Since rescue dogs are unique, displaying our inner ‘crazy dog person’ with an off-the-peg dog T-shirt is not an option. It has to be personalised, and it has to be pretty hot. Carol Tai, the founder of hand-drawn pet-portrait embroiderer Hoop n Loop, is here to help
How did Hoop n Loop start?
The idea for Hoop n Loop started after I attended a beginners course at the London Embroidery Studio in east London. I really got into it, but I didn’t have the time or skills to make hand embroidery, so I invested in a small embroidery machine. This is where my passion for embroidery really took off and soon I was making lots of embroidered gifts for my friends and family.
It was my dog Koko, however, who inspired the Hoop n Loop brand – I call her my muse! I moved to London for work, but for practical reasons I had to leave her with my parents in Scotland. I was devastated. So, I still felt close to her, my parents would regularly send me pictures of her and I would often use these photos to create embroidery.
One Christmas, I decided to make everyone in my family a ‘Koko’ cushion, including for myself and my best friend, who often looks after Koko. It went down a storm, and soon I had requests from people I didn’t even know. That was the start of Hoop n Loop. It all happened very suddenly, so I quickly invested in an industrial embroidery machine and I have not stopped since.
I’d studied Fashion Design in Manchester Met and when I started Hoop n Loop, I was working as a full-time creative pattern cutter, so it made the most sense to embroider onto clothing and bags where I had the most knowledge.
Most designers who love dogs end up doing dog-clothing. You found a very different approach to combine the two. What inspired you?
I suppose it would seem obvious for me to create dog-clothing, but I loved drawing and embroidery in my downtime and found it a great way to relax and switch off, and so began my passion project.
Do people get the idea at first glance, or do they assume these are “common” dog portraits?
I tried my best to promote the brand with carefully thought out photo shoots and words like ‘personalised’ or ‘bespoke’ to emphasise the fact that they are all individual. Most people get the idea quickly… some just take a little longer to realise what they are – but as long as they love them, I am happy.
What has been your most unusual customer request?
My most unusual request to date has been for a pair of bearded dragons to be made on cushions. I was a little nervous to take the order at first, but it’s good to challenge yourself and the result was worth it.
You also support dog rescue charity Wild at Heart Foundation (WaHF). How did that come up?
I had a friend who told me about WaHF and I began following their stories. I was truly moved by the amazing team, who would do anything to help dogs around the world. So, I contacted them and decided I would do my part. I donate 10% of the profit of each personalised cushion to the foundation.
Tell us about your dog. Does Koko help with the orders?
I wish Koko could help with my orders! I do need an extra set of paws, especially around Christmas time. However, Koko is still living in Scotland with my parents. I plan to have her in London with me very soon – hopefully!
And finally, if someone wants to order a present for a special occasion, what is your turnaround time?
At the moment, it is around two-week turnaround time. If you are a little late, I can try to push things forward, but please don’t leave it too late.