Pairing her graphic design background and business degree with her love of fashion, Jeannie North, ’07, built a business from sewing brightly colored bandanas for her two dogs, Ripley and Rue. Today, her bold, rebellious clothing brand for canines and their owners called Ripley & Rue can be found in 500 retail stores worldwide and reaches more than 140,000 loyal Instagram followers.
“I happened to pick up sewing, and the easiest thing I could make at the time was dog bandanas for my doodles Ripley and Rue,” North said. “I started making some for friends and then launched Ripley & Rue on Etsy in 2016. After only five months, I stopped taking clients from my design business in Omaha and went full-time on this new venture.”
As a management major at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, she learned how to start, lead and grow a business. Yet, North said it was her marketing classes that made the most impact on her career. She now spearheads a brand with a strong personality that resonates with dog owners across the world, including celebrities like “Pretty Little Liars” star Ashley Benson and Jonathan Bennett, who is best known for his role as Aaron Samuels in the movie “Mean Girls.”
“I created a community of people I wanted to speak to with my brand. Ripley & Rue serves a niche. I know my customer persona extremely well because I am her,” she said. “I wanted to create things you’re not going to find everywhere else.”
She stays on top of trends so she can form, not follow them, such as being one of the first to put the title “Dog Mom” on a product and creating a vegan leather jacket for dogs to rock. North’s creativity spans product creation to social media marketing. She and her team masterminded International Doodle Dog Day, created to celebrate poodle mixes of all kinds each September.
“People want to celebrate their dogs, and through this effort, we saw official meetups in 75 cities from Omaha to New York to Melbourne, Australia,” she said. “We sold official merchandise for it in which some of the proceeds went to a doodle rescue.”
While the pandemic put a damper on many International Doodle Dog Day celebrations, Ripley & Rue surged as more people decided to become dog owners. As people stayed at home more, they decided they and their dogs needed cool apparel and accessories. Even Google reached out to her to make corporate dog bandanas for Google dogs known as dooglers.
“Without a doubt, it was a weird time for all of us, but there was a strong demand for things that sparked joy. We grew significantly, began to offer new products like leashes and harnesses, but weren’t immune to pandemic challenges,” she said. “There’s a lot of delays in trade and transportation right now, so we could design something and not see it in person for months. It makes things harder to navigate.”
Confident in her abilities as an entrepreneur, she powers through those obstacles and started sharing what she learned with others. For example, she is currently building an online class for entrepreneurs to learn the ins and outs of working with manufacturers. While she didn’t think she would build her own business in college, she credits her mother, Bettie Holmes, a serial entrepreneur, for showing her she could.
“Some of my best childhood memories are of helping her make silk-flower bouquets for brides, slideshows for weddings, or setting up booths at expos and festivals,” North said. "Over the years, she was a silk-flower florist, photographer and accountant."
She also found support through Omaha’s entrepreneurial community and friends like her college roommate, Rachel (Latka) Golberg, ’07. North, Golberg and three other friends grew up in Omaha together and remain close after studying at Nebraska.
“We still have a really tight group of five girls that we went to high school with. We have lived all over the country, so we got good at texting and using social media to stay in touch,” said Golberg, who now lives in Alexandria, Minnesota, and co-owns two businesses with her husband called CYBERsprout and Golberg Properties Incorporated. “Graduating with Jeannie was special because that was our third graduation together – eighth grade, high school and college. Not many friends can say that!”
North and Golberg also started their college experiences at other places and transferred into Nebraska. They worked multiple jobs, carpooled whenever they could and knew many other childhood friends from across campus.
“Having each other definitely helped. Jeannie was always a business major, but I bounced from architecture to interior design to economics. Seeing her business classes and projects pushed me in that direction,” Golberg said. “I knew Jeannie was going to be successful in whatever she tried to do. She’s never taken ‘no’ for an answer, and she’s extremely creative. We were poor college students together, and it’s fun to see how far we’ve come from our little apartment on Knox Street.”