Luxurious Companions: Interview with SHAYA Pets Founder Davina Farahi
SHAYA Pets is a luxury brand of pet merchandise, namely carriers and leashes, that are handcrafted in Italy by the finest Venetian artisans and made with the finest materials. With pet totes made from premium calfskin leather and waxed canvas with deftly placed interior pockets and a smooth nylon interior lining, these carriers are ideal for adored pets.
SHAYA Pets was founded in 2019 by Davina Farahi whose dedication to her dog, Baby G, is matched only by her concern for helping those in need. Since her high school years, Davina has sought to assist those with special needs and circumstances, from children in crisis to injured individuals to underprivileged communities. Every sale gives a portion of the proceeds to Disco’s Dogs, a non-profit that trains service dogs so pets and humans can heal and help each other.
“Shaya” is derived from the ancient Persian word for “worthy” and the Biblical name meaning “gift from God.” The company has attracted a dedicated following of celebrities who fawned over the newest release — a red leopard leash — and are anticipating the forthcoming wedding collection.
Davina Farahi recently discussed her brand via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get inspired to design products for pets and how did you forge a path into this area of the fashion industry?
Davina Farahi (DF): During my senior year of college I was struggling to find a sense of purpose in my life. My parents noticed, and suggested I get a dog, after having begged for one since I was 5 years-old. We found our six-pound Brussels Griffon mix, Baby G, that very week and she quickly became an integral part of my life. I took her everywhere, including restaurants and university classes, carrying her in some truly tacky pet carriers. Eventually, my mom told me I had to step up my fashion game when it came to pet accessories. I couldn’t justify buying a designer carrier that wasn’t actually made for everyday life so I ended up taking one of my tote bags to my cobbler and had it retrofitted for Baby G. After 5 years of having people ask me if I could make them the carrier, my dad and I sat down and discussed launching a pet brand. He was incredibly supportive, and said I could move forward if every member of our family agreed. They did.
That’s when the hard part began. No one in the fashion industry tells you where they manufacture their products, or give you specifics on how to start a fashion brand. I had to sit down with everyone in the industry I could connect with, ask them specific questions, and take note of their generic answers. I compiled these and from there got a general sense of how to move forward. At the same time, I took pet fashion courses at the Fashion Institute of Technology and used my time there to connect with professors and classmates who were working in the field. All together, these conversations and connections guided me through the processes of creating and running a fashion brand.
MM: How did you come up with the concept for your carriers and leashes? Also, what has been your boldest design choice yet?
DF: I have a Persian mother who didn’t take well to me walking around with ugly pet carriers. It forced me to think about how I could style Baby G’s accessories with my outfits. When I started searching for carriers, I came up empty handed, and then again with leashes. My family’s need for pet accessories that were both stylish and safe led us to the idea for Shaya.
Before designing our products, we think about what stylish humans are wearing and then go about creating our accessories from there. The idea for our Susan Leash, which has an acrylic bangle attached to a leather lead, came about after seeing the popularity of handbags with acrylic handles. We simply make sure our designs take into account our furry friends, as well as their humans.
MM: How Long did it take to find the right artisans and materials?
DF: Unlike China, with its comprehensive list of factories on Alibaba, Italian factories aren’t listed on the web. I spent every day for two months googling, emailing the Italian consulate, messaging people on LinkedIn, stalking fashion brands’ Instagrams to see if they would slip and have their factory’s name somewhere, and emailing manufacturers in Italy who had nothing to do with handbags or pet accessories. In the end, I was introduced to our current manufacturer by a shoe manufacturer in Florence. What’s great about our team is that they work with us to pick the right materials for each product and have their own ideas about design. This form of collaborative discussion, versus us handing over a complete tech pack with design and materials, was what cut down the material selection and development phase of our carrier from an estimated two years to one.
MM: What has marketing this brand been like?
DF: From day one our mission has been creating ethically made, fashionable, and functional luxury pet accessories for pets and their humans — connecting them in a new and stylish way. Every part of our marketing focuses on this idea. From choosing to highlight and donate to charities that bring and keep pets and their humans together since the day we launched, to sharing ways kids can foster a love of animals on our Instagram — everything ties back to the human and pet relationship.
While many people appreciate the design and functionality of our products, the biggest pushback we get when talking about our brand is our price point. Our family decided from the beginning that we wanted to work with a factory that has fair working conditions, and is committed to creating the highest quality products for pets. As a result, our manufacturing cost is more than those who use factories in other parts of the world, and consequently, our product cost. We are proud to be the only brand that makes high quality pet accessories in Italy, partnering with a factory where workers are treated like family. This just means that we spend a great deal of our time and marketing budget educating consumers on what goes into creating our products. You can see inside our factory (and their small animal farm) on our website and Instagram page.
MM: Was it tougher to establish the company or keep it afloat?
DF: Honestly, both. My family and I did not have any experience in fashion before starting Shaya. We’ve built Shaya with a learn-as-you-go mentality. Every time we do something for the first time, we have to quickly learn the process, and react accordingly. Now, projects that were challenging in the beginning — like finding a photographer or editing our website — are easier, but we are constantly faced with new challenges like connecting with retailers and fulfilling orders through systems we have never seen before. While it is a challenge at times, it is a gratifying one. We love learning about this industry and finding new ways to make our customers and their furry friends happy.
MM: To date, what has been the most rewarding part of working as a luxury dog product designer?
DF: The most rewarding part of designing our products is definitely when we get to see it on customers. I’ll never forget the first time I saw someone on the New York subway with their Pomeranian in our Black Leather Carrier. It was beyond rewarding to see our product used to bring a best furry friend out with their human. The second-best part about what we do is getting to come together with my family to create something new. My parents live in Reno, two of my siblings in Los Angeles, and one in Philadelphia. So, the design process serves as a great excuse for us to all connect over something we care about.
MM: You currently create items mostly for dogs and maybe cats, so what other animals might you include products for in the future?
DF: We’ve actually had a few customers buy our carriers for rabbits and one for a gerbil. I’d love to create products for other household pets, but that is tabled for now. We are currently focused on our leather accessories, and looking into expanding into pet products for home.
MM: Where do you hope your company — and creations — will be in ten years?
DF: I hope in ten years customers can walk through major fashion retailers and not be surprised to find our accessories as they browse. We design our products to fit into the fashionable human’s closet, so why shouldn’t they be available where people find their outfits?
MM: Are there any upcoming events — or impending releases — that you would like to discuss?
DF: Our first line of collars, The Taylor, is launching Tuesday, September 29th. The Taylor Collar is inspired by modern double wrap bracelets (think the Hermes Double Tour Bracelet). In fact, we started by designing a bracelet and then thought about how to make it pet friendly. We tied this into our campaign by modeling some of the extra small collars as bracelets for kids and anklets for adults. I’m most excited about this launch after working on collars for over 10 months now. COVID heavily delayed development and testing, but it’ll be worth the wait once we see how pets (and maybe even their humans) style our collars.
To learn more about Shaya, see here.