Vancouver woman's Etsy business combines love of tortoises, crocheting

She creates cute, fun cozies for shelled reptiles

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

Published:

 

People dress their dogs in rain jackets and tutus. They put their cats in hoodies and T-shirts. And come Halloween, there's no shortage of superhero costumes for pets.

So why not cozies for tortoises?

"People dress up their dogs, dress up their cats," said Katie Bradley, the Vancouver woman behind tortoise cozies. "It's a harmless thing to do to dress up their tortoise every now and then."

Did you know?

• Turtles and tortoises are both reptiles, have scales, lay eggs and are cold-blooded. But they have differences.

• Most turtles spend much of their time in the water, tend to have webbed feet for swimming and are omnivores. Tortoises are land-dwellers, have round, stumpy feet and are herbivores.

Sure, the crocheted sweaters don't actually keep the cold-blooded tortoises warm. But they do serve a practical purpose: It's easier to find a tortoise exploring the garden when it's wearing a shark fin cozy.

Bradley's tortoise cozy venture began in December 2012.

Bradley, 33, came across a funny photo of a tortoise with a doily on its shell. The longtime crocheter made her own version — a shell-shaped cap with a strap to slide over the tortoise's belly. She slipped the little sweater on one of her tortoises and posted the photo to an online tortoise forum.

Bradley and her husband laughed at the photo. But people from the forum started asking Bradley to make cozies for their tortoises. After a few requests, Bradley decided to start an Etsy shop, Mossy Tortoise, and sell the handmade items.

To learn more

• Visit Katie Bradley’s Etsy shop, Mossy Tortoise, to purchase a tortoise cozy.

• Katie Bradley’s blog on her work with tortoises and her tips for caring for tortoises.

International Reptile Rescue.

"They started selling as fast as I could make them," Bradley said.

Initially, Bradley made only simple, solid-colored cozies. But customers began asking for different designs — animals, food items and various flowers. So, she started expanding her offerings, beginning with a stegosaurus cozy.

The stegosaurus cozy remains the most popular item, but the shark fin, hamburger and flower cozies are also quite popular, Bradley said. The cozies range in price, but most are $17 to $21. Some of the more intricate pieces cost more.

Bradley also fills custom orders. Some of those include a robot vacuum "with a cat holding on for dear life," a stack of smaller tortoises, a house on a hilltop and a flying pig. Her largest creation was a rubber ducky for a 33-inch tortoise.

She also has designs for the holidays, such as a Santa hat for Christmas and a pumpkin or spider for Halloween.

"I have quite a few outstanding orders for bunnies for Easter," Bradley said.

Each cozy is an original design. The only requests Bradley turns down are those of copyright images.

Since opening her Etsy shop a little more than a year ago, Bradley has filled 1,200 orders. Many of those orders contained more than one cozy. She estimates she's made at least 1,400 cozies and shipped them all around the world.

But the little Etsy business keeps growing.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Bradley was crocheting up to nine hours a day to keep up with orders. She was filling 20 orders a day, but still, at one point, had 180 outstanding orders. Now that the holiday rush has ended, Bradley is about a month out on orders. She completes a handful of orders each day. And since each order is custom made to fit the tortoise and his or her favorite colors, customers don't mind the wait, Bradley said.

Bradley squeezes the work in when she can: while her son is at gymnastics, during meetings at his school and while her two boys are playing together.

"I just fit it in here and there," she said. "That's the joy."

The joy Bradley gets from making the cozies comes from fusing two of her favorite things: tortoises and crocheting.

Bradley got her first tortoise when she was 26. Soon after, she acquired another second-hand tortoise. Then another. And another.

She now has eight tortoises. Most of them are second-hand tortoises, meaning they were previously owned. Bradley is also fostering three tortoises for the International Reptile Rescue based in Canby, Ore.

Bradley came to work with the organization after taking in her second tortoise, Roz.

Roz was in bad shape when he came into Bradley's care. The 5-inch Russian tortoise had been kept in a 10-gallon aquarium — much too small of a space, Bradley said. His environment was also too hot and too dry for the tortoise to thrive, she said.

Bradley turned to the rescue organization for information about rehabilitating Roz. From there, a friendship formed and Bradley began fostering and rehabilitating tortoises for the nonprofit. Several of her rehabilitated tortoises now reside in Clark County homes, she said.

"They're fun pets," Bradley said. "They look prehistoric. They look like little dinosaurs."

Because tortoise well-being is a priority for Bradley, each of her cozies comes with instructions and warnings: cozies are only sometimes wear; tortoises should be kept away from heat sources while wearing cozies; and tortoises should be monitored while wearing cozies.

While people around the world appear to love dressing their tortoises in Bradley's creations, her own tortoises are almost always cozy-free.

"People are disappointed to know my tortoises don't walk around in cozies all the time," she said. "My tortoises live in the nude."

Tortoise cozies