but until leaving and settling into Lake City, which has a population of around 400 residents, they hadn’t realized how good things can be away from the concrete jungle.
“We had lived in downtown Austin so we were used to lots of noise and lots of people and lots of just general city chaos. And then we moved here and it was quieter than anywhere we had ever lived before. I think that was probably the most striking thing. Oh, and you could see stars!” Anne said.
Seeing stars wasn’t the only perk though.
“The pace is different. I think there’s a lot of people that come out here because they want to have more freedom and more free time and not be wrapped up in that urgency like you find in the city,” Ivan said.
Even if you wanted to speed things up in Lake City, it likely won’t happen. It’s a small town nestled in the San Juans that you’ve likely never driven past. It’s not off I-70 and if you’re headed to Telluride, Durango, or some other San Juan hotspot, you’ll have missed it completely. The closest familiar town is Gunnison, which is an hour away by way of State Highway 149.
It’s out there. But if you choose to venture away from the glitz and glamour of the more familiar Colorado mountain towns, you’ll be rewarded with some of the most beautiful views you have ever seen.
It just takes a little bit more planning when it comes time to get groceries or other things you might need. Coming from the city, where everything is a click away on Amazon, living in Lake City has changed the way Anne and Ivan think about how they purchase goods.
“It forces you to sort of plan ahead and be more organized, but then you’re also more intentional, and [it makes you ask yourself] what do I really need, you know? And so I really, really like that because instead of just being a consumer, you get to actually think and be a little more intentional about what you really need,” Anne said.
But does that create challenges in running their business?
“Getting materials and other stuff really isn’t that much different than when we were in Austin. Ship time is miraculously about the same,” Anne said.
When the collars and other products are finished, shipping out orders has also proved to be relatively easy as well. Even better, because it is a small town, they have certainly become very familiar with the people at the post office.
“It’s cool – when we were in Austin I think there is more anonymity around it when you drop stuff off and when you drop into the post office you know they didn’t have any idea we even existed. Whereas here it’s like we’re adding a lot of volume. And we’re certainly on a first name basis,” Ivan said.
Knowing the team at the Post Office, and them knowing who Anne and Ivan are, also means that others in the town get to share the story of Dog + Bone and be a part of their growth.
“Around the Holidays, or if we’re doing a fundraiser or something and we have a big sales weekend, we’ll show up and they’re like ‘Oh my gosh, you guys have been really busy haven’t you!’” Anne said.
Designing and Sewing their Products
Once Anne and Ivan settled into the Lake City routine, they were able to keep production humming along and stay focused on growing their business.
Right now it’s still Anne and Ivan who do everything; from manufacturing, to customer service, to packing orders. If you purchase a Dog + Bone collar, it has passed through only their hands.
Beyond coming up with the products and designs themselves, they’ve also been quite particular about the materials they use to sew and manufacture everything.
“We looked at lots and lots of [material] samples at the very beginning of starting this business. Some of the materials we use are kind of expensive, but we just wanted our stuff to be really good,” Anne said.
What they settled on was a heavy-duty 1” nylon webbing, military grade buckles, and solid cast brass D-rings. These durable materials meant Anne and Ivan must use industrial grade sewing machines to produce their collars and leashes.
“We’re sewing through 3 three layers of really thick nylon, so you have to use an industrial sewing machine. To start off we were sourcing vintage Singers. Some from back in the 20s, some from the 40s and we had to learn the whole industrial sewing side of the business as we went,” Ivan said.
Sourcing and using high quality materials has paid off not only for Dog + Bone, but also benefits their customers as well.
“Durability is a huge component in sustainability, so the more we can do to make our stuff last, then the less they will become a sort of disposable product,” Ivan said.
And, on the rare occasion it does wear out, Dog + Bone has a repair program. For about half the cost of a new collar you can send back your old one and they’ll replace the nylon or any other parts that are no longer usable and all unused pieces are recycled when possible.
Growing Dog + Bone
Most of Dog + Bone’s growth has been organic, by word of mouth, or on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. When they were in Austin, a lot of retail partners in the pet space found them and they grew to meet those needs.
They’ve since made investments in their growth, but a large part of how they continue to expand the business relies on the people who love their products and the place where it all started; rescue organizations.
Dog + Bone will frequently run weekend deals where they donate half of total sales to a rescue. They’ll also get involved in other grassroots campaigns like raffles and fundraisers and give away product for those events.
“We thought, would we rather give our money to rescue organizations? Or would we rather spend money to advertise? So, we thought, well, definitely rescue organizations!” Anne said.
With their main focus on the community, Dog + Bone continues to grow, allowing them to continually improve their products and the materials they use to make them. One of their goals is getting to the point where they can influence the materials they source for production. What they already use is durable and long-lasting, keeping their collars and leashes out of landfills, but from the product to the packaging, sustainability will always remain top of mind for them.
And, equally so, giving back and creating positive experiences for anyone who touches the Dog + Bone brand.
“We want our customers to have a good experience. We want to be having a good experience running this business. When we have employees we want them to have a positive experience working here. There’s a lot of value in maintaining a balance where you can affect positive experience,” Anne said.
Dog + Bone has some new products in the works and they are hopeful to start rolling those out in the next year. There will also be some new colors on offer throughout their product line-up.
They’re also focused on making sure they can continue to say ‘yes’ to opportunities that come their way.
“We have some business development and efficiency in production, and when the time comes to hire people we’ll be ready for that too. You can really, really gain momentum if you just make sure you’re in a position to say yes when opportunity shows up,” Anne said.
One of their other goals is to help create jobs in Hinsdale county. Even with a small population, there aren’t a lot of jobs available for those seeking one in the area. Through Dog + Bone, Anne and Ivan would love to create year-round income for their neighbors.
In the meantime, they’re enjoying a simpler life in Lake City. They produce their collars in small batches to minimize waste, drop off orders at the post office before noon each day, then make sure to take some time for themselves, and their pups, by venturing into the natural spaces all around them.
Anne + Ivan
While talking with Anne and Ivan about Dog + Bone and their story, they both tended to finish each other’s sentences. They weren’t talking over each other, but like any couple that has been together for at least a few years, they had no problem jumping in and providing additional color to what the other was saying.
As I rushed to take notes during the conversation, jumping between one statement to the next and bouncing between them, I realized that they were simply filling each other’s gaps.
They’ve lived their lives together since college and over the years have made so many memories together; the creation of Dog + Bone being one of them. And even though they’ve lived the same story in some regard, the way they have individually experienced it has been unique. Because of this, they were able to fill in details of the same topic with different thoughts or by expanding on what the other was saying.
Besides filling in the gaps when it comes to re-telling the Dog + Bone story, you can see that they have supported each other in other parts of their lives as well. Anne saw a gap at the shelters she was volunteering at and fulfilled the need for more collars by creating her own. After realizing those collars could help dog owners beyond the shelter, Ivan used his experience in graphic design to support the launch of the brand.
Since then, their skills and experience have continued to complement each other to help grow Dog + Bone.
Now, they’re helping to fill a gap in Lake City by creating a successful business that will provide opportunities for jobs in the future. And, for all those dog owners out there, Anne and Ivan have helped fulfill a need for sustainable, beautifully designed products for their furry best friends.
Their mission at Dog + Bone is to create Dog Gear for Life. If the past is any indication, Anne and Ivan will continue to pursue that mission, while all along the way supporting each other and giving back to the community around them.