Toronto’s House of Cat redefines “cat lady” and brings homemade pet products into organic market

One of my favourite things to do is to re-watch Friends while my cat sits behind me and nuzzles her face into my neck. That doesn’t mean I’m a crazy cat lady, it just means I know what I want (right?).

adopt-catherine-cali
Catherine Kazmir, owner of House of Cat. Photo courtesy of: Catherine Kazmir.

So, you can imagine the look on my face when I read about House of Cat, a Toronto-based company spearheaded by Catherine Kazmir. It is a gift hub for cats and their friends (aka me). They produce all natural, homemade cat goods to provide cat owners with safe, healthy products along with fun merch for cat lovers near and far. (I need this, for the record).

My cat is a wee bit on the older side. She just turned 10 and I adopted her when she was nine. For the first year, my cat was very anxious and was often sick after hearing a strange noise or being left alone for a few hours. With time, she’s grown cuddly and comfortable, but she wasn’t always this way. As a first-time cat owner, I’m happy to know there’s somewhere local to look to for all my cat-based-needs!

I connected with Catherine over e-mail to learn all about the House of Cat brand. See our full q&a below:

  1. House of Cat started in 2014 – what was the toughest part about launching a business?

I think for me, the toughest part was getting my branding to a point that I was willing to share it with the world. I’m somewhat of a perfectionist. The first version of my logo (which has now been replaced by a much nicer one, designed by a friend) was not something I was exceptionally proud of. I drew it myself, I did my best, but i didn’t feel perfect. I kept delaying opening my Etsy shop because everything wasn’t “perfect” yet. After a while though, I told myself that done is better than perfect and I needed to take the leap and put myself out there. There is always time to improve and iterate on these kinds of things.

  1. Had you launched it all on your own?

Yep, it was scary, but I launched House of Cat on my own. At the time, I was fresh out of school, working full time and in need of a hobby. Opening an Etsy shop seemed like it would provide a great creative outlet for me.

  1. Who has been your biggest support throughout this entire journey as an entrepreneur?

I’ve received a lot of support throughout this journey. I think almost everyone I know has helped me in one way or another. Whether it be helping me prepare inventory for craft shows, offering me advice about how to run a small business, modelling for photo shoots, being my photographer or redesigning my branding and all of my packaging, my friends have been highly supportive throughout all of this. Not to mention the patience they’ve had with me. Running a business is not easy, and it’s expensive when you’re just getting started. My friends are the people that have helped me make all of this possible.

  1. Where did your passion for creating things begin?

I think at heart I’ve just always been this way. I love to make. As long as I can remember, I’ve been dreaming up crazy product ideas in my head. My biggest problem is that I haven’t developed all the skills necessary to execute on them yet. I’m also a busy body. I feel the need to constantly be doing something. I can’t just sit at home and watch Netflix every night. I need to be making something while I watch Netflix :P!

  1. What about your love of cats – when did that kick off?

My love of cats is a new found love actually. I didn’t grow up with cats (my mom didn’t like them and my brother was allergic), but we had a dog. About four years ago, I was living with roommates who decided to start fostering cats. I came home one day to meet this new foster kitty and it was love at first sight. I know that it sounds cheesy, but this cat was absolutely gorgeous and so incredibly affectionate. She immediately ran up to me rubbed herself all over me, I had never met such a wonderful cat. I knew that I had to adopt her, so I did almost the next day. I’ve been in love with this kitty (Cali) and cats ever since. I should also note that my mom is also madly in love with her, it’s hard not to love Cali.

  1. How many cats do you currently own?

I’ve just got the one kitty. It only takes one cat to be a cat lady. I would love to have more, and we tried adopting another cat (another sweetheart named Odin, now re-homed to my brother). Cali doesn’t really enjoy the company of other cats. She’s a people cat, a diva that wants all the attention to be on her at all times. Also, everything belongs to her, she has a sharing problem, like her mother.

  1. What do you think about the term “Crazy Cat Lady?”

I think that it’s a ridiculous stereotype. I’m not a sad single lady collecting cats in my apartment. None of my cat loving friends are. I know a lot of highly successful, outgoing males and females who happen to love cats. In fact, most of them who do own more than one cat are volunteering as foster parents and doing great things to help rescue animals. Can’t we just be proud cat ladies/cat men? There’s nothing wrong or crazy about loving cats.

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We’re all just cat people! Women’s tee available via House of Cat. Photo courtesy of: Catherine Kazmir.
  1. I see some of your products have the aforementioned phrase written out on them, but with the first word crossed out. How can we cat lovers minimize the stigma against people who love cats?

I think that the best thing we can do is to show the world what cat people really are like. More people own cats than you might think. Let’s be proud, responsible pet owners and continue to support organizations that are trying to help curve cat population growth and help homeless cats.

