By Lib Aubuchon
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When Jennifer Wong and Santos Agustin decided to start a local business in their Brooklyn neighborhood, they never imagined the global reach it would have.
The two friends, who are both passionate dog owners, wanted to bring handmade pet goods to the masses. They also wanted to ensure that the artisans they work with were treated well and paid fairly.
“It was very important to us when we created our brand that we could be completely transparent,” Agustin says.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gone to the Dogs was born: a pet accessory brand featuring ethically sourced and sustainably made products. Women artisans from low-income and immigrant communities in the New York City area make the accessories, which include collars, leashes, toys and more.
Wong and Agustin also partner with women in countries around the world, from Cambodia to Ghana and beyond. These artisans participate in a fair-trade agreement, ensuring craftsmanship in exchange for livable wages and safe working conditions.
“They provide job and income opportunities for these women who otherwise might not be able to send their children to school or simply put food on the table,” says Jenny Huang, Business Relationship Manager at JPMorgan Chase. “Being an Asian immigrant myself, I feel proud to work for a company that supports women in business, especially AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) women in business.”
Women-owned businesses account for 42 percent of all U.S. businesses — and the numbers have grown. Between 2012 and 2019 (the latest data available), the number of women-owned businesses grew 16.7 percent, according to the National Women’s Business Council. That far outpaces the growth rate of businesses owned by men over the same time (5.2 percent).
But women often face disparities when trying to access capital or find mentors who can help them start a small business.
JPMorgan Chase’s Women on the Move initiative is committed to fueling women’s ambitions and advancing financial equity. One of its key focus areas is driving the growth and representation of businesses founded and run by women. Through coaching and mentorship programs, Women on the Move provides networking and advice to women-owned and women-run businesses of all sizes and has helped over 4,500 women entrepreneurs grow their businesses.
“We aim to be the bank for all—and we really mean for everyone when we say that, so we have programs to support small business owners who might have historically been systematically excluded from traditional banking,” Huang says.
Wong and Agustin’s passion for “dog goods that do good” extends to ecological sustainability as well. They source recycled, reclaimed, or renewable materials—including ropes donated from local climbing gyms — to make their products. Gone to the Dogs also has a toy recycling program, and 99 percent of the used doggie toys they collect get composted.
For Wong and Agustin, the hard work of steering a startup is made easier by their robust friendship, shared vision, and love for their rescue pups, Miles and Ollie. And with the help of Huang and JPMorgan Chase, Gone to the Dogs has the financial support to navigate the challenges of scaling. This support ranges from helping them manage their cashflow—just in time to stock up on inventory for the holidays—to dealing with the growing pains that come with rising demand.
Gone to the Dogs proves that business success and social responsibility can coexist. Wong and Agustin have built their brand around empowering women artisans, showing how ingenuity and empathy can create ripple effects that extend far beyond profit margins. And in an often wasteful world, they prevent material from entering landfills, giving otherwise discarded objects a second life as cherished pet products.
“It’s very affirming to take our dogs to the park and see all the other dogs wearing our collars and leashes and knowing that we’re connecting with the community,” Agustin says.
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Learn more about JPMorgan Chase’s commitment to advancing women-owned businesses.
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