Best in Park: interview with Christina Teresinski

Late last year, we adopted Chips the rescue greyhound and she is now a permanent fixture at the office – we are officially “dog people” here at Assemble HQ. Which is not to say we don’t find cats cuddly (we fell under the spell of Gustov earlier this year); we just happen to be hound tragics. And we’re not alone – at 66% of all households, Australia has the highest rate of pet ownership in the world. And, it seems that dogs are more than just a pretty face or a waggy tail – they contribute to a calmer workplace and, according to Martin Mulcahy of the Atlantic, health studies in the UK, Australia, China and Germany have found that dog owners “enjoy longer lifespans on average” with health attributes for young and old including “weight maintenance, reduced blood pressure, and improved cardiovascular fitness”. Canine companionship also appears to boost self-esteem and in some cases, even ease the frequency or impact of depression. In fact, in 2009, Japanese researchers found that the reason why the reciprocity between humans and dogs is so strong is that it’s controlled by oxytocin — the same “love” hormone that connects mothers and newborns, reduces anxiety and depression, and builds trust and intimacy. No wonder Chips reckons she’s boss.

Christina Teresinski is the founder and designer at Best in Park, an “old fashioned” outfitter for man’s best friend. Doing her personal best to reciprocate the high-regard and esteem of our canines, Christina runs a small yet expanding empire, selling her classic leads, collars and jaunty accessories online and at a hand-picked selection of lifestyle stores across Australia, Hong Kong, South Korea and the states. Overall, the pet care industry continues to grow globally. In 2006, Australians were already spending AU$4.62billion on their pets, while in 2012, the US will spend over US$52billion on theirs. Japan too is becoming a “pet superpower”– as the human birth rate declines and the population ages, the pet population is steadily growing. A recent article in The Guardian by Ruth Evans and Roland Buerk explores the current obsession with pet care in Japan. Official estimates put the pet population at 22 million or more (by comparison, there are only 16.6 million children under 15). Pet yoga, pet onsens (hot springs) and canine couture by luxury brands such as Chanel, Dior, Hermès and Gucci are now de rigeur as Japanese families choose pet pampering over actual parenthood.

“Voyage” collar and lead on Sonny the boxer. Photo by Nick Blair, courtesy Best in Park.

Back at Best in Park HQ, the emphasis is not on bling or excess but rather, on designs for life. To Christina, “timelessness is what it’s about. The brand is an extension of what I like. After all, what you dress your dog in is an extension of your own style – you are accessorizing them after all.” This approach sets Best in Park apart in an industry that privileges gimmicky, throwaway products or luxury extravagance over simplicity, longevity and quality. Eugenia sat down with Christina during a typically busy Best in Park day, while Walter (Christina’s muse, a black poodle) watched on.

When did you first come up with the idea for Best in Park – was there an “ah-ha” moment?

I’ve always loved dogs, I grew up with a loyal companion. I was looking for collars and leads when I got Walter [Christina’s poodle]. The moment of truth came when I was at an upmarket pet emporium, surrounded by pink and diamantes, that I thought in exasperation “what to do?” After two years spent working up the confidence, I launched at the end of 2009. Critical to production is local craftspeople – building long term relationships and mutual respect and making sure they feel like it’s their business too, that they are happy with their work and the end product. It’s a niche business with a local focus.

Favourite dog-on-screen moment?

As Good as it Gets: Jack Nicholson as a complicated neurotic man who ends up with Verdell, his neighbour’s dog, a Brussel’s Griffin. Melvin (Jack Nicholson) goes from throwing Verdell down a laundry tube to Melvin secretly loving Verdell. The secrecy surrounding his growing affection… there are academic essays on their relationship!

A patient but photo-shy Walter the poodle waits for boss lady Christina. Photo by Eugenia Lim.

Who are your pets? What’s their story?

