They’ve been around for generations, but over time, our four-legged friends have been slowly become a bigger part of the modern day family and are now regarded as just as important as any other member of the fam. There’s nothing quite like the companionship that a furry friend can offer. Not only do almost half of the UK population own pets, we are also treating them more and more with luxury accessories, grooming, specialist foods, training and even day care. It really is the golden age for pets.

A 2015 survey from the Pet Food Manufacturer’s Association (PFMA) has estimated that 12m households have pets, the actual pet population standing at 58m. There is no doubt that the demand for luxury pet accessories has grown in the last few years.

The amount people spend on their furry companions reflects the important place pets have in our lives. Our infatuation with our four-legged friends doesn’t stop there – according to one in 20 of us have commissioned a professional portrait of our animals.

The demand for pet accessories is so strong that Claire Alexander made the move from Amsterdam back to the UK (and Suffolk) to start Maison Le Lou, a luxury dog collar and lead brand, in early 2015. ‘Although I have always thought of myself as a city girl at heart I am noticing how the relaxed lifestyle on the Suffolk coast is influencing the direction of the lifestyle aspect of my brand in the new products I am developing.’ Claire believes that owners want to buy accessories for their dogs that match up to the quality and aesthetic of the products they buy for themselves.

Inspired by her beloved French bulldogs Louie and Leonard, this cheeky duo are the essence of the brand. Claire has had a long career designing men’s accessories for big brands including Ted Baker, Zara and Tommy Hilfiger, but it was her dream to own her own business that offered luxury collections for pets that were gender specific in an understated way. The lead and collar designs are influenced by many factors including current trends, limitless luxury goods and beautiful materials, each and every product reflecting Claire’s handwriting as a designer and the aesthetic of the brand.

The Pour Homme collection focuses on the style of a true gentlemen, with a masculine feel created through the colour palette and use of materials and texture. The focus for the Pour Femme collection on is chic, feminine accessories in elegant colours and leathers with the added touch of luxury such as the 14k gold plated dog tags.

The experience Claire gained in her 18 years in the fashion industry has been invaluable in starting her own business – not only has it given her the design and technical capability to bring her ideas to fruition, it has also provided her with the knowledge needed to make the right sourcing and manufacturing decisions to be able to produce such high quality products. ‘I’ve been able to really focus on the fit and comfort of my products for the dog through the materials, construction and sizing. The key element that makes up the style of all my products is the visible quality that my customers expect to see from a luxury accessories collection.’

It is important to Claire to be able to support British manufacturing and to this end each and every product is handmade in England by one of the last remaining small leather good manufacturers: ‘quality is the essential focus on my products and having spent my entire career working with factories all over the world I have had the luxury of picking the best place to produce my products to the quality my customers expect.’

Claire is involved in every aspect of the business from the initial design, the branding, dog tags, swing tickets and the website: ‘when you are working as a designer for a large brand you are part of a team that works together creatively to produce a successful collection. As much as I miss my creative teams it has also been a real luxury to be able to have creative control over the whole process from start to finish.

No two days are alike for Claire as she works to build her brand, juggling sales and marketing whilst also planning the designs and development of new products for the collection. The one constant is that each and every day starts and ends by walking Leonard along the beach: ‘he is like me – a reluctant exerciser – but it’s a great way to clear my head ready for new ideas.’