Erica Preo was working as a graphic designer for luxury brands in San Francisco when she had the realization familiar to many animal lovers: No matter how hard you try, you can’t save them all.
It was a notion that marinated deep within her for the next few years, as she dated her Triangle-based husband long distance and eventually married him. By that point, she had rescued five dogs and “needed space.” Pittsboro was the perfect place to relocate, to act on “the idea to use the high highs of a luxury brand to generate profits and awareness for the low lows of homeless dogs,” she says.
She launched Pantofola, a high-end brand of handmade Italian leather dog collars. In bright, classic colors, the collars epitomize understated extravagance. “I was really picky,” she says of her attention to detail. For example, “I really don’t like big clunky buckles and hardware.” So she had custom molds made for her collars’ sleek brass fixtures. “I wanted to create something that is as nice as a really finely made small leather good for a human. … We don’t do anything less just because it’s [for] a dog.”
Everything is made and manufactured in Italy. “It’s the real thing, the mother and the two sons,” she says of the small factory in northern Italy.
And then there’s the giving back. “A major part of this is to generate money I can donate,” Erica says. “It’s definitely easier than trying to adopt them all.” Rather than contribute to familiar charity names, Erica seeks out the underdogs. “There’s this whole grassroots realm of people who donate so much time.” In the past year, sales have benefited Pilots N Paws, a network of independent pilots who relocate dogs from an area where there’s an overabundance to an area where they’re guaranteed adoption, and Marley’s Mutts, a small nonprofit in central California.
At $265 each, a Pantofola purchase is an investment. In fact, only two of Erica’s five dogs wear them – the other three are too young and rambunctious to handle fine leather. “I think of ourselves as a Bentley,” she says. “Ultimately, it’s for the owner. I would never say, ‘Your dog wants this. It will make your dog happy.’ I know it’s for the person.” For the person who wants to splurge with a conscience, that is. Erica’s collars are sold exclusively online.