In a roundabout way, the old adage “Necessity is the mother of invention” could be an apt description of how Vacaville husband and wife Dan and Paula Clanton‘s craft concept Prissy Pup Petwear came into being.
“In 2010 we went to a craft fair at Apple Hill and had our Chihuahua named Delilah with us and there were so many people and dogs there we were afraid she might get trampled or bitten,” Dan Clanton said. “I happened to walk by a booth where a woman was selling petwear and bought a sling that you could put your pet in and carry around like a baby. So we bought one out of necessity and the lady charged us $33. Paula and I thought we could make a better one and Prissy Pup Petwear was born.”
If a trained seamstress and experienced tailor had the idea to start a business making clothing and other comfort items for small canines it might seem logical. However, the Clantons had no background whatsoever in those trades.
Dan Clanton retired from the California Department of Corrections in 2010 after working for 28 years as a correctional officer and sergeant. Paula works as a kindergarten/first-grade teacher at Crescent Elementary School in Suisun City.
To channel negativity from his work environment creatively, Dan Clayton performed in community theater throughout his entire career and through his stage connections met local singer/actress/director and most importantly theater costumer Barbara McFadden.
“I got on eBay and found a combo pack of sewing machines — a regular sewing machine and an embroidery sewing machine and I ordered them,” Dan Clanton said. “Then we asked Barbara McFadden to show us how to use them and she came over and gave us lessons.”
The Clantons also took lessons at the senior center and were soon proficient enough to start experimenting with different designs.
They filed for a business license in December 2010, just two months after buying the fateful sling for Delilah. They hit the craft fare circuit and through trial and error discovered what items were in demand and which ones were not. They narrowed down their offerings and came up with a signature item called a Canine Cuddler.
“The Cuddler has a thick cowl neck and a little sleeve for the front legs with a long piece on the back that goes to the tail and a piece of elastic that goes around the tummy,” Dan Clanton said. “It keeps those little dogs that shiver in the winter nice and toasty. You put a Cuddler on them and they are happy as clams. It’s mainly for comfort, but our middle dog, Kiki, is high-strung and when we put a Cuddler on her, it calms her right down.”
While the Clantons’ respective professions may not be directly related to their business venture, after reflection they could see where certain aspects helped in launching their literally mom and pop (they have a daughter in college) operation.
“As a teacher of small children I definitely have a lot of patience and I guess I try to transfer the patience I have to have in my classroom to when we are sewing because we really try to make everything perfect,” Paula Clanton said. “We want to put out a good product. We learned as we went and no one was more surprised than us at our success. We made our first Cuddler together — it was a joint effort between me, Dan and Barbara McFadden.”
“When I worked at the prison, they had an operation called the Blind Project where inmates would read and record books onto CDs and I was the officer that ran that program for two years,” Dan Clanton said. “I was also president of the Board of Directors for the nonprofit that oversaw them for 10 years and that experience helped me when we started our own business.”
“Another thing that helps us on the circuit is Dan’s personality because he is so comfortable in front of crowds,” Paula Clanton said. “At events I pretty much take a back seat and let him do all the talking. I think that definitely relates to his years on the stage.”
The Clantons have been married for 28 years. They said the togetherness they find in a shared interest is an added bonus.
“The best part is just having this hobby with Dan. We go to the fabric store and all the women love him there. They just go crazy over him,” Paula Clanton said. “We get our supplies, go home and sit side by side at our sewing machines and sew and talk and listen to music.”
Dan and Paula Clantons have three Chihuahuas, the aforementioned Delilah and Kiki as well as one named Bella. They use them to model their goods on their website, although Bella has not made it there yet because she “has not gone through runway training,” according to Dan Clanton.
The short-term goals of the Prissy Pup Petwear owners are to attend the Art, Wine and Chocolate Festival on Oct. 6 in Suisun City. Long-term plans include to perhaps sell their items in pet stores.
While the slogan of their business is “Petwear designed with your small pet in mind,” the Clantons will make their products for a bigger pooch as a special order if the customer provides exact measurements.
“We don’t discriminate,” Paula Clanton said. “We like big dogs, too.”
Just who does what in their business, like most decisions the Clantons have made about their venture, was a matter of trial and error, but they now have it down.
“I am the Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer,” Dan Clanton said. “She is the Chief Executive Officer that tells me what to do. It seems to be a successful business model so far.”
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at [email protected].