Must Love Dogs
Monica Dowling with her vizslas, Baron and Booker, in her Chevy Chase home
The signs are everywhere in Monica Dowling’s side hall colonial. A row of leashes in the foyer. Foot wipes and a jar of all-natural chicken jerky treats by the door. In the kitchen, a basket of dried cows’ ears and other chew toys. Dowling is a dog mom to two amber-hued vizslas named Baron and Booker.
“Baron is 7, and he’s my baby,” Dowling, 40, says of her oldest pet. She keeps a framed picture of him in her entryway from the day she brought him home. “We got him at 8 weeks old. He’s super sweet, has a thousand expressions, and I’m convinced he can read my mind.”
Dowling’s canine companions are the inspiration behind (and frequent models for) Gitli Goods, a company she runs from her Chevy Chase home that sells a luxe Americana-inspired line of collars, leashes and extra-large dog beds.
Originally from New Jersey and a former employee at the New York City corporate offices of Burberry, the British luxury fashion house, Dowling followed then-boyfriend, now-husband Jim to D.C. in 2003. Six months later, the couple got engaged, and Dowling became creative services regional manager for Ralph Lauren, Double RL and Rugby Ralph Lauren brands across D.C., Maryland and Pennsylvania. She traveled from store to store to style interiors and merchandising displays.
But it was a trip to the Rose Bowl Flea Market in 2012 that laid the foundation for Gitli. She’d be missing Baron’s birthday and, feeling guilty, she wanted to make him a few gifts. Dowling scooped up some vintage belts for collars and a bolt of batik fabric she thought she might use to fashion a floor bed. The wheels started turning. She knew from shopping for her own pets that collars for large dogs were typically “studded or menacing-looking.” As her mind wandered to projects she’d worked on as a freelance interior designer, there was one thing that consistently clashed with the beautiful spaces she had created: grubby dog beds on the floor. Could these presents for Baron solve a problem larger than her own?
Googling confirmed Dowling’s suspicions: There was a hole in the market when it came to stylish accessories for dogs weighing 40 pounds and up. Dowling set out to create her own in 2013. Her first product line included five leather collars, two leashes and a few hypoallergenic fleece-and-denim dog beds. Harley-Davidson motorcycle jackets, trips to the National Museum of the American Indian (gitli is the Cherokee word for dog) and the Ralph Lauren Americana that Dowling spent so many years designing around became her inspirations. All of her products have Southwestern touches—think concha rivets, patina-ready leather, and geometric patterns in a palette of reds and oranges.
Dowling works with a small-scale manufacturer in Union City, New Jersey, to create limited runs of products using traditional embossing dyes and techniques. The leather in Gitli leashes comes from Horween Leather Co. in Chicago, one of the oldest tanneries in the United States. Her customizable oxidized ID tags are stamped and sanded by hand in South Carolina.
Though you won’t find any Gitli shops in Bethesda, business around the globe is growing. Online features in Vogue and GQ brought exposure early on, and Free People has been a regular wholesale customer since the first year. As Dowling looks to expand her line of beds and create new harnesses this fall, her rigorous—albeit unconventional—quality control procedures will remain the same.
“My dogs are my testers and my closest co-workers,” she says. “They are two feisty, active boys who like to run around outside and chase birds. If a product can withstand their wear and tear, then I know it’s [a] good quality product.”
Gitli offerings include collars ($35-$58), leashes ($75-$85), dog beds ($185-$195), vintage finds and more. Available at gitligoods.com.