The paw trail that led this startup to design shoes for dogs

From 2014 to 2019, Mumbai-based consultants Aneesha Pillai and Deepak Gupta were providing consulting services to companies such as L&T and Reliance Group to help them adopt emerging technologies. However, the couple, who are electronics engineers by qualification, wanted to move into product designing and creation, for that was their true love. But little did they know that they would soon be designing and creating shoes for dogs.

“We had done prototyping and product development. We had built a service business in the past and wanted to build a D2C product business. We were looking for an enticing and challenging problem statement which would really make a difference in the lives of the people we serve,” says Aneesha.

This got them talking to different kinds of people. And one such person was a dog parent. One conversation led to another and soon they ended up talking to over 200 dog parents. As they spoke to them, the couple realised the pain points dog parents were facing while taking care of their pets.

The issues that particularly interested Aneesha and Deepak were the ones pertaining to dogs’ paws. Their paws sustained injuries from stones and glass pieces while walking on the road. They also got dirty often and messed up the house.

The duo wondered if shoes would help prevent these issues. But when they asked some dog parents if they would buy shoes for their dogs, most of them seemed sceptical.

However, this did not deter the couple and they decided to go ahead and make shoes for dogs for two reasons. First, they felt this was a real problem that dog parents faced and, secondly, they just loved the idea.

Aneesha and Deepak used balloons around dogs’ paws, as they were waterproof and prevented paws from getting dirty. As a concept, this seemed to work. So, the couple designed the first prototype of dog shoes, called Zoof Boots, using natural rubber. These boots prevented paws from getting dirty or hurt, which were among the major concerns of dog parents.

In July 2019, the duo set up the startup ‘Zoof Pets’, which, according to the founders, is the only startup in India to design and manufacture dog shoes.

The first few trots

Deepak and Aneesha designed and handmade 100 Zoof Boots in July-August of 2019 and tried to sell them on Instagram. They were sold out in two days. That’s when they knew they had hit upon a winning idea.

Buoyed by the initial response to their shoes, the founders began making more shoes by hand in one of the rooms at Aneesha’s mother’s house. Three months after selling shoes via Instagram, they set up their own website to sell their products.

When the duo started getting a significant number of orders, they decided to take up space on rent in a factory. They bought the required equipment and materials and were all set to recruit people when the lockdown happened in March 2020. “We had two options. One, shut down our operations. Two, figure a way out. We took the second option,” says Aneesha.

They divided the production between themselves and their R&D head, Hatim Saifee. Aneesha’s parents helped them with packaging and shipping, once the lockdown restrictions were lifted. The team finally moved all production to the factory in November 2020.

They also built their own machine in March 2021 to automate the making of their flagship product, Zoof Boots. The rest of the shoes are made using industrial sewing machines.

Today, the startup sells five kinds of dog shoes, a type of raincoat, waterproof collars, leashes, and a paw balm for dogs.

Glado, Deepanti’s pet was Zoof Pets’ first customer and owns/has owned 25 sets of shoes!

Paw- and parent-friendly

Deepanti Garg, a Mumbai-based entrepreneur and founder of two companies, was desperately trying to find dog shoes for her pet, Glado. “I had heard of a neighbour’s pet getting hurt and I didn’t want the same for Glado,” says Deepanti.

Her search for dog shoes on Instagram led her to Zoof Pets. She immediately placed an order for a set of Zoof Boots for Glado, which she loved. Since then, she has bought 25 sets of dog shoes from Zoof. It seems Glado is the proud owner of all the products of Zoof Pets.

Nidhi Goyal, a textile designer who runs a business, came across Zoof Pets when the company ran a contest on Valentine’s Day a couple of years ago. She won the contest and received a set of Zoof Boots.

“I had never seen anything like this before in India. The main reasons why I love Zoof Pets are because Aneesha helps you with all the details you might need, especially the paw size, which is difficult to measure and, two, the shoes are very affordable,” she says.

By her own admission, Nidhi is a “paranoid mum”, but it’s difficult for her to control where her pet, Champ, goes. Hence, the shoes are very useful, she says.

Meet Nidhi’s baby, Champ, who is wearing a limited edition of Zoof Boots

Once, bubble gum got stuck on Champ’s paw and his entire paw had to be shaved off. Shoes help prevent such incidents, says Nidhi, who has bought eight sets of dog shoes from Zoof Pets so far. “Plus, Champ goes everywhere (outside) and is all over the place (inside the house), including the couch. The shoes help in such cases.”

