Introducing Leah of ‘Ilio and Co, the Creative Behind Our Dog Collars and Leashes
Our newest collaboration with Leah, the maker ‘Ilio and Co, who specializes in making "up-cycled" dog accessories on the islands of Hawaii. ‘Ilio means “dog” in Hawaiian (pronounced “ee-lee-oh”).
Inspired by the beautiful prints and colors on aloha shirts from an antique store, Leah of ‘Ilio and Co wanted to make something equally cool, and authentic, for our pups with sustainability in mind. Our collaboration with ‘Ilio and Co consists of unique collars and leashes made with traditional Japanese fabrics.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Leah Cox. I am a color, materials and graphic designer living in the lush tropical land of Haiku, Maui. I moved to Maui in December 2020 from Portland, Oregon, where I worked as a color and graphic designer for many companies, including Nike, Adidas and OluKai. The timing of my move to Maui was not expected, but I felt I was ready for a new adventure, and ready to leave the rainy PNW. After a visit to my family living here for Christmas, I decided to stay!
My company, Ilio and Co, was born on Maui and continues to grow here. The word “ilio” means “dog” in Hawaiian. I have an adorable little chihuahua named Rosa who is my right-hand pal, the mascot of Ilio and Co, and she was part of my inspiration to create this brand. Rosa and I enjoy going to the beach together, cooking delicious pasta and spending time with my family here in beautiful Haiku.
2. What got you started in creating products for dogs?
Honestly, my love for dogs! They have always held such a special place in my life. From my very first black lab, Sadie, to my latest, spunky, chihuahua Rosa, dogs have been a constant source of joy, inspiration and companionship in my life.
When I left my career in Portland, I had time to think about what I really enjoy doing. I love color, I love design and I love dogs. It felt natural to shift my focus from humans to canines, and use my color and materials background to figure out a well-designed, unique approach to dog goods.
3. What inspires your work and why?
The inspiration for this project came from browsing through a rack of Hawaiian aloha shirts at an antique store in Wailuku, Maui. The beautiful prints and colors on the shirts gave me the idea to design a product that is as cool and authentic for our dogs. With Rosa by my side, I realized combining my love for color, and my love for her, could create a pretty great item...and the first shirt was deconstructed into the very first Ilio and Co collar.
I’ve always felt it was hard to find a collar that was soft, comfortable and well-fitted for a small dog. I took it upon myself to redesign the dog collar with prints and materials that also match my personal aesthetic. After all, our dogs deserve to be as stylish as we are!
I’m also inspired by regenerative design culture. The idea that the materials we use can be recycled, creating less waste and bringing to life the history of the place they were found.
4. What is a typical day like for you?
Each day, I awake to the sounds of myna birds outside my window and Rosa crawling over to kiss my face. We stretch, simultaneously, and head downstairs for coffee and kibble. My studio is in my house, so I head across the hall and begin. First, I check my email for orders. Each day is a mix of fulfilling orders, updating my website, creating social media marketing and making inventory to bring to the pop-up markets I attend each Wednesday and Saturday in the cute upcountry Maui town of Makawao. After all of that is taken care of, I head over to my rack of aloha shirts, and pick one out that happens to be calling to me that day, beginning the process of deconstruction and creation.
5. What’s your process for creating your pieces?
Finding the right shirts, fabrics and materials is the first step in my process. I head out to vintage, second-hand stores, goodwill, etc and look for the latest aloha shirts that have moved on from someone’s life. It’s a bit like searching for hidden treasure. Each of these shirts has a history to it, and it’s fun to imagine where they’ve come from.
I deconstruct a shirt into about 15 collars. I take the buttons off the shirt, lay it flat, and begin to measure out where the small, medium and large sizes will be cut. From there, I begin to sew (I actually hadn’t sewn a single thing since high school textiles class, so I had to reteach myself how to sew). The precision, efficiency and quality of the sewing is paramount. It’s a meticulous process, and I don’t let any of the material go to waste. I have found a use for every bit of scrap fabric that is leftover, such as a tiny pocket on an extra-small dog t-shirt. I also make time for brainstorming new product ideas - I just recently launched my dog harness design!
Measuring, cutting, sewing, ironing...repeating the process until everything is in place. I then add metal hardware - a side release buckle, d-ring and slider - then I grab Rosa and often my sister’s chihuahua, Kita, for a quick photo shoot and upload images to my website.
Collaborations with other material designers and artists are also something I seek out. I love using fabrics that tell a story, and partnering with other brands that create beautiful materials and value sustainability is super exciting!
6. If you weren’t doing this what would you be doing?
Probably working as a color designer, maybe still in Portland, or freelancing as a graphic designer. Definitely doing something creative, but it would be way less hands-on, which is something I really enjoy about Ilio and Co.
7. How does sustainability fit into the work that you do?
The materials I use are all “upcycled”, which is the process of transforming existing or unwanted objects into new, and sometimes better, products. The aloha shirts that I use are all previously owned items that still have value. Through my process I can extend the life of these shirts, with a zero-waste approach, to create multiple products for multiple people and pets to enjoy. Working with vintage clothing, you often find inconsistencies and damages. My process is similar to the “boro” technique used by Kiriko. The idea of adding value instead of tossing out, is a sustainable approach to design.
My packaging is all 100% compostable, and all of my products made from natural fibers like cotton, can be put into your compost bin to biodegrade (once the metal hardware is removed). I’m also trying out a recycling program, where customers can send back the metal hardware on a worn-down collar, and I can reuse the hardware to make a new collar.
8. Where do you hope to see yourself and your work in 10 years?
Continuing to be creative and evolve my brand. I’d love to have a brick and mortar store that features all locally made pet products from treats, to food, to beds, etc. And I’d hope for my business to be successful enough that I can give back a portion of my profits to animal rescues and shelters.
Also living happily and healthy in Maui with lots of dogs!
Visit ‘Ilio and Co to shop more dog accessories!