New York-based fashion designer John Bartlett brings plenty of substance to his undeniable style.
An active advocate of animal rights and welfare, Bartlett regularly works with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the North Shore Animal League (NSAL), and other animal rights organizations to raise awareness and education.
Bartlett does more than just talk the talk. On his 40th birthday, he visited the NSAL in hopes of adopting a dog. There he met his future best friend, Tiny Tim, a German Shepherd-Rottweiler mix, who had lost a leg due to a car accident. A guiding force in Bartlett’s life and work, Tiny Tim’s unmistakable likeness can now be found on a collection of clothing that benefits independent rescue groups.
Educated at Harvard and the Fashion Institute of Technology, Bartlett has received two Council of Fashion Designers of America awards for his contemporary and decidedly American menswear. In 2010, Bartlett received two distinctions, both equally indicative of his life’s missions: the American Apparel and Footwear Association named him Designer of the Year, and the NSAL honored him with the Friend of the Animal League Award.
Bartlett spoke with TAILS about his work in the fashion industry, his passion for animal welfare issues, and how the two dovetail to help guide his life.
TAILS: How have your rescue dogs influenced your designs?
John Bartlett: Living in New York City, I see rescue dogs on the street all the time. You can tell by the way they look at their guardian with such appreciation and love. They inspire me to no end. I actually created a line of T-shirts and hoodies with my own dearly departed dog, Tiny Tim, as the logo.
Have they influenced your own style?
Having dogs, my style is a bit more casual now than before. When you are a city dweller you have to pull together a look quite quickly to walk the dogs, so I am definitely a jeans and T-shirt-kinda fashion designer!
Why was rescuing a dog important to you as you celebrated your 40th birthday?
As I was turning 40, I was having an early midlife crisis. After returning from a sojourn in Thailand and Cambodia where I was doing a yoga retreat and learning about Buddhism, I was ready to adopt my first dog. Turning 40 is a wonderful time in one’s life, and I wanted to celebrate by saving a life, which, of course, was my own!
You initially wanted a small dog. What was it about Tiny Tim that made you change your mind?
When I visited the shelter, I was thinking about a small dog because I travel and thought I could bring the dog with me on the plane. When I walked into the kennel area, the first eyes that met mine were Tiny Tim’s. Before I realized he was missing a leg, we immediately connected. After an hour of lying on the floor and playing together, I decided that he was the one. You know it when you see it, I always say. He was the one dog at the shelter not barking. He was very Zen and a total Buddha dog!
You have your rescued Chihuahua/Jack Russell mix, Millie. Do you have another rescue dog now, as well?
My partner John and I rescued Millie, who was from a shelter in the South. She is a spitfire! So right now, we have little Millie and big Huff, who is a Bernese Mountain Dog. Tiny Tim passed away in October 2010, so I am planning to adopt another dog in October 2011. I realized I needed a year to mourn, at least!
Can you tell us about your work with the NSAL and the HSUS?
After adopting Tiny Tim, I became involved with the NSAL. When I opened my store in the West Village, I started doing adoption events with the group. They come with their mobile unit full of dogs and cats, and we do adoptions in front of the store.
I was introduced to the people at the HSUS when I decided that I needed to become active in the anti-fur movement. In my industry, fur is a huge, and very tragic, trend right now. I want to speak out against it and speak to my fellow designers about the reality behind the fur industry. So, I have been working with Wayne Pacelle and the Fur-Free Campaign team to strategize about how to turn the tide on the fur craze.
Can you tell us more about your anti-fur and anti-leather efforts?
I became vegan about a year and a half ago after realizing the incredible amount of suffering that animals who are used for food, clothing, experimentation, and entertainment experience. It was an incredible awakening, and I realized that using leather, designing it, and wearing it was not in keeping with my new idea of compassion. I decided to stop using it in my collection and also became very vocal about the fur industry. I am working with the HSUS Fur-Free Campaign to speak to other designers about the sad facts of the fur industry. Many garments now have fur trim, and sometimes the trim is labeled as faux fur, so there is a lot of work to do.
How has being vegan changed your outlook?
Being vegan has helped me to become more compassionate about everything in my world; animals as well as the environment. It has made me aware of so much suffering in the world that we humans create so that we can eat a hamburger or have milk in our cereal. I can live without meat and dairy and feel so much healthier and balanced and calm as a result.
How often do you host adoption events at your boutique?
We do about three adoptions a year, one in the spring, one in the summer, and one in the late fall.
Any adoption success stories you would like to share?
I don’t have any particular stories, but I have to say what an incredible feeling it is to walk around the West Village, my neighborhood, and see the people who have adopted from my events with their dogs. Having met these dogs when they were still on the mobile unit, some scared and nervous, it is such a blessing to see them happily walking with their people down the street!
Any celebrity clients you would like to mention?
I dress Alan Cumming, who was just nominated for an Emmy for his role on The Good Wife. He is also a big animal rescue advocate.
How did the partnership with Bon Ton come about? What is their involvement in the Tiny Tim Collection?
The Bon Ton stores (BonTon.com) are a wonderful group of department stores in the Midwest. I am launching a pet collection with them called John Bartlett Pet. They are donating a portion of sales to my new foundation, the Tiny Tim Rescue Fund. We are hoping to do adoptions and other pet-related events at their stores. Please check out the John Bartlett Pet products, and feel good knowing that a portion of the sale is going to help save more lives of those dogs who are in high-risk shelters.
Can you tell us more about the pet collection?
I created a line of dog beds, leashes, collars, and even a cat bed for my new collection with the Bon Ton stores under the label John Bartlett Pet. The collection will also have stocking stuffer treats, food and water bowls, placemats for the pet, and more. It is a very exciting collection that is well priced and very fun to design.
What message do you hope people who wear the Tiny Tim Collection convey?
I want people who buy the Tiny Tim items to proudly say that they support animal rescue. There is such an incredible need for more people to consider adopting a pet rather than purchasing one, and I want the Tiny Tim logo to represent this important message.
To learn more about John Bartlett and view the Tiny Tim Collection, visit JohnBartlettNY.com.
How do you feel about people who put their pets in clothing?
I love pets in clothing as long as the pet enjoys wearing it. We have some great coats for Millie for winter. She gets cold in the North because she is a Southern belle. And, she has a party dress or two. She seems to love it. I ask, though, that people do not dress their animal in leather or fur as that is a total disconnect. Their collars and leashes should also be nylon or fabric, not leather.
Should people accessorize with their pets, for example matching Burberry collars with their accessories, etc.?
That is a little over the top, but why not? I went to an event in a tartan blazer and dressed Millie in a tartan dress. She was my date!
How do you feel about people who treat their dogs AS accessories?
Dogs should never be an accessory, ever.
Do you believe that people and their dogs start to resemble each other?
I definitely believe that pets and their people resemble each other. Tiny Tim and I looked a lot alike. It is kinda uncanny, but I think it happens.
If you were a dog, which breed do you think you would be and why?
I would be a Rottie/Shepherd/Pit/Lab mix. We live in a very diverse world, and I would want to reflect that in being a beautiful “mutt-i-gree.”