Our story; how we started, and where we're going

Our story; how we started, and where we're going

14 Jul 2023
'Three dogs in a courtyard', painting by Carl Reichert (1836-1918)

'Three dogs in a courtyard', painting by Carl Reichert (1836-1918)

The initial idea for Albert & Arthur came to us in the summer of 2020. Jessie and I had met in London, and after living together for 5 years, decided it was time for a change of scenery. Up to that point, we’d both worked for various startups in London, myself, as a designer and developer, and Jessie in finance and operations. I’d recently left my previous business – an estate agent comparison site that I’d co-founded – to focus on another business organising conferences for product professionals.

I grew up in Luxembourg, and having enjoyed our trips there over the last few years, we decided to pack up our flat in London and start a new life there. We quickly discovered that we didn’t enjoy it, and 2 years later ended up moved back to England, where we now happily live in Norfolk. This transition period, that was marked by the shutting down of the events business I’d started, in part due to COVID, did however provide us with a window of opportunity to plant the seeds of what has now become Albert & Arthur.

A silver lining to all of this was finding Bertie. Heading to the shelter we really had no expectation on what kind of dog we would take home. The shelter explained that he was not very well; his previous owner had decided to give him up for adoption as he was being left alone at home all day while she was at work. He was stressed, had developed alopecia, a highly sensitive stomach and was unable to eat anything other than insect-based food. Fast forward to today, and he is now perfectly healthy and happy. And a year later, he was joined by Arthur, and a year after that by Alice.

We have always been somewhat particular about what we buy. We place high value on traditional aesthetics and the use of good quality, authentic materials. Being this opinionated about things, it is perhaps no surprise that we’ve always had an itch to get into the manufacture of physical goods. There is something special about manufacturing that the digital world is unable to provide, and as the world becomes increasingly digitalised, we believe that manufacturing – and perhaps more importantly, craftsmanship – will become ever more valuable, and will be one of the ways in which humans compete with artificial intelligence and robotics. As the fan obsession with René Deckard in the film Blade Runner shows, as humans we yearn for the authentic.

The opportunity to scratch this itch presented itself when we started shopping for the various dog accessories we needed for our dogs. For the most part, the offering was either modern and garish – or where aesthetics were a consideration, functionality had been left by the wayside. For our wedding, we decided to buy a leather harness Among other things, we eventually bought a leather harness. It was one of the nicer ones on offer, but required a buckle to be done up every time it was put on – not exactly our idea of practical. And so, we got to work.

Designing the range

The businesses I’d previously started were because I wanted to solve a problem I understood – this is often how these things start. It would make sense therefore, that our journey would start with a desire to solve an immediate problem we were faced with. We wanted to find a classic-looking, functional, and well-made dog accessory kit that looked and functioned as a cohesive whole.

Being new to the world of manufacturing, we didn’t really know what we were in for, and naively assumed it would be a relatively straightforward affair. After all, what could possibly be so complicated about a dog harness? As it turns, it was far from simple. From finding the right manufacturing partner and hardware, to getting the sizing right, and tweaking the design, it all in all, took us nearly 2 years before we eventually launched our inaugural dog range in August 2022.

It wasn’t an instant success – with many feeling the pinch, high end dog accessories were undoubtedly not top of the list of priorities for many. And being a new brand with no recognition didn’t make things easier. But slowly, sales began to grow, and to date, we’ve received nothing but glowing reviews from our customers, which we are most grateful for, some of which you can read here.

Currently, the range includes a leash, poo bag holder, collar and harness – everything you need to walk your dog in style. All our dog accessories come in the same set of colours, and work well together; the poo bag holder firmly attaches to the leash, so it doesn’t flail around, as they so often do. The one-click harness requires adjusting once, after which it is click-on, click-off. No sweat. And the collar includes a layer of padding for extra comfort.

This initial project gave us the opportunity to learn the ropes, and helped us define our approach to manufacturing.

Our approach to manufacturing

Everything we’ve made, and plan to make, we will do with timeless aesthetic in mind. Our goal is to create an aesthetic that is timeless, immovable by fads or trends. Items that you will love in ten years as much as you do today. It has become quite apparent to us over the years, that the aesthetic quality of our world is rapidly diminishing, as seen in art in all its many forms, perhaps most saliently, architecture.