  1. Where did the name “House of Cat” come from?

The name is supposed to be a play on my name (Cat, short for Catherine) and the fact that my shop is a place for all things cat. It’s a House of Cat.

  1. You sell cat toys, merch (for humans and cats!), iPhone cases, cards, etc. And all of it is on Etsy. What about Etsy helps your business thrive?

The greatest thing about selling on Etsy is that the platform makes it easy for people to find me. I don’t have to spend a lot of time on marketing and promoting my site because when you have good SEO, good product photography and a product that people want, it’s not hard to get people to visit your shop.

  1. Can we find your products in store anywhere in Toronto?

Unfortunately my products aren’t available in stores anywhere in Toronto, yet. I’m working on it though. In the upcoming year I’m really going to be focusing on trying to get more wholesale clients and I’m trying hard to find some shelf space in Toronto gift and pet shops. If you’re ever in Portland though, the gift shop, Tender Loving Empire, sells my products. I do however regularly sell at several local craft shows, including Etsy Made in Canada and the Trinity-Bellwoods Flea. I’m not hard to find.

  1. What’s your favourite House of Cat product on your Etsy shelf right now? Why?

That’s a tough question actually. My favourite is my All Natural Litter Box Cleaner. It makes cleaning my cat’s box so quick and easy. Cali’s favourite is definitely the Alpaca Wool Felted Toy Balls. We spend hours playing fetch together.

  1. What strategy do you use to advertise your products?

I don’t know that I have much of a “strategy” per se. It’s something that I need to work on. Usually when I’m launching new products, I post to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and I use the Shop Updates feature on Etsy. I’ll occasionally promote a post on Facebook as well. In the upcoming months, I’d like to try partnering with bloggers and celebrity cats to get the word out about my products.

  1. What social media platform do you find helps you best connect with your customers? Why?

I find that Instagram tends to get the most engagement from customers. I think it’s just easier for me to find cat loving people and reach them through Instagram as opposed to other platforms. It’s not hard to spot cat lovers on Instagram.

  1. Did you always know you’d be a business owner?

I think that for a while I’ve known that someday I’d like to work for myself. I thought I’d be running a design shop (since that’s my full-time profession). But now, my dream is that someday when I want to start a family, House of Cat can be my part-time income while raising children. That still feels a long way away though.

  1. When you were a kid, what was your dream job?

Don’t laugh: I wanted to be a stand up comedian. That is a dream that I’ll just let die.

  1. How may your first job have helped to shape you into the business owner and operator that you are today?

I actually think that one of the biggest ways it’s helped shape me is that it’s taught me how to manage/organize my tasks and to work in sprints. I actually kind of use sprints to plan out my work for each couple of weeks. It helps to keep me on track, set goals for each sprint and keeps me accountable.

  1. What’s one of the most rewarding aspects of your job?

My favourite part is the people I meet and the stories that they tell me about their pets. My favourite part about working on House of Cat is going to craft shows/fleas and meeting fellow cat lovers. I especially love hearing stories like, “My cat was fat and lazy. We bought one of your toy balls and my cat absolutely loves it. She runs around and plays with it all the time!” Those stories make me feel like this is worth it.

  1. Do you work solely on House of Cat? Or do you have side projects or maybe another full-time job on the go?

House of Cat is my side project (or basically a part-time job at this point). Full-time, I’m a User Experience Designer for a Toronto fin-tech startup. My day job involves designing on the computer and House of Cat allows me to make things by hand.

  1. What type of time management skills would you say an entrepreneur needs to excel?

I guess there are two skills that I find important: one is that I think it’s important to find processes that make things faster for you. Especially if you’re making a line of products, it’s good to know how long it takes you to make each one, and to find ways that will allow you to do these things faster. The second is that it’s important to maintain a healthy balance. It’s really easy to spend your whole day working on your business, but that’s not healthy. You need to make time for yourself and for your friends and family. I struggle with this aspect a lot, but it’s important in order for me to maintain a healthy body and mind. I’m learning to set limits.

  1. What else about your story would you want our readers to know?

It’s really important to me that the products I sell be safe and healthy for cats. I do a lot of research before I put anything in my products. Especially with my litter box care line. I’ve seen so many entrepreneurs selling products on Etsy that contain ingredients that are unsafe for cats. Part of this is because it’s really easy for anyone to set up an Etsy shop and start selling pet products. We don’t need certification of any kind to sell these things to you. Just please be careful when buying for your pets to make sure that what you buy them won’t cause them any harm. Our pets are like our children and I wouldn’t want harm to come to any of them.

Thank you to Catherine for catting with us! 😉

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