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Behind the Brand

Soda Bottles & Fabric Scraps Get A Playful Reimagination In Jax & Bones

Tina Nguyen couldn’t find stylish, sustainable, and locally produced products for her dog — so she made them herself.

by Emma Loewe
March 6, 2022
Golden dog laying on patterned Jax & Bones bed in living room
Courtesy of Jax & Bones

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Tina Nguyen was in college when she spent the best $50 of her life on adopting her first dog, Jax the Beagle. With his wise eyes and sensitive soul, Jax quickly became Nguyen’s best friend — her affectionately named “soul mutt” — so naturally, she wanted to give him only the healthiest, strongest, most stylish products. But this was back in 2004, when the pet industry was a lot more limited, bland, and just plain old beige than it is now. 

After years of searching, she concluded that what was looking for didn’t exist yet — so she set out to create it for herself. Her pet project has since blossomed into Jax & Bones: a dynamic line of dog beds, toys, and accessories that are colorful, playful, and most of all, safe for pups and the planet. With each drop, the company reimagines waste materials like plastic bottles and fabric scraps into functional works of art that discerning pet parents like Nguyen can feel great about. After all, our pets, like our planet, give us so much. Why should they get any less in return?

What was your inspiration for starting Jax & Bones?

I started Jax & Bones in 2004 because I couldn’t find products on the market for Jax that were safe and stylish. Back then, the pet industry was very different than it is now. All the pet beds I was seeing, for example, were brown, smelled like chemicals, and came from China. Jax was basically my first son. I’m fairly healthy and I wanted to give him that same type of quality, so I started to identify safe raw materials and design basic, simple products for him. It was a collar in the beginning, and then pet beds. 

Fast forward to today and I know you strive to make products that are as eco-friendly as possible. Can you tell me a little bit about how you reimagine waste in your designs?

When I was starting to go out to suppliers to source fabric, I realized that cutting and sewing left a lot of pieces behind. The more you manufacture, the more waste you’re going to have. I’m not a hoarder, but I thought there must be a way to reuse these fabric scraps instead of throwing them in the trash. I worked with a pattern maker to identify things we could turn them into, like poop bags and rope toys. There are also 8-12 soda bottles that get recycled into each of our dog beds, and that’s all processed in the USA.

What are some other ways you prioritize sustainability at Jax & Bones?

I’m always thinking about the lifecycle of products, from start to finish. Again, it goes back to the idea that our dogs are really like our children, so every type of fabric, every dye, every raw material we give to them needs to be really closely inspected. When I’m trying out a new material, I actually scratch it — kind of like a dog! — and smell everything. I’m a little bit obsessive — but I think we’re all obsessed with our animals.

I also believe in keeping the manufacturing close to the source of the design. When you bring manufacturing overseas, you expand the supply chain which can pollute the environment. The fact that we produce our pet beds here in Los Angeles is very important to me. It might cost a little bit more, but it’s also helped me create jobs for over 30 local team members. To me, sustainability is not just about sourcing sustainable products or re-using materials. It’s really thinking about the environment and its people. 

Where do you find inspiration for your fun, fresh product designs?

I love home interiors. I love to travel. I get inspired by nature and the sun and color. Take the Good Karma rope toys: When I started this line, I knew I wanted to make a collection of toys that are colorful — and color comes from food and vegetables! So each hand-tied rope toy gets its bright color from vegetable dyes. The red and pink toys are colored using beets, for example.

All of our product lines also have heartfelt meanings behind them. Rowdy Rescuers wool toys are inspired by animal rescue. My goal with the collection is to educate people about how many animals need to be rescued and how they can be part of the solution. And 15% of the sales from that line then go back to national animal charities. 

What’s your favorite part of your job? 

I love it when a customer tells me that their dog used to only sleep on their bed with them, and now they’re sleeping on a Jax & Bones bed!

Is there one customer interaction in particular that you’ll always remember?

About five years ago, a customer in Chicago told us that she had bought probably a dozen dog beds from us — and she had cats! It’s always exciting when I hear that customers have a couple of pieces of our products, but she was very unique. A lot of people actually have asked us to start a cat line. I love all animals but have never had cats before, so I think I’d need to rescue a cat first to have more awareness about what they need.

So it sounds like cat supplies could be in your future...What else is on the horizon for Jax & Bones?

My goal is to help grow the philanthropic and education side of the brand. In terms of product lines, we’ll continue to listen to what pet owners need and come up with products to help them — but there will always be a story or cause behind them, too. 

You mentioned that the pet industry has evolved a ton since you started your company in 2004. Where do you hope it goes next? 

I’ve seen the pet industry change so much just in the last three to five years. It’s a multi-billion dollar business now. The products have evolved, and a lot of them are really beautiful. But moving forward, I hope we remember why we’re doing this in the first place: It’s not all about money. It’s about keeping animals comfortable because they give us so much and are really foundational in our lives. That love and the passion for the animal is really important — so I hope we don’t lose sight of it.

* The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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emma loewe

Emma Loewe

Emma is a writer, editor, and environmentalist based in New York City. She is the senior sustainability editor at mindbodygreen, the author of Return To Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us (April 2022), and the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self-Care. While she doesn’t have any pets of her own, she is a loving dog aunt to Pip the pup.