caroline denyer and frida the grenchie*
(*THAT'S FRENCH BULLDOG - BRUSSELS GRIFFON CROSS)
Words: Simon Glazin Pictures: Rachel Oates
It was last year when a press release landed in my inbox telling me all about the new collection of Growlees collar charms: 'I don't walk, I vogue', 'I'm no basic bitch', 'SIT.STAY.SLAY'. Imagine Caroline's brainstorming session to come up with new slogans!
I met Caroline after a few too many cocktails at a doggy event, and when she told me that she was actually a trained lawyer, and then worked in government relations for 13 years, I was shocked to say the least. Not that having a side business is uncommon these days, but Growlees is so tongue-in-cheek, so much fun, you just wouldn't immediately put the two together.
A few drinks in though, and I totally got Caroline's sense of humour. She's hilarious. And Frida is quite amazing too. Here, she tells me all about her accessories business, Growlmama, that she is trying to get off the ground, and how Frida fits into her life...
On life with Frida: Frida is my life. She’s the inspiration and muse for my businesses Growlees and Growlmama and my official "daughter-in-a-dogsuit”. We are both completely, hopelessly and happily co-dependent. I love that she has boundless energy and still wants to play with every dog like a puppy (she is 3.5 years old) . I love that she likes the big dogs too. Her funny face makes people laugh and scream in equal measure, which always makes for interesting conversations (or not) and has afforded me so many new connections with people in the sometimes lonely city of London. I can’t imagine life without her.
On work: I have been building my business Growlmama (a range of luxury leather dog and human accessories) since 2015 (it is yet to launch but close!). While working on Growlmama I have also launched another business: Growlees - a range of fun statement collar charms and t-shirts for outspoken pups and their parents.
Growlees was inspired by my daughter-in-a-dogsuit, Frida, as a way for her and her doggy friends to express their unique and special personalities. It started as a bit of fun while I worked on my Growlmama range but it took off.
Growlmama started as I saw a gap in the market for stylish and functional products for people who love dogs. I wanted something simple, beautiful, high quality, functional and cool (think Acne for Dogs) and couldn’t find anything for Frida that matched my minimal style ( I don’t do doggy stuff and I am not blingy or preppy, so I wanted to create something - she say’s sounding like a wanker - future classic so to speak - simple, beautiful and with an edge but also practical - accessories that people would covet even if they didn’t have a dog.) No bones and no paws permitted! I have all the designs, the packaging, the brand, the blog now it’s just about getting the product to meet our standards and out into the market. Wealthy benefactors/investors please apply!
I've loved meeting all of the incredible people along the way and the opportunity to do something creative which is a complete departure from my previous life as a lawyer and lobbyist for a big multinational. Dog people are the best people!
On work before Growlmama: I trained as a lawyer in Sydney and then transitioned straight away into government relations, corporate communications and lobbying (are you asleep yet?). I had 13 wonderful years travelling the world and working with a great bunch of people but I got tired of the corporate world. My mum’s illness in Australia gave me the final push to cut ties with the industry that I knew so I could spend more time with her. I have always had a love of design so I took the opportunity of this major break to try something more creative.
On a careen plan B: I haven't had one up until now, but I am looking for it! Start-ups are hard without finance or an ancillary income!
On her daily routine: This is when life becomes a little dull.
In the last year or so my lifestyle has become 100% focussed on my new businesses (and my dog).
I get up, walk Frida along the Thames for about 1.5 hours (she is 100% terrieriest so needs a lot to wear her out) then I head home to work on Growlees. Fulfilling orders, responding to customers and wholesalers, pushing out media releases, running promotions while trying to find time for strategy new business opportunities.
Fortunately Frida reminds me to take a break a few times a day! My former life of weekend jaunts to Spain and fine dining are a distant memory but it’s all worth it, not least because I get to spend time with my dog.
On her love of art: I have always had a passion for art and design but when I moved to London nine years ago it reached another level. In the absence of Sydney beaches to distract me and with so many great galleries and shows on my doorstep I rediscovered my love of looking at (and sometimes buying) art.
I have art from China, Australia, the US and Europe, some of it by well-known artists but mostly not. I would never want to sell any of it as I bought it for love not money. Having moved countries a few times with my former job and always renting art has been a way to make my house feel like home wherever I am.
More recently my love of art has naturally flowed into my Growlmama instagram account and blog and resulted in a wonder wall of Frida-inspired works by so many talented people: Walter Glassof, Sandrine Boulet, Bow Wow Sketch, Alex-May Hughes, Faye Moorhouse, Kathy Halper, Wilfrid Wood, Dogs Can Bark, Mia Loves Jay and even a miniature Frida carved in Crayola Crayon (100% crazy dog lady-style). Its beautiful and nuts all at the same time and I’m not done yet.
French artist, Walter Glassof has become one of my favourites, not just for his art but because he took a punt on my new brand Growlees and designed the packaging for our collar charms. And more recently our line of statement t-shirts - he has so much talent and experience and I am forever in his debt.
On her favourite Frida 'tail': I love her fantastic gnashers and her chandel-ears (sic), in fact the features that make her appeal so divisive (she is called both cute and ugly on a daily basis). Mostly I love her personality. She is cheeky AF, mad-as-a-hatter, has absolutely no fear and is also so loving. And I’m not the only one who loves her. There is an elderly gentleman who awaits our daily trip to the the shops each day to ply her with treats!
On what's next for Growlmama: If all goes to plan we will launch a beautifully crafted and functional range of leather accessories for dogs and their parents. Not dog accessories for people but a fashion accessories for dog-owners, so to speak. Watch this space (and cross your fingers). For Grolwees, we will continue to expand our range of collar charms and t-shirts and have a few other ideas up our sleeve. We want to make our customers happy so tell us what you want!
One thing people should know about her: I think I’ve said too much already...