Regardless of its exact origin, Sierra West went big with the Big Dog iconography. For a while, the puppies were indeed big. In the brand’s heyday, which spanned the 90’s and 00’s, celebs like Will Smith, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and David Collier proudly sported big Big Dogs prints. The brand gave bright California surf energy in neon colors, large-scale prints, and an unmissable St. Bernard-esque Big Dog, situated right alongside early-days Stussy and pre-Target Mossimo.
But the brand filed for bankruptcy in 1990, with new ownership pivoting to an outlet model. As outlet malls fell out of favor and business imperatives changed, so did the Big Dogs wearers. The core demographic was now the middle-aged, “average-Joe,” “salt of the earth,” and “very ‘Middle America’” customer, former Big Dogs brand director Steve Dawson told The Outline. By the late 90’s, Big Dogs had fully reached the snark of brands like Big John and Coed Naked, contributing to the phenomenon of the “D-Shirt”, or Douchebag shirt. To this day, the Big Dogs online shop boasts a dedicated section for tees with especially “Big Attitude.”
The man behind Big Dog’s radical shift was Hayden Slater, co-founder of Pressed Juicery. Slater took co-ownership of Big Dogs and its parent, The Walking Company Holdings in May 2019. Flipping through old-school catalogs, he unearthed Big Dogs’ past: “There was a moment where Big Dog started getting a little bit mean,” he notes. “There was this personality that came out that was like, if you can’t hang with the big dogs, get off the porch.” But Slater also saw a road forward. “I started saying, can [Big Dogs] come from this loving, fun, inclusive place? Or has the brand gotten a little bit fratty or mean-spirited?” Looking back, he knew the brand had already accomplished plenty of good with its historically inclusive sizing up to 6X, making Big Dogs it an outlier in the fashion world. “How fucking dope is that? Celebrating bodies, celebrating shapes? Everyone could be a part of this,” Slater says. “I [felt] like the dog [was] ready to evolve again.”
The goal was simple: “The Big Dog [was to become] the anti-bully.” Slater brought on music-industry ghostwriter E.B. Sollis as Big Dog’s brand director to take on the challenge of shifting its reputation. Until Big Dogs, Sollis hadn’t done anything close to creative direction, but he did know how to work within someone else’s voice.
Sollis, looking back on the mission, jokes, “I don’t know if dogs get facelifts, but the first thing that I did when I was there was redevelop the mission statement.” The new core principle: Go Big, Do Good. The company hired another savvy brander Elena Flores in January 2020. Together, Flores and Sollis reminded the Internet of Big Dogs’ legacy as an “epic sand brand,” repackaging it for today’s market as the “anti-Supreme.” To Sollis, this didn’t mean the brand couldn’t also be cool, but it did mean staying accessible for anyone desiring the loyalty of a Big Dog—“a protector, rather than a bully.”