A 2000 Darien High School graduate may be turning a brainstorm into a windfall.
After designing a unique article of clothing for dogs, she could become the next choice for nationwide distribution through Wal-Mart.
Lindsay Calastro McGraw, who resides in South Amboy, N.J., combined her love of animals with a crafty background in design to make some four-legged friends happy with her company, American Dog Apparel.
"It's a company that I founded back in December of 2011," she said. "The Doggy Dickey is my only product at this moment." But more creations are certain to come.
Even more exciting, McGraw has reached the second round in Wal-Mart's Get on the Shelf Contest, which will award one burgeoning entrepreneur and creator with the opportunity to be distributed by one of the world's largest chains.
"I grew up in Darien," McGraw said. "I grew up with two dogs and I always liked dressing them up and making outfits for them to wear."
Her two terriers, Clover and Pistachio, were merely the first animals to wear McGraw-designed duds.
"The Doggy Dickey is unique and fills a void completely missed by typical dog coats," said Leslie Schack, of Netcong, N.J., whose three miniature schnauzers wear them to stay warm on walks.
"It adds a layer of protection in cold weather that our best friends truly benefit from," she said.
McGraw's rescue dog, Sharkey, an English bull terrier, was the inspiration for the product.
"We got her right before Christmas, and she didn't have a lot of fur," she said. "So the colder it got through the winter, the less enthused she was about being outside, so I definitely knew she needed protection."
Attributing some of the talent to her mom's sewing handiwork, McGraw said, "I've always been crafty. I don't really have any formal training."
Now she's having the dickeys produced in Chicago, and is seeing interest grow among pet owners in southern Connecticut and New Jersey.
"It's been good," she said. "I`ve had a lot of positive feedback and repeat customers."
Pru Burkhart, of Darien, said she purchased the Doggy Dickey as a gift for her friend's German short-hair pointer, Lilly. "Lilly is a very big girl, so I was happy that the dickey comes in many sizes and was able to get just the right fit.
"I think the Doggy Dickey should win placement at Wal-Mart because it is such a wonderful product. It's easy to put on and comes in great colors that can be worn alone or with a coat."
McGraw echoed Burkhart's sentiment. "It's harder to find things for the bigger dogs, especially on the parts where they need it -- on the chest and stomach, where they have less hair."
The dickeys come in all sizes, ready for dogs from five to 150 pounds.
To enter the contest, McGraw had to submit a YouTube video stating why she deserved to be in the stores.
"Right now we're in the voting phase," she said, and while the decision to pick the four finalists for the last round of the contest is not a direct result of public voting, the number of votes received will help McGraw's cause.
"It's to gauge consumer interest," she said.
McGraw is hoping her hometown will come through with some support. "I was looking for something to bring to market that would be unique and serve a need," McGraw said.
The voting continues through Sept. 4. A Facebook account is needed to cast a vote. To help encourage the company can cast a vote each day at getontheshelf.walmart.com/product/1885/The-Doggy-Dickey.