When Sara came into Rashi Narag’s life with sloppy kisses and the warmest of hugs, she wanted to shower her with high-quality and meaningful toys, clothes, and products. But that was in 2008 when pets were largely seen through the lens of ownership. Sara, however, was Narang’s family, and so she set out on a mission to build her what the world couldn’t give her yet.
With this goal in mind, she started Heads Up For Tails (HUFTs) at the age of 24, experimenting with anything she could create at home, ranging from soft furnishing to clothes. The first product to emerge out of that attempt was a bed for Sara. Narang had a clear idea from the beginning: to enable pet parents to celebrate the best lives with their pets. This year, HUFTs completed 15 years of doing that and more.
Also read: How Heads Up For Tails turned pet owners into pet parents
HUFTs have come a long way from starting as a pop-up store in Saket, Delhi. Today there are more than 75 retail outlets across India and a website for online shoppers. The HUFT Foundation works towards the welfare of animals through nutrition, safety and wellness initiatives.
Lounge caught up with Narang to talk about the pet care industry today, the challenges she faced in this journey, and her future plans. Here are edited excerpts:
In the last 15 years, how has the pet care industry changed?
When we started, there was no category for pet accessories and lifestyle solutions within the pet industry. The market was predominantly full of low-quality toys, treats and food. There was no manufacturing capacity in India and no recognition of the category as a sizeable industry or investment.
The industry today has a wider category supported by allied services. Pets are no longer accessories to the household but are loved as members of the family. This is one of the biggest changes that we are seeing in the consumer mindset and industry approach.
What are some of the challenges you faced in this journey?
Being in the pet care industry was considered to be audacious and ahead of its time. There was strong social resistance to the idea of someone building a career in the pet-care space, specifically, a woman entrepreneur in 2008.
There was no supply chain, products, or vendors, and we had to start from scratch. No one had done something like this before in India. While it was exciting in many ways, it was also a daunting task. A lot of vendors were offended because I asked them to build products for cats and dogs. I took my products to about 200 pet stores, and all of them refused to sell them because they couldn’t imagine there is a market for them.
However, when people closed their doors and minds, we took big bets of our own and built a brand that outlasted everyone’s pessimism.
How did you create a market for your products?
We never focused on creating the market but on creating a culture and enabling behavioural changes. I believe that HUFTs is a culture enabler. We spend our time on community programmes, education initiatives, awareness camps, training and sensitisation events. We have a robust community of HUFT Tribe members across 15 cities, who are championing the value system. When people started to go through the behaviour change curve, leading from ‘ownership’ to ‘parenting’—we saw them asking more relevant questions about products, and services and that has helped create a market demand, which we are deeply invested in solving for.
Often the Indie dogs are not treated the same as other breeds. Has their inclusion been a focus in this journey?
Indies are the best! They are the most gentle, loving, intelligent, and beautiful friends you can have. We, at HUFT, have adopted over 150 indie dogs and cats across our stores, offices and warehouses. We are encouraging more people to show their Indie pride through multiple campaigns. We recently organised India’s largest Dogathon, which was done across nine cities simultaneously to raise funds for Indies and shelters.
Our website has a section dedicated to Indies and we make multiple products through the HUFTs foundation that cater to Indies. We are hoping that more people start to see Indies as the right choice, and they follow our #AdoptDontShop mission.
Are eco-friendly and sustainable products a part of your long-term goals?
We have committed finances, resources and talent to ensure that we become 80% plastic-neutral and carbon efficient in the next five to six years. We only use recycled PET and our plastic packaging is being replaced with shredded honeycombed cardboard strips, which is a unique technology that we have invested in. We have also developed an eco-friendly cat litter. Made with recycled newsprint, it reduces the waste footprint of cat households by almost five to six kgs every month, which is a huge shift.
Our Paws For Earth range of toys are made with upcycled materials. Also, we have a range of biodegradable pet wipes and all our stuffing in beds & toys is made with recycled PET bottles that are made into fibre. We are committed to making things that are good for pets, and the planet.
What are your plans for the future? Are there new products in the works?
There are over 50 new India-first and-specific products in the pipeline. The ones that I am excited about include food items YumNums, a range of soft chew treats that are made with non-GMO and high-quality real ingredients and Goat Milk Cookies, a product that caters to the rising demands of non-lactose products and as a replacement of cow’s milk which might cause gut allergies.
New care products include Bubble Up shampoo, a new range of non-toxic, non-Paraben, deep cleaning, fragrant, luxurious and gentle shampoos that are specially designed for long-coat, short-coat, puppies and kittens, and Pee Lock Powder, a revolutionary surface cleaning powder that turns into jelly when it comes in contact with any liquid.
Nature’s Hug Vegan Dog Food, a product by Nature’s Hug is Canada’s leading vegan pet food is also available and this hypoallergenic pet food is suitable for junior and adult dogs. We are also in the process of launching our app and a loyalty programme in the next month.
Also read: A handy guide to alternative medicine for your pets