Ellen Van Dusen talks dog beds, design and Snips

Ellen Van Dusen talks dog beds, design and Snips
Pets & Their People features ‘how we met’ vignettes of dogs and their humans, uncovering the particulars of this unique relationship, from touching adoption tales to outlandish quirks.

Wild One visited Ellen Van Dusen’s sun-soaked studio in Clinton Hill on a January morning. The founder of clothing and home goods line Dusen Dusen, Ellen, is known for creating distinctive, whimsical patterns, which adorn everything from pajama sets to dog beds. Her own dog, Snips, is a sweet boston terrier, who cannot get enough of her Wild One toys. She bounced between the three, unable to choose which to play with.

Wild One: When did you meet Snips?

Ellen Van Dusen: Snips is now nine years old, and I got her when she was only five weeks. I was visiting my parents in the D.C. area at the time, and my brother drove me a few hours away to pick out a dog. He complained for the entire trip, but I then caught him secretly kissing one of the dogs, which ended up being Snips.

WO: What made the timing for getting a dog feel right?

EVD: I was 23 years old and working for myself at home. I started Dusen Dusen in 2010, so those were the early days. I was never going outside, and would have my boyfriend at the time bring home food so I didn’t have to go out if it was really cold. I was basically chained to my work and decided I needed something to get me outside three times a day. Around the same time, I dog sat for a friend, and it truly felt like the best thing I’d ever done. That settled it!

WO: Has Snips had the intended impact?

EVD: Yes, it’s really nice to have a little buddy around all the time and take her for walks. The biggest change has been that I always have to go home after work. The first thing I tell people who are considering getting a dog is that it’s the best thing you can do for yourself, but you always have to be prepared to go home.  

WO: Did you grow up with dogs?

EVD: I grew up with a basset hound, who was very bad, but super sweet. She’d eat sticks of butter and entire rotisserie chickens. One time my mom made a birthday cake for my brother and she ate the entire thing. She would use her tongue to retrieve food, similar to a frog, and pull things off the counter. It was amazing!

WO: On that note, does Snips have any funny behaviors?

EVD: Whenever she audibly farts, she runs. It scares her every time and it’s so funny to watch her sprint away from it.

WO: Why the name Snips?

EVD: Snips are my favorite sewing tool. They’re tiny little sheers that look like a claw.

WO: How did you get into design? 

EVD: I always knew I wanted to make clothes, and was making them for myself in high school. I decided to do a design-your-own major program at Tufts, and studied neuroscience and art history, focusing on how the brain perceives color and its relation to aesthetic preferences. I was lucky to study something so specific that also had this broad application to many disciplines. Everything was very focused around color, which appealed to me. 

WO: Why did you decide to branch out into home goods?

EVD: I realized through years of making clothes that the thing I liked most was designing prints. I was also looking for new bedding, and remember thinking that the options were so unattractive. I decided to try making something myself and it expanded from there.

WO: Were your dog beds born out of a similar thought?

EVD: Sure, and they were absolutely inspired by Snips. They’re fun to design and Snips gets to be my tester. She has so many beds between home and the studio because she gets all of the samples! I also make dog sweaters. I like to make as much as I can for dogs.

WO: Has Snips inspired any designs?

EVD: I did a collaboration with Urban Outfitters in 2012. At the time, I had gotten Snips pretty recently, so I used a picture of her face and made it into a repeat pattern that ended up on a backpack. There’s a lot of those backpacks out in the world, which is really funny to me. People have sent me photos of them wearing them.

Photo credit: Scott Bleicher

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