‘A guinea pig changed my life’
Kavee founder and animal lover Clementine Schouteden, 34, isn’t just on a mission to educate guinea pig parents; she wants to improve the lives of guinea pigs globally - and it all started with her own precious piggies.
‘Watching my guinea pigs, Bagpipe and Efendi, popcorning in their spacious C&C cage and snuggling into their soft fleece liners, it fills me with pride to see how happy and content they are. The truth is that those little guinea pigs have changed my life more than they will ever know. More importantly, I hope that, together, my piggies and I have improved the lives of thousands of other animals just like them through my company, Kavee.’
Looking back, it was inevitable that I’d end up working with animals in some way. Growing up in rural France, I was obsessed with animals and pestered my parents for pets as soon as I could talk. I’d also rescue injured mice and birds. But although I loved animals, I was never drawn to becoming a vet, despite studying for a pHD in Biology.
Then, in my twenties, I went in a completely different direction by working as a management consultant in Brussels, helping businesses develop and grow. Business became my second passion after caring for animals.
Around this time, I wanted to get a dog but knew that it wouldn’t be possible with my work commitments so I began researching smaller pets instead.
Guinea pigs caught my eye and, looking online, I was intrigued by the different breeds. In fact, I began to spend so much time browsing guinea pig websites that my friends and colleagues would jokingly make fun of me. Like many people, they saw guinea pigs as pets for children, not adults.
But I wasn’t deterred and, in March 2015, I adopted two boars - Bagpipe, a tri-coloured, long-haired Peruvian and Livingstone, a short-haired Agouti.
Before my boys came to live with me, I looked at all sorts of indoor cages for them. I never considered putting them in a small cage from a pet shop - it just didn’t feel right to me because I wanted my guinea pigs to have as much space as possible.
So I got a friend to build an open top, 1.20 metre long wooden cage for Bagpipe and Livingstone. I also made sure they had plenty of time outside their cage. I’d set up an area in my flat for them to explore, with fleeces and toys on the floor, and I could see how happy they were to scamper around.
The wooden cage a friend built for me
As I didn’t have a garden, I’d take them out to the park when it was sunny, popping them inside a playpen to keep them safe. Strangers would sometimes look and laugh at the sight of me with my guinea pigs but it didn’t bother me. It was important for me to give them the space and playtime they needed.
The fact is that when I see guinea pigs in small cages, I can’t ignore it. Caring about animal welfare is in my DNA. It’s something deep inside me. To me, it’s about recognising how special these animals are and treating them right. We should never put guinea pigs - or any small animal - away in a little cage on a shelf and close the door on them.
The idea for my company, Kavee, started towards the end of 2016. By then, I’d adopted my third guinea pig, Efendi. Sadly, my three boars didn’t always get along and sometimes needed to be placed in separate cages. The wooden cage I’d been using was no longer suitable and it had also been difficult to clean, so I started looking for more flexible alternatives.
Looking online, I saw C&C grid cages - modular cages constructed from connecting metal grids with coroplast plastic bases - and loved how they could be easily modified to accommodate your piggys’ needs. But at that time, C&C cages weren’t easily available in Belgium or France.
Around that time, I was thinking of leaving my job and becoming my own boss. I was considering starting up my own company, selling C&C guinea pig cages to the French market.
It was exciting but also daunting and at the start, I was my own biggest critic. As C&C cages already existed, I wasn't convinced that I was bringing anything original to the market.
But over the next six months, as I liaised with suppliers and looked at samples, I realised that Kavee could offer something new and exciting to guinea pig parents after all.
Playing around with coroplast sheet samples, we had the idea of using folding corners so that the plastic base of our cages would sit neatly within the grids rather than needing tapes or ties. This was a brand new cage concept I hadn’t seen elsewhere.
Our latest range of white C&C cages
We also redesigned the grids, making them lighter whilst decreasing the spaces between bars to make them safe for smaller piggies. We did almost everything ourselves, including designing a company logo and website. There were plenty of challenges - from persuading manufacturers to work with a tiny start-up to designing packaging capable of protecting the coroplast sheets from being damaged by the grids during transportation. Initially, our product range was basic - we only offered black C&C grids and blue coroplast. But when I put my own guinea pigs in a 5x2 C&C cage - the biggest one I could fit in my flat - I could see the difference in them straight away. They had so much space to run around and if they weren’t getting along, I could quickly add a couple of grids inside the cage which meant that they were separated but could still see and smell each other.
The evolution of Kavee's logo over the years
The other thing that struck me was the importance of using a guinea pig cage with a stand so that my piggies were higher up. They were instantly less skittish and easier to tame and it also made cleaning the cage easier.
Seeing how happy my piggies were in a C&C cage reassured me that we were bringing the right products to the market. Kavee was launched in France in June 2017 and I will never forget the excitement over our very first order two days later.
