After 10 years in the graphic design field, Mindy Leher of Red Dog Glass has developed a devoted following. Her glass etching work can be found in the front windows of many local businesses: Inde Blue, Gourmet Popcorn Creations, The Pop Shop, The Candy Jar, Frugal Resale and Zeppoli.
As proud as she is of the prominence of that work, Leher kept getting requests to help with other imprinting jobs for which she just wasn’t equipped.
Did she make apparel? Could she do screen printing? She soon began to see that there was a broader demand for her talents if she could capitalize on it.
Every time she was offered such a job, Leher would reach out to her friend, Jen Hilgenberg, to help make arrangements to find apparel makers. Eventually the two found themselves working together so often that they thought they ought to take the hint and just make it an official thing.
Hence the launch of the first subsidiary of Red Dog Glass: Lil’ Diesel Designs. Through that imprint, the duo plans to woo customers from rec leagues to nonprofit corporations to the Crossfit workout industry.
Sports garments are a natural entry point for the pair, whose background is in collegiate athletics: Hilgenberg coaches women’s basketball at Swarthmore, and Leher coached women’s lacrosse at her alma mater, James Madison.
“If I was a librarian, I would probably be doing stuff for the libraries,” Hilgenberg said.
Leher wants Lil’ Diesel to offer a combination of design and production services with the customer service of a traditional print shop. She and Hilgenberg talk about helping clients stretch the possibilities of their designs with their expectations of what a T-shirt can be.
Even a freebie from a work team-building exercise can become more than a laundry-day substitute if it’s made well enough, they say. For that reason, they purchase shirts from a variety of vendors to suit the needs of their clients.
“We’re not an apparel brand where you either like our shirts or not,” Hilgenberg says. “We buy from tons of different vendors, whether it’s American Apparel, Guild, Haines, Next Level.”
“We want to make your favorite T-shirt,” Leher said.
Just as important as getting the look and feel of the product right, Leher says, is being good corporate citizens, and "apparel for a good cause is something that organizations always need help with.
“If there’s a fundraiser, we can do some [shirts] at reduced cost, or donate back the profits," she said.
“We don’t want to be just the promo people,” Hilgenberg said, “and we’re huge on relationships.
It’s a solid business strategy in its own right. But Leher and Hilgenberg aren't embracing it just for the sake of commerce. They, like many other local entrepreneurs, have bought into the borough itself—as taxpayers.
Hilgenberg just moved into town over the summer. She says it was an easy decision to move to Collingswood.
“Immediately you get the sense of that pride,” she said. “It’s addicting to live in a town of that pride. You can see it from anybody who lives in this area.”
Leher’s owned her house in Collingswood for seven years. She was attracted to Philadelphia for its artistic culture, but “needed a spot that would hold me and my dog and my business,” so Collingswood won out.
The dog is Cova (pronounced KO-vuh); she's the red dog in Red Dog glass. Leher refers to her alternately as her baby, her inspiration, and her senior vice-president. Equal parts mascot and security system, Cova is as well-traveled as Leher herself.
Apparently she knows when to stay put, too.