Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of Catster print magazine. Click here to subscribe to Catster magazine.
When Joanne McGonagle ran her own company in the specialty foods industry, she never imagined she would have a new business created around cats someday.
She never even had a cat, but that changed when Joanne and her husband were at a shelter helping a friend who had lost his dog. A tiny kitten had been dumped there, but there was no place to keep her. The couple brought the kitten home and immediately fell in love. They named her Gracey, and she soon became the inspiration for a major shift in focus for this experienced businesswoman.
As Joanne got to know Gracey, she started wondering: If Gracey were a big cat, which cat would she be? This led Joanne to research big cats. She found a whole world of fascinating information about big cats and the threats they face, leading her to write a children’s book, The Tiniest Tiger. The book advocates for the protection of endangered species — Joanne’s newfound passion. The next step in Joanne’s transformation: a master’s degree in zoology with a concentration in big cats. As she finished her degree, Joanne put her business experience to work raising funds for global conservation programs.
In 2012, Joanne launched Triple T Studios with the tagline “Fashion with a Passion.” The online store sells stylish handbags and other fashion accessories, most with a feline theme, generating funds that are donated to various charitable organizations benefitting endangered species.
The company started with a line of custom-designed handbags made from a quilted fabric featuring a subtle cat pattern. Joanne wanted the line to be made in the U.S., so she searched for a good manufacturer and found an ideal partner. She has added new handbag designs and accessories to the line, including several items that are made from fabric with Gracey’s logo.
Triple T Studios has grown exponentially and has a strong following. Joanne expanded the line, offering other fashionable products sourced from overseas, including several new exclusive handbag designs. She uses strategic advertising and social media to reach new customers.
Staying true to the original company mission, Triple T Studios has contributed funds to several conservation organizations. The company sponsors Lion Guardians in Kenya and has donated to the Cheetah Conservation Fund and The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, and has purchased camera traps for Panthera’s tiger project. The company has also donated to several small-cat projects as well as domestic cat nonprofit groups.
Armed with an MBA and the experience of running her own company, Joanne was well equipped to start her newest venture. Even with these qualifications, Joanne still finds it challenging to organize all the details, like accounting, inventory, and marketing. “Discipline is an important part of keeping a business going,” Joanne said. “I know how important it is to stay on top of these tasks.”
Sadly, Gracey passed away unexpectedly in 2013. She left an imprint on Joanne and her husband, fully converting them into cat lovers. As part of their heartbreak recovery, they adopted Annie and Eddie (seen below helping sort mail) who now help Joanne run the business and serve as inspiration, along with their black cat, Mercy.
Asked whether she has any advice for others looking to start their own cat-related business, Joanne encouraged persistence and continuous learning. “Owning a business takes hard work and determination. Allow yourself to be open-minded and keep learning with childlike curiosity. Listen to the advice of other business owners, and ask questions. Whether you like what they have to say or not, the information is often far more valuable than you might originally think.”
And, of course, follow your passion, just like Joanne did, and follow your instincts, just like your cats would.
About the author: Kate Benjamin is the founder of the popular cat style blog Hauspanther.com. She specializes in helping people live stylishly with cats. You may have seen her on Jackson Galaxy’s show My Cat From Hell. Make sure to check out Kate and Jackson’s books Catification: Designing a Happy and Stylish Home for Your Cat (and You!) and Catify to Satisfy: Simple Solutions for Creating a Cat-friendly Home.