Losing a pet can be one of the most painful experiences in a person’s life. Cuddle Clones is a business that offers custom sewn plush toy replicas of your pet — from cats and dogs to owls, horses and rabbits and more. And not only do they provide some comfort to help with bereavement but a tiny portion of their sales — 1 percent — goes to various animal-related causes and charities.
“It’s not specifically used for deceased pets, but that is more than often the case,” co-founder Adam Greene tells Samaritanmag. Photos on the site show many Cuddle Clones alongside their living breathing doppelgangers.
Founded by Jennifer Williams and Greene, in Louisville, Kentucky, many customers buy them as a memento for friends who have lost beloved pets. Some of those testimonials — mixed in with those by owners of still-living pets — can be found on the Cuddle Clones website, such as this one:
"Tucker had been with our family for 15 years. He recently passed away on February 2oth 2014...We all loved him dearly and this last week has been the hardest on my father. Because of that we decided to get him a Cuddle Clone of Tucker for his birthday in May so he would always have him near. And my sister mother and I would be lying if we said this was only for him but it is also for our peace of mind as well."
Jo, who received the Cuddle Clone of her dog Kahlua from two friends, writes, “…She's beautiful, and the attention to detail and care that was put into it literally has made my year. Losing her in September was and will probably always be one of the hardest experiences of my life because I love her so much, and she was such a gentle and sweet little girl…While it isn't her, it is something physical that I can squeeze whenever I need to…”
Shipped globally, Cuddle Clones cost $179 to $249 (USD), depending on complexity of design. Customers must submit one or more photos of the pet in order to provide the most accurate likeness from front to back.
Cuddle Clones began as an idea Williams had years ago to immortalize her then-living, now-deceased Great Dane Rufus. From there, it developed into a business plan for a school project during Williams and Greene’s tenure in the entrepreneurship MBA program at the University of Louisville. Upon graduating in 2011, they decided to formally pursue the business.
“He’s actually sitting right here,” Williams tells Samaritanmag of her plush Rufus. “I can look at his clone and I just remember his personality. I think that’s really what it is. People can look at their dog and think ‘Oh my gosh! I remember everything about you.’
“I mean looking at pictures is awesome too, but this gives you something to actually hug if you’re feeling sad; just something to put on your bed instead of a photo in an album or in your phone somewhere. So I just think it’s a good way to remember your pet.”
From its earliest days, Cuddle Clones has donated regularly to pet-related charities and causes, including Dogs on Deployment, a foster agency that cares for canines owned by soldiers in the field, and the Petfinder Foundation, an American non-profit dedicated to preventing homeless animals from being euthanized. They also give to Indiegogo campaigns for individual animals in need.
“We generally do select the charities we donate to,” says Greene. “Most have to do with helping pets get adopted, but we’ll donate to specific pets sometimes as well, if the owners reach out to us and they don’t have money for a surgery or some medical treatment, etcetera.
“We’re not comfortable saying exactly how much money we’ve donated though, as we donate 1 percent of revenue and have gone on record as saying this.”
Giving to charity was a practice the two initiated since day one.
“We gave a portion of revenue even when we weren’t profitable; those first couple of years, we were always giving,” says Williams. “Our investors even questioned, ‘Well, maybe you should wait until you turn a profit.’ ‘No, this is just part of us.’”
A recent spate of publicity from both traditional (New York Post, The Independent) and online media (Buzzfeed, CNET, Bored Panda) has boosted Cuddle Clones product requests to the extent that, during research for this article, Samaritanmag discovered an online ad for an operations manager for their Chinese workshop. The successful candidate will be tasked with tripling the workshop’s output in a two- to three-month period, this to address a current eight-month backlog of orders in advance of Christmas 2015. (It normally only takes about a week to make a Cuddle Clone.)
“It was always on the horizon to expand it and unleash some marketing, which we really haven’t done,” Williams says. “So then we got all this publicity and we were forced to say, ‘Okay, crap, we need to grow right now. We can’t continue on this slow upward path.’ And of course it never works that way for businesses anyway.”
Williams says the key to getting the toys right was to open their own workshop, instead of hiring a third-party company to make them. So they established one in the city of Dongguan in China’s Guangdong province in order to take advantage of the country’s vast textile markets and talented local artisans. CuddleClones.com finally launched in May 2013.
“I don’t know if you know anything about plush toys, but they’re sewn inside out,” says Williams. “And then when you’re ready, you force it inside out and then you stuff it, and that’s how it starts taking its shape. There’s a lot of handwork involved, which is tucking and seams on the toes; all sorts of things here and there that make the pet come together to look like your pet.”
While dogs and cats are the company’s bread and butter, Cuddle Clones have also produced plush horses, rabbits, owls, guinea pigs, cows and rabbits, among other creatures, for their customers. Is there an animal Cuddle Clones would like to tackle that they have not yet?
“People keep asking us about lizards and geckos,” Williams says. “We haven’t done any of those yet. So I think that would be kind of fun. They’ve got some very colourful geckos.”
Despite having to deal with the company’s growth problems, Williams loves her work and gets a lot more satisfaction from it.
“I used to be an actuary; I worked on large pension plans. It was fun, don’t get me wrong; I love math. But now I sit around with my dog Izzy in the office. I’ve got a bunch of thank-you cards on my desk. That is certainly a lot more fun than crunching numbers all day.”
Oh, and as for her other office dog, Rufus, no, Williams did not make him herself.
“No, I took a sewing class and it was awful,” she laughs.Air Jordan 1