Besides preventing paws from getting dirty or injured, the shoes also help prevent ticks and infections (especially in the monsoon season), paw burns during summer, hip dysplasia (which is hereditary and common in larger dogs), and arthritis.

“There are also monetary benefits for dog parents as the cost of treatment outweighs that of the dog shoes,” says Aneesha.

Will wearing shoes affect the dog’s natural ability to walk or run? Anisha explains, “Just like toddlers, dogs take a day or two to get used to shoes. If the shoe is well-fitting, it does not interfere with the dog’s natural ability to walk or run. We can get most of the dogs to get used to a well-fitting shoe using positive reinforcement—treats, praises, a game of fetch, or a quick walk outside (for outdoor shoes).”

Spoilt for choice

The startup makes five kinds of shoes—Boots (the flagship product), Casuals, Plops, Grips, and Ethnic, each serving a different purpose.

The casual shoes are made of soft-textured canvas with an anti-slip sole and a double-velcro fastening. “These shoes are breathable and help keep dog paws cool, especially during scorching heat,” explains Aneesha.

Zoof Grips are anti-slip indoor shoes that provide traction on slippery surfaces. “In modern houses, pups and dogs generally tend to slip and fall on marbled or tiled flooring. This may result in injuries and could turn into a mobility issue. Grips help prevent this,” says Aneesha. Zoof Grips shoes also help dogs with conditions such as hip dysplasia and arthritis.

The price of Zoof Boots, which are sold as a set of eight pieces, starts from Rs 799. The price varies depending on the paw size. Plops, Casuals and Grips cost between Rs 1,499 and Rs 1,999 and are sold as sets of four.

Check out Glado’s shoe collection!

Designing dog shoes is no easy game

Getting the material, design and fit right, keeping in mind the dog’s comfort and the convenience of the parent, is a challenging task. The design team also has to ensure that the shoes they design work across different breeds.

For each kind of shoe Zoof Pets decides to make, it relies on two main sources of information—research papers on dogs and practical experiments conducted with dog parents and their pets. For every kind of shoe and every iteration that is made, the prototype is sent to at least 25 dog parents.

The dog’s comfort depends on factors such as gait, paw structure, and position of the dewclaws. From the parent’s point of view, these are some of the things considered: Is it easy for the parent to put the shoes on their dog’s paws? Do the shoes fit well and not come off easily? Are they easy to wash?

Zoof Plops – its water-resistant, outdoor shoes

‘Paw’sitive numbers

Zoof Pets has sold around 10,000 sets of shoes in the last three years. The startup currently sells 400-500 shoes per month, on average, and is seeing a 20-25% month-on-month growth. Repeat customers contribute 19-25% of sales every month.

The majority of Zoof Pets’ customers are parents of breeds such as Shih Tzu, Indies, Labrador, Golden Retriever, Beagle and Lhasa, from the metropolitan cities of India. Bengaluru contributes 35% of sales followed by Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai. Most of Zoof Pets’ sales comes from social media and word-of-mouth publicity, while one-third comes from paid channels.

The Mumbai-based startup is bootstrapped and generates enough revenues for the founders to plough money back into the business to make more products and iterations. “We are comfortable with our finances at the moment. We may raise capital in the future,” says Aneesha.

The Zoof Pets team has 23 members, of which 17 are engaged in production and three are in the customer experience team. One person heads R&D. Seven freelancers help with marketing efforts.

How do I look?

What’s next on the trail?

When the company’s first customer Deepanti got married earlier this year, she asked Zoof Pets to make five sets of ethnic shoes for her dog Glado, which would match her outfits. A video of Glado wearing ethnic shoes at Deepanti’s wedding went viral (it had over 4 lakh likes on Instagram), and soon Zoof Pets launched another category of shoes.

After ethnic shoes, the next on the list are adventure shoes. And Zoof Pets has a very precise plan for this. “Every dog walks and runs differently. We are planning to attach sensors to the prototype of the adventure shoes to understand where the pressure points are. The data will help us come up with good designs,” says Aneesha.

Is Glado ready to add another set of shoes to his already huge collection? Do we hear a “woof-woof”?