Inspiring Gardens

Denman Home and Garden Tour—set for May 9 and 10— showcases the unique features of Island living.

With a prototype designed, the manufacturing process secured, and the “Reduce Your Pawprint” logo designed, WAGZ put out an official call for denim cast-offs in October 2008.  They expected to receive a couple of hundred pairs of blue jeans during an initial flurry of interest.  Six months later, Weston grins as he sits in a wicker chair in his pet food store.  He is still surrounded by stacks of donated denim!

Rose Fulcher and Brian DesLauriers from the Beaufort Association show Bill Weston the latest Wagz Bagz they have created.

Rose Fulcher and Brian DesLauriers from the Beaufort Association show Bill Weston the latest Wagz Bagz they have created.

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

“We have received over 1,000 pairs of jeans so far and people keep coming in to drop off more,” he says proudly.  “What really surprised me at first was that it wasn’t just our regular clients who were bringing us blue jeans.  We are seeing people of all ages, from all walks of life—both pet owners and non-pet owners alike!   Last fall, people who had never been in the store before would walk past our window display stacked with old jeans and then come in to ask what they were all about.  The next time we saw them they would have a big smile and some jeans to donate.”

Adds Wendy Scott:  “People are so happy that their old jeans can finally be put to good use,” she says.  “And being practical is exactly what Wagz had in mind when we began researching cloth bags as an alternative to plastic bags for our customers.”

Not only had the folks at Wagz underestimated the generosity of the people in the Comox Valley and beyond, they were soon reminded that jeans come in vast range of colors. Denim comes in every shade of blue, as well as a rainbow of other hues, including grey, black, white, purple, pink, green and more.  The creative people at Beaufort have fun using this broad color palette of cotton fabric, which helps ensure that every single Wagz Bag is truly unique.

Weston and Scott are thrilled that they also under-estimated the popularity of WAGZ Bagz.  Initial guesstimates were to produce and sell about 100 bags at $5.99, plus taxes. Today, more than 200 bags have already been sold and Weston recently received a call for a special order of 100 bags from the owner of a bike repair shop.  The business owner wants to substitute Wagz Bagz for the plastic bags he now uses to hold the various parts for each bike as it is being repaired. Wagz Bagz were perfect, he said, because their durability allows them to be washed and re-used over and over again.

Banking on the success of Wagz Bagz, Wagz and Quest are now embarking on a new project that expands the product line and further promotes the “Reduce your Pawprint” branding.  They are now accepting donations of fleece and “faux fur” fabric to make dog toys and pet beds with removable covers.

At Wagz, this dogged determination, dedication and commitment to environmental responsibility does not start or stop with shopping bags.  It is woven into the corporate culture of the company.  Everything sold in the store has been substantially researched to ensure it is as environmentally friendly as possible.  Pet products, such as toys, clothing and beds, must be durable, have minimal product packaging, contain earth-friendly or recycled materials, and be manufactured using environmentally responsible processes.

Animal foods must meet the same criteria but also must contain healthy, natural ingredients.  Much of the pet food is raw and frozen product from 10 different manufacturers.  It is contained in a dozen or so freezers that fill the back of the store. Even the poop bags they sell are biodegradable!

“Wagz doesn’t see itself as a store that simply sells pet food and accessories,” says Scott. “We promote respect for companion animals, social and environmental responsibility, and building community.  Our mandate is to help families care for their animal companions by educating them about healthy lifestyles for dogs and cats, by supporting community initiatives that nurture healthy lifestyles for people and pets, and by providing products that are healthy for animals, our community and our planet.”

By interacting with and educating their clients (human and animal) Wagz employees develop relationships that, in many cases, blossom into genuine friendships.  Although the company has only been in business for about five years, they are thoroughly enjoying being a part of the lives of many of the dogs and cats in the Comox Valley.  They love it when clients bring in newly-acquired puppies and kittens for a meet and greet.  And, as emotionally difficult as it as it may be at times, they also cherish the times when a client brings in a geriatric pet for a final farewell.

Wagz community involvement also includes support of many no-kill animal rescue associations and individuals who rescue dogs and cats.  And they sponsor a monthly ‘Wagz Walkers’ event to raise money for Lilli House.  In addition to raising money, the Wagz Walkers further reduce our environmental pawprint by promoting walking as a healthy lifestyle option.