Walter is my main man. There are always other dogs in the home – which is a bit of a halfway house for dogs, including Sidney, McGee and Henry. I enjoy cats but I don’t really understand them. I’m very drawn to the connectedness between people and dogs, that’s what drew me to Walter’s breed. I looked after a family friend’s poodle and I was struck by its connected and sensitive nature. I’ve had him since he was a pup and he’s now six.

What can we humans learn from our dogs?

Forgiveness, loyalty, spontaneity and living in the moment. Dogs are amazing company, great for well-being and a calming influence – life is too short to deny yourself the pleasure a dog can bring into your life!

What inspires the Best in Park brand and why?

Dapper events like The Tweed Run, vintage men’s accouterments, bespoke luggage. Why? They capture the essence of true craftsmanship and quality. Also tumblr sites like Convoy from Sweden, which curates a global urban life in pictures.

Describe your workspace and a typical work day….

It’s Walter and I, plus a small and dedicated team, so it’s BUSY. It starts about 8am and can often finish at midnight with emails and admin. Days are always punctuated by frantic 4-6pm packing of orders and hurried drop-offs at the post office. At the start of the day my desk is ordered and clean; by the end, the contents of my desk have taken over the whole workroom! I also try and block out time for wholesale deliveries and visits to makers and suppliers – then it’s post office, post office, POST OFFICE! Development of new ideas and products is important and the technical side of products and I block out time for this. At the moment, we’re developing a new range of greyhound and whippet collars [sighthounds unite! – ed.].

Our in-house hound Chips in couch potato mode in a Bedford collar by Best in Park. Photo by Eugenia Lim.

Best pooch walk locations in Melbourne?

“Nojo” (north of Johnston street) and Edinburgh Gardens. My local is the park next to the Fitzroy Pool. “Sojo” (south of Johnston street), down George, Gertrude and Smith streets. Not every walk culminates in the park as I like walking around the streets, getting inspiration. I get inspiration from the street – it can be anything: yellow stitching on a brown loafer and the detail in simple things, men’s clothing, leather patches, my late grandfather’s tweed cap.

“Old School” stripe collar on Pam the French bulldog. Photo by Nick Blair, courtesy Best in Park.

Do dogs look like their owners or do owners look like their dogs?

Some dogs start taking on their owner’s personality – it depends on the connection. Walter and I are both sensitive … but I don’t want this to sound weird! Dogs have a sense of dignity, they know when people are laughing at them, they get embarrassed, can get mortified! Walter is too shy to appear in Best In Park photos. He doesn’t like it but he’s getting used to it – he’s very modest.

How long does it take to develop and produce each product?

It generally takes about 3 months to develop a new product – including quite a few prototypes. I’ve been known to take a tape measure to the park – such a diverse range of models! Every part of the process is very hands on, nothing is automated, every detail is crafted by hand, from the colour of the thread to the length of the end of a collar needs to be considered.

Freddy the daschund in a Voyage collar. Photo by Nick Blair, courtesy Best in Park.

What are you and Walter up to today?

We’re making a delivery to a shop. Lots of admin – we’ve got orders to pack and then we’ll make some headway into the technical aspects of the greyhound and whippet collars.

What’s on the Best in Park horizon?

More customisation. When customers can put stuff together themselves – like the collars with customisable nameplates – it’s a hit. This is something I’d like to expand on somehow. And the greyhound and whippet stuff. New products that are not too seasonal. “Woodlands” is more wintery but appeals to global customers. I see a need or opportunity and work on new products to suit. Time for development and then bringing things out when the timing is right. Currently, the “Voyage” collection is inspired by the details of bespoke vintage luggage. Also, we have limited edition “Old-school stripes” and “Lucky collars“. Bespoke “Distinguished” collars are made to order with any words you like engraved on the brass plaque. Plus new products in the pipeline for 2013!

In dog we trust indeed… bespoke “Distinguished” collars. Photo by Nick Blair, courtesy Best in Park.

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