Profile: Fashion with Fido

Profile: Fashion with Fido

Toastmaster promotes pooch projects. 

By Julie Bawden Davis

Tell Jo Jo Harder she’s really gone to the dogs, and she’ll take that as a compliment. This Florida Toastmaster is proud of her canine-related accomplishments, which include creating and hosting America’s Top Dog Model Contest and writing her newly released book, Diva Dogs: The Style Guide to Living the Fabulous Life.

Harder, who started her career as a fashion designer and stylist, created the dog model event in 2005. She says it is considered “one of the hottest and most stylish dog contests” in America. “I started the contest and decided to write the book after doing research about the increasing popularity of dog events such as parties and parades, and finding that it was an untapped market,” says Harder.

After the dog model contest boomed in popularity, she sought the assistance of Toastmasters and eventually joined the Boca Raton Toastmasters club. “I had heard about Toastmasters over the years, and decided it was time to join and improve my speaking skills when I realized that my business was growing quickly and I was required to speak at more and more events,” she says. “From the moment I walked in the door, I was impressed by the professional, nurturing atmosphere of the [Boca Raton] club and decided to join.”

Less than a year after becoming a member in October 2007, Harder has found the experience invaluable.

“I am much more at ease and confident about speaking now,” says the author, who regularly appears on television and in front of audiences of more than 400. “Toastmasters was the best investment for success that I’ve ever made. I’ve learned to be comfortable speaking in any setting and to any-sized crowd, and I owe it all to Toastmasters.” 

                    “Toastmasters was the best investment fo
                    success that I’ve ever made.”

Karen Novek, a member of the Boca Raton club, has been impressed with Harder. “Jo Jo is very elegant and proper, but she was initially a little nervous about public speaking and as a result appeared somewhat reserved and shy,” says Novek, who became Harder’s mentor. “Since joining, she has become an incredible speaker who uses gestures, body language and vocal variety to her advantage.”

Harder’s initial idea for the dog contest and book took root when she was talking to a friend a few years ago about how they had both spent their Halloween holiday.

“My friend told me that she was invited to doggy parties where you dress up your dog and go out and parade them around, and then she suggested that I think about styling doggy events. I was intrigued,” says Harder, who grew up with dogs and has a 10-month-old Italian greyhound named Romeo.

After attending the popular annual pet parade on Worth Avenue in Florida’s Palm Beach, Harder became truly inspired.

“I had never seen dogs dressed so unbelievably well,” she notes. “There were hundreds of dogs on the runway being judged for different categories – such as best tail wagger.”

Soon after starting the Top Dog Model Contest, Harder began writing Diva Dogs, which highlights glamorous high-fashion photos of dogs entered in the event, as well as spectacular dog “spaws” (dog party themes with photos and planning tips), “petiquette” rules, and an international and national resource guide of 150 boutiques, stores and bakeries that cater exclusively to dogs.

The winner of the dog contest and the remaining 11 finalists appear in an annual calendar. The 2008 champion, Maia, a pug from Minneapolis, Minnesota, graces this year’s cover dressed to the hilt in a black satin gold-trimmed cape and matching crown.

“Jo Jo is definitely a doggy dynamo,” says Sherry Frankel, president of the Worth Avenue Association, which holds the annual pet parade. She met Harder three years ago when she invited her to be a judge at the event.

“She has tremendous vitality and enthusiasm and is such fun to be around. Her ideas are great, and her contest is professionally done and incredibly organized.”

Novek, the fellow Boca Raton Toastmaster, adds of Harder: “When she talks about something she loves, her passion really comes through. Every time she gives a speech, you learn something new.”

For more information about Jo Jo Harder and America’s Top Dog Model Contest, visit

 Julie Bawden Davisis a freelance writer based in Southern California and a longtime contributor to the Toastmaster. You can reach her at

Lights, Camera, Action –
Are You Ready for Television?

Not long after she started America’s Top Dog Model Contest, Jo Jo Harder found herself in demand on the interview circuit. As an expert in canine fashion, she was invited on TV to talk about the subject. If you, too, are an authority in your field and may have TV appearances in your future, Harder has some helpful suggestions to make the most out of such opportunities. These are drawn from her own experiences and the lessons she learned along the way. Using the information and skills provided by Toastmasters, Harder has developed a personal plan to prepare for what she calls a “red carpet” interview. Consider her top tips:

  • Be prepared and know your subject matter. “Research your topic if necessary, and practice,” says Harder. She says she prepared for a live interview on The Morning Show, Channel 10 Miami, which included bringing along three dogs, with thorough practice sessions with a partner. “Despite the short lead time – only two days – the interview went amazingly well,” she says, “and I’ve since had more TV appearances.” Besides knowing her subject and practicing, Harder also prepares “concise opening and closing remarks that make a memorable impression.”
  • Get all the facts about the TV program. The more information you have, the more confident you will feel. Find out air time, the basic format of the show, where the interview will take place, and the producer’s name and contact information. Also, inquire about the topic of discussion and how long you will be expected to speak.
  • Look professional. Harder recommends wearing tailored business attire, such as a suit. “Bright, rich colors look best on TV, such as navy and royal blue, magenta, buttercup, hunter green and cocoa brown. Avoid white, ivory and pastels, except for blouses and shirts under a jacket. And definitely avoid bold prints, plaids and checks. Jewelry should not be large, dangling or shiny.” And if you are offered the services of the studio’s makeup professional, Harder says to accept. Even if you normally do not wear makeup, matte lipstick and translucent powder can help eliminate a “washed out” look under the bright lights. Hair should be well groomed and nails neatly manicured. Make a final check of your appearance in the restroom prior to going on the air.
  • Maintain composure. Once in front of the camera, Harder says to sit comfortably with legs crossed away from the camera and hands arranged calmly in your lap. “Look at the person interviewing you. Smile appropriately, matching your look with the content of the interview. Keep answers short and to the point. Recognize that anything can happen during a television interview, so be prepared for unexpected changes, and maintain your composure at all times.”