“To truly reduce our environmental pawprint, we have to consider both the environment, the community as a whole, and the individuals within that community,” says Weston. “We have to do more than simply reuse a shopping bag.  The Wagz Bagz project provides multiple benefits for everyone.  People feel good about donating their jeans; Beaufort participants who make Wagz Bagz get paid for what they are doing, while gaining valuable work experience on a fun project.  And we can offer our clients trendy, affordable and genuinely earth-friendly bags.”

“We are grateful that the community has supported this project so well,” adds Susan Bunn of the Beaufort Association. “And we are grateful that Wagz asked the Beaufort Association to partner with them on this unique project.  Wendy and Bill’s commitment to the environment and vision of community make this project possible and ensures a ‘win-win’ for everyone.”

If you would like more information on Wagz Bagz or to donate jeans, fleece or faux fur fabric, drop by Wagz Lifestyles for Dogs and Cats, 463 5th Street, Downtown Courtenay or call 250.338.6716.
“The Wags Bagz project provides multiple benefits for everyone,” says Bill Weston, at Wagz with his dog Fergus and some of the products created by the Beaufort Association with the donated denim.

Last fall, Bill Weston, Darin Bellham and Wendy Scott, co-owners of Wagz Lifestyles for Dogs and Cats, were researching options and kicking around ideas about how they could provide their clients with truly environmentally responsible shopping bags.  Despite the myriad of commercial products on the market today, Weston says they just couldn’t find a shopping bag that met all of their criteria.  None were really “environmentally friendly.”

“I think it is fabulous that people are becoming more conscientious about the number of plastic bags that are ending up in the landfill,” says Weston, “but I can’t help but think that, in some ways, with some types of re-usable bags, we are simply substituting one problem product with another.  Sure, many people are reusing alternatives to plastic shopping bags more than ever.  The problem is that many of these ‘re-usable’ bags are still being manufactured using chemical products.  They are not very durable [so they don’t last that long] and they ultimately end up in a landfill where they will never decompose, along with thousands of traditional plastic bags.”

One day, it dawned on Weston that he was, quite literally, sitting on a potential gold mine—his blue jeans!  Denim fabric is made of cotton, which is a 100 per cent natural and completely biodegradable product.  And, since old blue jeans are a finished product, there would be no need to use any chemicals to “manufacture” the “raw materials” to make a line of reusable bags for use and sale at Wagz holistic and raw pet food and accessories store in Courtenay.

Weston knew that many people have old jeans they no longer wear but simply haven’t gotten around to recycling.  Perhaps the “spare” jeans are tattered and worn.  Maybe they are part of someone’s “One day I’m going to lose enough weight to fit in them again” wardrobe.  Perhaps they’re simply out of style.  Whatever the reason, he suspected that there could potentially be hundreds of used blue jeans stacked in closets in the Comox Valley.

“We decided that if we could get people to donate their old blue jeans, we could re-manufacture them into reusable, durable shopping bags,” says Weston.  “In doing so, it would be one way that we could reduce our environmental footprint… or, in the case of Wagz, our ‘pawprint.’
“We contacted the Beaufort Association to see if they would be interested in developing an innovative partnership with us. They were already supplying us with pet beds and dog coats made from recycled fabric, so we thought it would be a great way to expand on that program.”
Susan Bunn, executive director of the Courtenay-based Beaufort Association for the Mentally Handicapped, was thrilled with the concept. “Wagz Bagz was a project I knew our people would really enjoy,” she says.

The Beaufort Association’s Quest program offers a variety of services focusing on personal development and community involvement opportunities for adults with mental and physical challenges.  Sewing facilities were already in place, so the jean bag idea was a perfect fit.
Considering that Quest is all about empowering people with developmental and other ability challenges, the participants are not volunteers.  They are paid for their work. (They are, however, assisted by a team of several volunteers from the community.)  Quest provides the participants with a place to work on various projects, then guides and facilitates their activities with the appropriate training, equipment and support.

Recognizing the vital contribution that the Quest participants would be making for this project, the people at WAGZ made the decision to donate all proceeds from the sale of Wagz Bagz directly back to Beaufort.

Quest participants Brian, Danya, Leona, John, Rae, Mary, Deb, Dave and others would look after the majority of the cutting, sewing, serging, silk screening, ironing and quality control processes used in constructing Wagz Bagz.  Andy McDougall, silk screen guru of the Comox Valley, agreed to provide technical assistance with the intricate step of silk screening the fabric.  A two-color silk screen logo was designed and would be applied using non-toxic, biodegradable, water-based inks.

Weston says that the finished product is carefully constructed and expertly sewn to last for many years. The team at Beaufort has set up a production process that ensures that no scraps of cloth, seams, zippers or rivets are wasted.