98% Bozeman Made Pet Products: West Paw Design
Ramona Mead | Monday Mar. 31st, 2014
Spring is here! The days are getting longer, and the lengthy Montana winter is mostly behind us (hopefully!). April is a month when many Bozemanites start thinking about their warm weather outdoor hobbies like hiking and gardening, but getting outside to play with their dogs and Earth Day activities are probably at the top of the list. When it comes to these subjects, the hardworking folks over at West Paw Design are thinking about them year round!
This local company has been in my peripheral vision for a while. I’d seen their products in stores around town and when I traveled to visit my family on the east coast last May (“Hey look, that company is in Bozeman!”). Later, their name popped up on a list of companies with jobs available at the placement service I was working for last summer. Then my friend Chris, knowing my passion for pets, exclaimed last fall “I got a great job with an awesome company called West Paw Design, you should check them out!”
When I wanted a topic for this issue that would combine pets and environmental issues, I knew it was time to give West Paw Design my full attention and see exactly what they’re all about. Now I can’t believe more people don’t know about this amazing company that sits here among us doing so many wonderful things for our planet and bringing joy to our pets. The first step I took to learn more about West Paw was taking Chris’ advice and buying a few of their unique toys for my dogs. I let her pick them out using her complete knowledge of the products and my strict criteria: my little Boston likes fuzzy things that squeak, but my big guy will destroy them or they’ll play with it together and tug-o-war off any limbs/tails plus anything plastic or rubber is typically destroyed immediately or completely ignored. We settled on two Zogoflex® toys and a Salsa. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, hang in there and I’ll explain!) This was the first sign that the crew at West Paw is a fun bunch. Everything they make has an amusing name, comes in a bunch of colors and looks a little bit silly! These aren’t the usual square foam dog beds you buy at a box store or the smelly, boring rubber bones my pooches have turned their noses up at.
West Paw makes 100% of their products in the U.S.A, with only about 2% of that being outside of Bozeman. Wherever possible they use materials that are U.S.A. sourced as well. The Zogoflex® toys I mentioned are made from their own proprietary material that is non-toxic, BPA free, phthalate free, safe to go on the top shelf in the dish washer and are endlessly recyclable. In fact, customers can participate in the company’s Loop ™by sending back old toys so they can be made into new ones! When it comes to recyclable materials, West Paw certainly doesn’t stop with Zogoflex ®. Their exclusive Intelliloft ® fiber is made from recycled plastic soda bottles and is used for several different styles of beds and toys. Since 2006 they’ve kept over 8 million soda bottles out of landfills!
I knew I wanted to see the West Paw facility and meet the people who make the decisions and create these interesting products when researching this article. I figured they would be willing to give me a tour, but what I didn’t expect was the true friendliness I was shown and the transparency the company practices and obviously believes in. Damon Ortega led me on a tour of the production part of the facility. It’s clear he’s proud of what’s going on there, as he should be. Before arriving at their office/factory just east of Bozeman on the Frontage Road, I did my homework and spent some time on West Paw’s website. Of course I knew the products were manufactured here but somehow that didn’t prepare me for seeing the employees physically sewing by hand, right there! There are spools of colorful, patterned fabrics, stacks of dogs beds, bins of googly eyes and plastic squeakers. This is where the magic happens! Here is where I saw the fuzzy monster toys like the Salsa my dogs loved, along with their counter parts, some without stuffing (for dogs who remove it) there big toys, small toys and yes even some cats toys.
Damon took time to make sure I saw every corner of the facility, that I touched any fabric or dog toy that I wanted to, that I knew what the machines look like and what each one does in the production process. He explained where all the materials come from and why. Of course they want to get as much of their materials from the U.S.A. as they can but sometimes that isn’t physically possible. It’s clear that every decision made at the company, down to what kind of paper they use, is made carefully with a community mindset.
Another exceptional thing about West Paw is that in August of 2013 they became a Certified B Corporation. To become a B Corp, a company volunteers themselves to be certified by the B Lab. This means they are choosing to meet higher standards of environmental and social performance and accountability, and strive to create high quality jobs. There are 987 B Corps in 32 countries in 60 different industries, companies like Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s and New Belgium Brewing Co. West Paw Design is the only company in the pet product industry (For more information see www.bcorporation.net)
Besides their products, West Paw also takes a lot of pride in their employees. In March, they were named an Employer of the Year by Bozeman Job Services. During my time at West Paw I was introduced to many happy employees, I was even able to speak to the owner. West Paw Designs was started by owner Spencer Williams in 1996 and three of his original employees are still with him to this day. I think this says a great deal about him as a business owner. He speaks about the importance of sticking to his values and told me about his roots coming from a ranching family, being aware of how treating the earth has consequences. I was surprised that I was even given time with the owner of the company, but he was relaxed and genuine and he seemed happy to answer my questions, which I’m sure he’s been asked countless times. As I left his office, he called behind me “Have a super day!”
If you like buying cool stuff for your pets and you want to be in on the green movement, spend some time at West Paw’s website www.westpawdesign.com. I haven’t done justice at explaining all the amazing things they’re doing over there. I can’t stress enough that it’s a great group of people who are truly passionate about what they’re doing!