To know that someone liked what we were offering was incredible and after that, we received between 10 and 20 orders a week. As I was still working a full time job, I would spend the weekends packaging up orders and carrying them to the post office to send them off. I didn’t have time for much of a social life at that point!
After six months, Kavee was getting so many orders, I realised that we needed help and spoke to a friend who was working in ‘impact employment’ - hiring people with learning and physical disabilities. They were very happy to take on the production side of things for us, which was a turning point because I could focus on developing the company.
I realised that through Kavee, we could have such a positive impact. Not only could we spread the word to guinea pig owners about buying larger cages for their animals, we could also provide meaningful employment to people with disabilities.
Since then, I’ve continued to be very careful in my hiring decisions. As some areas of business, such as technical design, are still very much male dominated I will always employ women if I can.
I left my job in January 2018 so that I could devote all my time to developing Kavee products. In November 2018, along with selling modular grids and coroplast, we started offering fleece liners for guinea pigs.
My own guinea pigs had always been on fleece - living in a flat, using wood shavings would have made such a mess - but the first homemade fleece liners I used for them weren’t ideal as hay and hair would stick to them very easily.
So we worked hard to develop thicker fleece liners with an absorbent inner layer which were easy to wash.
At first, we offered simple basic colours but wanted something funkier and more fun. In June 2019, our fleece supplier acquired the technology to print onto fabric, which was really exciting. Our first patterns were very striking - green zebra, pastel rainbow stripes and monochrome cow print.
Our latest range of printed fleece liners for guinea pigs
Now, four years after we sold our very first cage, we have four online stores in the US and all over Europe. You can also find us on Etsy.
Whilst our HQ is based in the UK on the Isle of Wight, our production team remains in Belgium.
We currently sell more than 800 products including more than 300 types of C&C cages for guinea pigs, C&C cages for rabbits, various designs of guinea pig fleece liners and guinea pig accessories including chew toys, snuggle sacks, pee pads and guinea pig tipis.
The range of Kavee's products
I’m very particular about the visual identity of Kavee - I want to look at the products on my sites and feel proud. The ultimate product test is always: ‘Would I have this in my home and would my own guinea pigs like this?’
I really believe that our fleece liners for guinea pigs make a difference because piggies love them! When I see them snuggle on a fleece liner, I can’t imagine them looking so cosy in wood shavings. My biggest motivation is knowing that animals love Kavee products.
But we’re equally passionate about bringing great content to piggy parents, whether it’s informative, entertaining or inspiring.
On our social platforms - Pinterest, Youtube, Instagram and our three blogs (UK, USA, FR)- we create articles and videos to advise and help guinea pig owners. offering free guinea pig care resources on our blog, answering questions such as ‘20 ways to bond with your guinea pig’. On Instagram, we hold weekly live events with guinea pig experts and owners. We also partner with guinea pig rescue centres, spotlighting their work on our social media channels with our programme 'Guinea Pig Rescue of the Month'.
Our mission at Kavee is to take an activist role when it comes to animal welfare. We’ve always encouraged our customers to buy the biggest cages they can manage. The truth is that we believe the current guidelines for cages, set by animal welfare organisations, are far too small.
It’s also important to know that boars tend to need more space than sows - something that isn’t addressed in the current cage guidelines.
For instance, the current minimum advised cage size for two piggies (either sows or boars) is a 2x3 C&C cage. But at Kavee, we advise our customers not to buy anything smaller than a 2x4 C&C cage for two sows and a 2x5 C&C cage for two boars.
Seeing guinea pigs in small cages, it’s obvious they’re not happy. Quite simply, if your piggies aren’t running around in their cage, something isn’t right.
The other thing we really try to impress on guinea pig parents is that, along with giving your pets enough space, you must keep them clean in order to keep them healthy.
I know that not everyone wants to use fleece and that some people like to use a hybrid set up, using half fleece liner and half wood shavings or prefer to use a different type of bedding such as paper or pellets. I respect everyone’s personal choice but what we’re doing is offering a new, different choice so you can make your set up work for you and your guinea pigs.
When we launched Kavee, we assumed that our customers would mainly be families but we also have a loyal customer base of single women too and they’re tech and social media savvy and really interested in home decor, which extends to their pet homes too. I love connecting with a new generation of guinea pig fans through Kavee.
Kavee has never just been about a company selling pet supplies - it’s about connecting with guinea pig owners too. People outside the guinea pig community don’t tend to understand what is so exciting about these adorable little animals but, as people who love guinea pigs, we’re all in this together.
In fact, our customer service workers are often asked questions by customers such as ‘what herbs can I grow in my garden for my guinea pigs?’ and we’re always more than happy to help.
Sadly, we lost Livingstone in March 2018 but he’ll never be forgotten. After all, together with Bagpipe and Efendi, he was the reason why I first embarked on this journey.
At Kavee, we’re proud that over 50,000 guinea pigs have now been rehomed in spacious, humane Kavee cages. I truly want Kavee to be a force for good and to create a legacy to help animals and humans alike.”