On a recent flight from South Florida to her hometown of New York City, Kacie Hu witnessed the real-life impact she’s had on pet parents thanks to her job at Chewy.
“I saw somebody with their dog, and they were using our collar and leash,” she remembers. “I recognized the pattern because I worked on it, and I was like, Ooh, that’s ours!”
For Hu, that’s a common occurrence. As the global sourcing manager for Chewy pet apparel, Hu and her team create clothing and accessories that are used by hundreds of thousands of pet parents across the U.S. Though a career in animal fashion might sound frivolous to some, Hu takes her work seriously. Bringing joy to pet parents, she says, is at the heart of all she does.
“Our customers treat their dogs like they’re family members. That’s what I do with my dog. She’s my daughter, and you want to make sure you have good quality products that you can rely on and trust,” she says. “So, to me that’s a huge responsibility … it’s all about meeting the customer’s expectations and seeing what else we can do that’s even better.”
For each of the 100-plus apparel items they create each year, Hu and her team are involved in every step of the process, from dreaming up the first ideas to getting the final product listed on Chewy.com.
The winter season, Hu says, is one of her busiest and most exciting times. She’s especially thrilled to debut her favorite products of 2019: dog and cat headwear like Santa hats and reindeer antlers.
“People like to put these little headpieces on their dogs. It’s not as complex as a full body costume,” she says, “so I think it’s a great alternative for people looking for something for a quick photo that’s still comfortable for their dog.”
But creating those pieces isn’t as simple as it sounds.
Hu starts by working with designers and other colleagues to come up with concepts for fresh new pet apparel, based on what they expect customers will be looking for in the future, considering current trends, seasonal changes, upcoming holidays and other factors.
“It’s really fun working with so many different creative people,” she says.
When the concept for, say, a reindeer antler headpiece has been fully envisioned, Hu and her team send drawings and descriptions of their idea to vendors who could produce it. Often, those vendors suggest ways to improve the product “that might be better or safer for the dog,” she says.
After they’ve finalized the design of their new product, the vendor will make and send a sample product for Hu to inspect.
“That’s where it’s really fun,” Hu says, grinning, “because you get to see the product come to life.”
The antlers, for example, “looked cool on the CAD [design software], but once you get the product and you can actually put it on the dog, see it in 3-D and take a couple of photos, that to me is the big difference. That’s how you really know whether it’s a winner.”
“It can be hit or miss,” she adds, laughing, “but the hits are great. And then we keep improving upon the item from there.”
The fitting process is the next step, and Hu says it’s “the most intense process of apparel.” Dog coats, T-shirts, costumes and more can come in as many as six sizes. They all need to be verified by testing on real dogs—something Hu, pet parent to a 5-year-old Yorkie mix named Ellie, knows firsthand.
“Dog sizes can vary so much,” she says. “Ellie is actually our model for the medium size. It’s so fun—because she’s my dog, I get to bring her in and have her try all these costumes!”
After a product sample is perfected, Hu gives the go-ahead for the vendor to start producing items to be sold. But even then, she’s working to bring the best product to Chewy customers.
“We travel to [our vendors] to make sure the production of apparel is going correctly—no sizes are being mixed up, workmanship is right ... It’s all about how we can make sure customers can expect good sewing and good functionality on the product.”
Ultimately, Hu’s team created several different reindeer antlers for pets this year: a set decorated with a simple and stylish holly leaf; a set that comes with matching collar and bell; and a pair equipped with working LED lights that flash in a variety of settings.
When those items (or any other apparel) are ready to be sold, Hu and her team help make sure its page on Chewy.com is packed with the best photos and descriptions. But that’s not the end of the story—in fact, it’s where Hu sources her most valuable feedback.
“We got a ton of comments from customers on the website, and we go through every single review that comes in,” she says. “I get to see the photos they share, I get to see all their comments, and it’s really rewarding when I can see that it actually worked—that what we imagined and what we thought would work was executed well. So, I really appreciate all the comments the customers leave us.”
There’s more to it than the satisfaction of a job well done. Using customer feedback is an integral part of Hu’s creative process. For example, the Frisco Udderly Cow Dog & Cat Costume was wildly popular during Halloween this year—“It sold beyond our expectations,” Hu says—but a small number of customers thought its head gear could be improved.
“I got some interesting feedback that the hood doesn’t work for some dogs, so if we bring it back next year, instead of a hoodie I’d want to make it a headpiece with an elastic toggle so it can stay on better,” she says. “So, with the comments from customers, it’s very meaningful. They contribute a lot to us, and we try to take it and see how we can improve.”
Hu’s commitment to perfecting pet apparel stems from her passion for the Chewy mission of bringing joy to pets and their parents.
“It’s all worth it to ensure that the customer gets a good product and that it works,” she says.
In fact, she sometimes has to remind herself to keep that passion in check outside the office.
“When I go visit my family in New York, I see a ton of people using our potty bags in the little green holders—but I try to hold myself back and not ask for feedback,” she laughs. “I just appreciate it. Real people are buying our products!”
Right now, Hu and her team are working on bringing new products for spring and summer 2020 to life. (Keep an eye out for taco-themed patterns, she hints.) And in the meantime, she encourages customers to spread their own joy in the form of comments on the site.
“The customer gets hours of usage out of [our products],” she says. “Any feedback from them is very helpful for us. It allows us to improve even better the next time. So keep the comments coming!”