Recently, I visited Paco Collars in Oakland, CA and owner Ana Poe was kind enough to sit down for an impromptu interview with me. I have been passing by her incredibly cool shop for months, and I’m so happy I finally stopped by to check it out. Paco Collars is half shop and half studio, and it was such a pleasure to observe them making their exquisite leather collars right in front of me. Perhaps the best part of my experience was hearing Anna’s incredible story of how she got started and learning about how she incorporates her fans and the community into her business. Hanging out with her beautiful dogs was a big plus as well!

When was Paco Collars founded and how did you get started?

Paco Collars was founded in 2002. I never expected to be working with dogs because I was terrified of dogs after I was mauled when I was five years old. When I moved to Oakland, I adopted a pill bull I named Paco for protection (Oakland streets can be scary at night). I got a job at a dog day care because of my love for animals. At some point while I was working there, I decided I wanted to make a high quality collar for Paco that was strong and didn’t make him look scary. At the time, there was a severe gap in the market for stylish things for large dogs that functioned well and were well made. That’s when my mentor taught me how to work with leather. I started making my leather collars and customers at the day care started asking for them! I sold them at the day care until the demand became so huge that I left to pursue Paco Collars full time.

What makes your company unique?

What we make, how it’s made, and who makes it. I believe the process of how our collars are made is just as important as the final product. Leather work is a lost art that we’re trying to revive. We employ a lot of art school students who are interested in learning this craft, so everyone is here for the right reasons. For us, we love the satisfaction of seeing tangible, handmade products at the end of a long day at work. It’s also such a pleasure to see how happy our employees are after they learn how to make collars. They are so excited to teach others what they have learned! We also have customers who make collars along side with us. I want everyone who wants a Paco Collar to have one, so I started an “internship program” where customers can literally walk in from off the street and earn their collars by helping us to make them. Some of my best “employees” have been customers. We also offer a lifetime guarantee on all of our products because we pride ourselves in making strong collars.

Who are your target customers?

Someone who is very emotionally invested in their dog. People that are active with their dogs, with their dogs being a significant part of their daily lives. People who see their dogs as their children.

What is your best selling item?

The X-Dog Collars named after my dog Xochitl. These collars can actually be seen worn by some of Michael Vic’s pit bulls that have recently been rehabilitated. I started volunteering with the ASPCA and an organization called Bay Area Dog lovers Responsible About Pit bulls (Bad Rap). I believe Bad Rap is the best thing to ever happen to pit bulls.

I can’t help but to notice all of the incredible artwork in here! Who’s the artist?

The artist behind most of the work in the shop is Eric Bailey. He’s a San Francisco-based artist that I commissioned to paint a portrait of Paco.

What’s your favorite part about working with dogs?

They don’t judge you. Dogs are truly zen. There is no past and no future, just the right now. Spending time with dogs is meditative. It knocks the worry right out of you.