7 questions with Major Darling CEO Laura Davis

The dog accessory company manufactures collars and leashes from the Capital City.

Major players of Major Darling stand in their studio.

From left to right, assistant studio manager Maria Vung, Open Arms CEO Meg Erskin, Major Darling CEO Laura Davis, and Open Arms studio director Emily Sidle.

Photo by ATXtoday

Table of Contents

Austinites are known for their love of two things: their fur babies and keeping Austin local.

By shopping at Major Darling, a locally based dog supply company supporting shelter animals and women in the community, residents can feed two birds with one scone.

Partnering with Open Arms, a division of the Austin-based Multicultural Refugee Coalition, Major Darling hires only refugee women — who have been legally resettled in the US — providing them with livable wages, English as a second language training, existing skill training, and flexible hours.

We sat down with Major Darling founder and CEO Laura Davis and Open Arms CEO Meg Erskin to talk about how their mission works.

When, why, and how did Major Darling begin?

Laura: I am a huge animal lover, but I actually started as a furniture designer. I would go overseas to China and places like that where it was so amazing seeing these things built, but I really had no connection to them being made. I realized having ties to manufacturing that is right here was more of my passion.

I really love dogs, so I keep combining my passions, and I actually started volunteering at Austin Pets Alive! I really wanted to focus on something a little bit fun, but with local manufacturing and knowing who’s making products.

[Major Darling] started making collars, bandanas, and leashes in the summer of 2019, right before the pandemic, which was naturally a fun time to start a business. It was actually started as a little side project of the company that I had already started, called Newton Supply Co.

Major Darling's studio, with sewing machines and bolts of fabric in the background.

Open arms is currently renting a work space inside of a church.

Photo by ATXtoday

When you say local manufacturers, what exactly does that mean?

Laura: Everything is made in Austin. We have the raw materials. It gets cut, sewn and then boxed up all right here. It never leaves this room really which is kind of cool, you see each part of it.

Meg: Not only does local manufacturing keep your dollars here in your own community, but it also helps in its sustainability mission. If you’re trying to do mass production, let’s say overseas, you have to produce on a very large scale. Then if those aren’t sold, they typically go into an overstock situation, and I think it contributes to a lot of waste in the industry. Whereas because we’re here, everything can be so nimble, you don’t have a lot of fabric waste, or waste, really, in general.

Can you tell me more about the women who work here?

Meg: They’re making a fair wage by working at Open Arms, and they’re doing something that they bring a lot of skill and interest in. We started to provide community-based support when we first began many years ago, but as we’ve evolved into the social enterprise space, our mission is to provide livelihood opportunities for refugees through skills-based education and social entrepreneurship.

I think that a lot of people are just working a job that they don’t really care about too much, they would hardly say that that’s their livelihood. We believe that the word “livelihood” is something that people really bring their own skills, expertise, and ways of upward mobility to. And we feel that way about the refugee women we employ.

A photo of a dog on a Major Darling tag.

Girly is one of the dogs currently featured on Major Darling’s collars.

Photo by ATXtoday

How does Major Darling help support shelter pets?

Laura: We market long-stay dogs at the shelter. All the dogs on the website or tags are all long-stay shelter dogs, so we do photo shoots with dogs, and print their photos and names [onto the tags].

When I first started working with APA! on putting adoptable dogs on the tags it was like, “We have great bad news. So and so was already adopted.” So we just change them up as we reprint them and some of the dogs get adopted.

Have you considered making cat supplies?

Laura: I’m working on prototypes and materials sourcing at home. We’re at the point where it’s going to be similar to the leashes, once I’ve figured out the right materials, then I’ll work with Maria and we’ll figure out the best way to make them.

Can you pitch me on why Austinites should support Major Darling?

Laura: If you look at all aspects of the business, from marketing to manufacturing, everything is really supporting this community. It’s made here, it’s designed here, it promotes shelter dogs that are in this city. It’s really as local as you can get. We are in a lot of local stores, which is awesome to see how supportive the community is.

Meg: You can’t do this sort of thing when you’re doing it at a large scale. ... The other thing I wanted to share is that the products are very well-made. The product stands alone, they’re fun, and to know how many levels of impact [Major Darling] actually has is pretty incredible.

An overhead view of Laura's workspace, covered with lanyards and crafting materials.

One of Laura’s favorite products is the double handle leash, which allows for easy shortening.

Photo by ATXtoday

Laura: We put in a ton of these new colors, different combos where people can go online and pick exactly what they want. That’s been the most popular thing by far. You can say, “I want orange on this green on this part,” then it goes on the list, and then it gets cut and sewn, and boxed up right here.

Where can Austinites find Major Darling accessories?

Laura: We are in Tomlinson’s, some other local stores, and probably about 100 stores across the nation or Canada. But all of our organization has been in us everything made here.

Get more information on Major Darling here.

More from ATXtoday