As Fleurty Girl (citywide; www.fleurtygirl.net) owner Lauren Thom moves among the fleurs-de-lis, crawfish, shrimp boots and other iconic New Orleans motifs on her signature T-shirt line, she looks like something of a local icon herself. With her fire engine-red hair and infectious grin, she's instantly recognizable — and her shadow, a Chihuahua/rat terrier mix named Zulu, is never far behind.
"Zulu is our store greeter," Thom says. "She loves running up to people and being the center of attention. But if you bring boxes in with you, Zulu will greet you with her squeaky bark."
Zulu distrusts mail carriers. Otherwise, the well-dressed pooch is a friendly member of the Fleurty Girl team, complete with her own profile on the store's website. Zulu was not always a kept dog, though. A friend of Thom's found her in 2011 at a busy Mid-City intersection, lost and alone.
"My friend scooped her up and decided to foster her until she could find a good home, and I decided this would be a good chance to see if I could handle [owning a dog]," Thom says. "My three kids wanted a dog. I thought since it would not be a permanent thing, we could see how it would go. But she is such a sweet dog, and we fell in love with her."
Zulu made her appearance in time to see the Fleurty Girl brand take off. Thom started her business on a $2,000 tax refund. She had no idea that small investment would get her as far as it has. She thought she would be trying to unload her first collection of T-shirts for the rest of her life.
"In 2009, I bought a house on Oak Street," Thom says. "I made the front of the house my business area and crammed all four members of the family into the back of the house. Within the first month, I sold out of prints and had a back order for more shirts. I never took a paycheck. I just kept putting the money back into the business until a profit margin was created."
In mid-November, Thom will open her fifth location, this one in Metairie. Zulu has enjoyed every moment working with the business, because she is surrounded by her favorite thing: clothes. Ever since Thom adopted Zulu, she has been dressing the dog. Zulu doesn't seem to mind. She craves the attention and doesn't shy away from the spotlight.
"Zulu is a total New Orleans dog," Thom says. "She gets her nails painted and has a wardrobe as big as my own. What more could a dog want?"
My Favorite Things ...
• Greeting customers
• Playing dress up