We had the good fortune of connecting with Sophia Sanchez and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Sophia, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
Ten years ago in 2014, I adopted a rescue pit bull from Austin, Texas that had been abused by his previous owners. At the time, he was only about 8 or 9 months old and had already experienced a lifetime of trauma. I’ve always been a huge animal lover and had fostered a handful of dogs, but had never really had a pet of my own because I was young and moved around a lot. But something about this giant, scared puppy, sitting under a tent at an adoption event I stumbled upon called to me. I sat down with him and five minutes later knew that I couldn’t go home without him. I named him Wyatt and I’d like to say that we lived happily ever after.

I didn’t have a lot of experience with dog rehabilitation and while Wyatt never showed signs of aggression towards another person or animal, he had serious trauma to overcome and he didn’t trust anyone – not even me. The first few years after bringing him home were tough. He had a very real fear of men. My boyfriend couldn’t put his belt on for work without sending Wyatt into a cowering mess. Running water from the kitchen sink made him yelp out as if he was in agonizing pain, even if the water never touched him. All of these little, meaningless actions that the average person does multiple times a day were very real signs that he’d been through something horrible. And there were a lot of moments when I wondered if I was the right person for the job. Could I ever make him feel safe again?

It took years. And we had a lot of set backs along the way. My boyfriend and I would build his confidence in one area of his life, only to have to start back at square one when something unexpected and uncontrollable would terrify him all over again. But we never gave up and slowly, we began to see this new confident dog emerge. Today he’s roughly 11 years old and is the best thing that ever happened to me. You’d never know he was that same, scared dog from all those years ago and he’s my gentle giant; a pup who doesn’t have a mean bone in his body despite all the terrifying things he endured as a puppy of just a few months old.

All of this to say that my journey with Wyatt opened my eyes to a world of animal abuse and discrimination against dogs that look like him that I had never been privy too. I knew I wanted to give back somehow, to find a way to give back to the community that saved my dog’s life. In 2016 I began organizing and hosting an annual fundraiser where I put together wall calendars and simple merch like t-shirts & hoodies, where 100% of the profits would benefit a 501(c)3 organization within the animal rescue community. I had some success and in the last 8 years have been able to donate over $20,000 to various organizations and individual dogs in need – those with medical needs.

I knew I wanted to do more however, and dreamt about starting my own business where I could give back on a more consistent basis; to be able to provide a product that spoke to the passion I have towards advocating for bully breeds and rescue animals. Enter Barktivist Boutique.

Barktivist is a play on the word “activist” and much of our merch is centered around messages of advocacy. Simple messages like “advocate like a pit bull mom” or “dad” are conversations starters that get people asking questions. My business catch phrase is “style that speaks” because education no matter the subject matter starts with a simple question.

I’m a very new business and am still learning as I go, but my goal is to also donate – at minimum – 10% of profits each month to animal rescue causes, while still hosting fundraising campaigns throughout the year.

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Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
I consider Barktivist Boutique to be a lifestyle brand. My merch ranges from apparel for men and women, in addition to other goods like blankets, canvas prints, drinkware and more. I design all of the artwork that goes onto my products and as I mentioned under a previous questions, our merch centers around messages of advocacy for bully breeds & the importance of rescue.

For those who might not know, bully breeds is a phrase used to describe dog breeds that are descendent from a now extinct dog called the Molasser. They’re strong, muscular breeds that were originally bred to protect livestock and guard property, but were later exploited for blood sports such as bull-baiting. Does that fall under this umbrella are most often American Bulldogs, American Pit Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Terriers, Boxers, Bull Mastiffs, Bull Terriers, Mastiffs… just to name a few. Ironically these breeds are also the most misunderstood, most abused and the most discriminated against when it comes to breed specific laws. The term bully breed has nothing to do with how they’re represented within media and society, despite them being labeled as aggressive or dangerous breeds.

As to what sets me apart from other businesses who offer similar products? Through our platform and products, we’re advocates for the misrepresented and we aim to not only drive the narrative surrounding bully breeds and rescue animals, but to educate our communities on the true nature of these incredible beings. What uniquely sets me apart however is that almost everything in my boutique can be customized to have a customer’s pet drawn into the design. As a creative myself, I also create pet portraits. So if a customer sees a product with a specific design on my website, they can reach out to me about sketching their pet’s portrait into that design to make that product even more special to the customer. I draw everything myself without the use of A.I., convert the portraits to vector images and then work them into whatever products my customers want!

I only launched this year, so I’m in the infancy stages of business ownership… but no, it hasn’t been easy. Organic growth within the spectrum of social media is a thing of the past and being a one-man show without a huge marketing budget, it’s been a challenge figuring out how to reach new audiences. But this is something I’m insanely passionate about and I won’t give up without a fight.

What I’m most proud of is myself. I was diagnosed with severe social anxiety & depression in my mid 20’s. In the dictionary, next to the word “introvert” is a picture of me. I have always struggled to put myself out there personally and professionally. But thanks to the support of my family and the people who have believed in me since I started fundraising, I’ve developed the faith in myself that I never thought I’d achieve. Failure is not an option because I truly believe I can make a difference in the lives of those who need it most.

In turn, I hope that I can be an inspiration for other people out there who are too afraid to take that next step. I am a first-generation, Mexican-American woman who’s doing what it takes to leave a positive legacy behind. If I can do it… anyone can.

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If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
This is such a difficult question for me to answer because a) i’m new to the fort worth, area and b) i’m the epitome of introverted. My favorite place to be is at home with my boyfriend and pup. But some of my favorite places food-wise are Buena Vida for delicious birria tacos & elote! And The Pho District for Pho!

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Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My success in fundraising is 100% a result of the dog-loving and animal rescue community we’ve surrounded ourselves on Instagram. I started this journey after creating an Instagram account in 2015 for my dog – @wyatt.the.gentlegiant and the connections and friendships that formed over our shared love of animals have been a guidepost and motivator for me.

These very same people, alongside my boyfriend and family – who have never wavered in their support and belief in me – are what will carry me through to succeed as a business owner and voice for those without one of their own.

Website: https://www.barktivistboutique.com

Instagram: @barkivisit.boutique

Facebook: @barktivist.boutique

Other: My dog’s Instagram account is what started all of this. – @wyatt.the.gentlegiant

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