Playing Dress Up

05.13.13

Meet Maki Yamada, Guinea-Pig Fashion Designer

A Japanese designer is creating accessories—including Santa Claus costumes and blonde wigs—for guinea pigs. She talks to Misty White Sidell about her designs, going viral, and what’s next (prairie dogs).

Dressing pets up in elaborate outfits is nothing new. One renowned fashion university has even developed a certificate program to help the pet fashion industry grow. But so often, pet clothing is created only for dogs and cats—leaving out the rest of the bunch. That’s where 28-year-old Tokyo-based designer Maki Yamada comes in. She’s developed a whole line of clothes for the oft forgotten but no less adorable guinea pig—an animal she described to The Daily Beast as “really unique, unusual, and cool.”

Yamada says that her connection with small fuzzy creature was love at first sight. She “first saw guinea pigs in a zoo and then went to the pet store the next day and got one.” Now she owns three, the latest edition of which came courtesy of Mother Nature. “I bought my second one, and the pet shop told me was a boy, but it turned out to be a girl,” she says. “She had three babies, and I gave two of them away to my friends, so now I have one daddy, one mommy, and a daughter.”

All three guinea pigs model for her e-commerce website, where you’ll find teeny kimonos, sundresses, and her most popular item, a Santa Claus costume, most of which retail between $10 and $18. There are even guinea-pig wedding dresses, a design that came about because Yamada “had so many requests from customers that they wanted to have a wedding party for their guinea pigs.” But single-lady guinea pigs, fear not! Yamada has also created alluring accessories like a blonde curly wig attached to small straw hat, which can be affixed to guinea pigs using “a small [built-in] clip,” says Yamada. However silly, it has gone viral—Yamada says her official photo of the wig has been reblogged over 20,000 times since she first posted it on Tumblr.

In case you’re wondering if guinea pigs are popular pets in Tokyo, the answer is no. “The population density is really high, so you can’t really have big cages [in your small apartment],” Yamada said, attesting that hamsters are more of a small-rodent norm. But in Japan—a country whose commercial market revolves around kawaii (the cultural moniker for “cute”)—the pet clothing market is already incredibly saturated. It’s why Yamada has no plans to expand her label to accommodate guinea pigs’ popular counterpart—bunny rabbits. “There are already lots of people doing clothes for rabbits, I want to try for more minor pets like prairie dogs,” she said of her next moves.

In the last week, Yamada’s guinea-pig fashion label has garnered an unprecedented amount of press after being discovered by English news outlet the Daily Mail. “I’m excited about it, but it doesn’t feel real,” Yamada told us. “Especially because I don’t live in the U.K. or America, so I don’t know how famous I am.”

The attention has given her a whole new base line of fans—many of whom have sent her messages with special orders and ideas for new designs. So far she’s received requests for Boston Red Sox uniforms, bonnets for baby guinea pigs, and even a turtle-shell costume.

But Yamada has no intention of hurting the small animals with her designs. Her website clearly states: “Please don’t force your piggy to stay in this outfit if he/she looks obviously uncomfortable. Short time usage is preferred; perhaps just for photo shots.”

While the premise of guinea-pig clothes may seem ridiculous to some, Yamada truly believes her project is for the better good of guinea pigs worldwide. “A lot of people get bored with their guinea pigs,” she reasoned. “They will take photos of them for the first week and then get bored and don’t care about them. But if you put clothes on them for a special occasion and post more pictures of them online, you are at least giving the guinea pig more love and attention.”