This decline is in part what underpins the so-called 'throwaway culture', whereby goods are manufactured using materials that are cheap to produce and often age badly. Many of these attempt to mimic or replace traditional materials. A wooden desk with a chip in it will usually look ok; one that is made of chipboard won’t. When items such as these break, go out of fashion, or are replaced with a newer model, they, for the most part, make their way into landfills around the world, fuelling among other things, waste trafficking; a goldmine for mafias that will in some cases dispose of the waste by dumping or burning it in the countryside. The end result, among other things, is the development of chronic illnesses, cancers and the like, to say nothing of the environmental devastation. To take just one example, a study published in Nature in 2021 found in one heavily polluted area in Italy that elevated levels of lead and arsenic found in schoolchildren were linked to an increase in neurobehavioral problems. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

This is why, among other things, we have decided to be as careful as possible when going about choosing materials we use in our manufacturing process. We consider all aspects including origin, durability, look and feel, and where possible, source them as close to home as possible. Among other things, we consider the toxicity, durability, ability to biodegrade, and origin. As a company, our goal is to be as transparent as possible. At present, we are a small team so are limited in what we can do, but as we grow we will continue to build on this foundation.

All our goods come with a lifetime warranty. We want you to know that we stand behind the quality of what we sell. This presents us with a challenge; as a business, if we sell high quality items that last a long time, we will eventually go out of business. When I visited a distillery near Edinburgh last year, I was told the story of Porteus Malt Mills and Boby Mills. In the world of distilling, a mill is a mechanical device used for breaking down malted barley. Most of the mills used by Scottish distilleries were made by companies that no longer exist, for the simple reason that these mills are virtually indestructible. Porteus Malt Mills never broke down and never needed replacing, and since every distillery in Scotland had one, there was no more business. Although ‘consumables’ have a bad name because they are synonymous with the aforementioned problems, we believe such items can be produced in a responsible manner, and we are present working on several ideas.

When it comes to the actual manufacturing process, our preference is to work with suppliers based in countries that are aligned with our values. If we are not able to source something locally, we look further afield, sampling dozens of suppliers along the way before settling on the right one.

All that being said, we also think that it is important to work with companies in so-called developing countries. For instance, in Mexico, the drug cartels are successful at recruiting, in part because the money and prestige that's on offer dwarfs that of legitimate industries. And where do the drugs end up? Thus, we believe that this problem, can in part be fought against if other legitimate jobs can be shown to be just as appealing, if not more, as those offered by organisations such as these.

The future

We decided early on that we don't want to be known as a 'dog brand'. Instead, we want to be seen as a company that produces high-quality items, in every sense of the word, and does so in a transparent, and ethical way.

We truly believe that the aesthetic quality of our surroundings, including that of the items we use, plays a critical role in shaping our attitudes towards our surroundings and more generally, our society. In his documentary 'Why Beauty Matters', the late Roger Scruton argued that where art and architecture once elevated people’s spirits, now they bring them down. Visiting a graffitied bus station in his hometown of Reading, he says “everything has been vandalised. But we shouldn’t blame the vandals – this place was built by vandals. And those who added the graffiti merely finished the job". It is easy to see how a society with declining aesthetic standards results in a loss of civic pride, which in turn paves the way for nihilism, depression, drug abuse, crime and so on.

We are also driven by a desire to deliver an excellent experience, across the board. Although we do not believe the 'customer is always right' (who is?), we do believe that as a business, we should always go that extra mile. If you are ever disappointed in our product or service, please let us know so we can put things right.

As we grow, we also will plan on donating some of the proceeds of our work to causes that are close to our hearts. Last Christmas, we donated all the proceeds from the sale of our tennis balls to Bliss Cavalier Rescue. It wasn't as much as we'd hoped for, but as we continue to grow, we hope we'll be able to do more of this.

As of today, we plan to continue building on the foundation we started. We recently welcomed Lily as our head of marketing, and have a number of new items in the works, including various homeware goods, travel accessories and plenty more.

We look forward to sharing our creations with you and thank you for your interest and support.

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