Saturday, September 26, 2009

About the time I almost started a business ... but didn't

Ah! Babywearing. What does that mean, exactly? Well, it is pretty much what it sounds like: rather than pushing your baby around in a stroller, you wear her in a carrier. The types of carrier are numerous: stretchy wrap, woven wrap, soft structured carrier, mei tai, ring sling, pouch. There are more, but those are the most common. The brands are even more numerous than that. I feel a baby carrier is an indispensable parenting tool. Really, an absolute must, particularly if your babe is a bit high maintenance like ours is. Not having a baby carrier is like not having diapers. Sure, you can manage without, but it wouldn't be pretty. I honestly don't know how I would survive without a carrier (or ... um ... 17?)

Side note: This week is International Babywearing Week!

Sometimes I feel like I'm in some sort of secret club because of how great babywearing is and how few people I actually see doing it. Sure, we have a stroller. It's a jogging stroller and it rocks and I use it for ... jogging. We have travelled several times with Sierra in her 15 months of life and never once have we had to haul a stroller through an airport or in an out of a vehicle. I want to go up to every parent I see and tell them the secret. To let them know just how much easier a good baby carrier would make their life. ... but that would make me seem crazy. So I don't do it. And I'm not talking about the baby bjorn-type "crotch dangler" carriers. They only work well until your baby is ... oh, about 10 pounds or so and then they start to be uncomfortable for the user. Since you can't even begin to use them until baby is 8 pounds, well, that's just not very useful at all. Plus, dangling by the crotch is not a great position for the baby to be in, developmentally speaking, and I can't imagine it's very comfortable either. And I'm not talking about those bag slings. (Please, please, don't put your baby in a bag sling, it reduces the amount of oxygen that gets to them!) I am talking about a good, well-made baby carrier that is comfortable for both baby and wearer and that is actually useful when your baby gets heavier!

I was fortunate enough to start my venture into parenting with a ring sling. A friend had kindly informed me that it was something that I needed to have. She was right. It took me a bit to figure it out, but once I did, wow! the liberation I experienced when I finally figured out how to nurse in a sling!

Somehow, I discovered The Babywearer (a website) and read about mei tais (say MAY tie). I ordered a gently used one and it was almost instant love. I also came across the DIY forum on that site, and oh! what a glorious find that was! You mean ... I can make these myself?! I started out with a ring sling, then delved into making mei tais. I had the one I bought, and I looked a few online tutorials, and from there, I just took off. I tweaked a little here, changed the dimensions there, added a pockets, changed the strap angle until I had a mei tai that was ... perfect!

Now, I mentioned that there are a lot of brands of baby carriers, but most of them are small business, and many of those are work-at-home-mamas. I felt that my product was on par with something you could buy in a store and that there was certainly room in the market for one more brand of mei tai. My plan was to start a very small business so that I could share the babywearing love. I applied for my Federal Employer Identification Number, I secured the paperwork to set myself up as an LLC, I had an appointment with the small business development center, I wrote my business plan, I researched my competition, researched options for online sales, talked to a friend about setting up a website, purchased two domain names, completed a detailed supply-cost break down, called the county business offices, found fabric wholesales and was sent samples and price sheets, developed a logo ... then I tried to get product liability insurance and my business endeavor came to a screeching halt.

I spoke to 15 different insurance agents. Fifteen! Most of them told me they couldn't help me. Three said they might be able to help. One gave me a quote of $15,000/year. The lowest quote was nearly $5400/year. My business plan was to make fewer than 10 carriers per month. With those numbers, there is no way I can justify the cost of insurance. My choices were:
a) Change my business plan and go big, making carriers full-time, 40+ hours a week, put additional money into advertising so I can make that many sales. With a large sales volume, I could justify the insurance cost.
b) Operate at the small scale I intended without liability insurance. Sure, I could do that, and the likelihood that someone would sue me is probably very low, and other mei tai makers DO operate without insurance. But my personal feeling is that is an extremely irresponsible business decision.

Even if I AM an LLC and I have every customer sign a waiver, that doesn't prevent someone from suing me if they drop their baby while using a carrier made by me. Even if they can't prove negligence on my part (of course they couldn't!), and I win a law suit case, I'm still out the legal fees of around $300/hour. Yikes! Mei tais were introduced into the US around 2003. In the 6+ years they have been used by US parents, there have been precisely zero lawsuits involving these carriers. But I don't want to be the first one. We live in a litigious society.

So that leaves me with: c) Sadly, give up the idea of going into business.

But here are some pretty carriers that I have made!

More of my carriers can be found here.


  1. Your baby carries are so beautiful and so cute! I'm sorry that the bussiness thing didn't work out. Though I will go ahead and tell you that I'll probably be calling you in about ten years so you can make one for me :)

    Great seeing you and Sierra today.

  2. Em, you are a talented lady! I just love my new carrier - thanks!

  3. What a shame it is so difficult to break in to the baby carrier business... your mei tais look great!

  4. Wow Em! Your Baby Carrier look awesome. You and Sierra could be models. Kristi

  5. Interesting. I'm pleased to find someone who's actually knowledgeable enough to look into things like that... (I've got a friend who's had to modify her business of 100% organic cotton baby stuff because of CPSIA, because she can't afford to test each product individually to see if somehow lead magically got added during the production process.) Silly legal climate we live in. They tell me in Canada it's actually illegal to own a baby walker (from wikipedia: "Owners of baby walkers may be fined up to $100,000 or sentenced to up to six months in jail") because some parents were fools enough to put a baby in one upstairs without a stair guard (developmental concerns aside). I can't use most baby carriers... have severe back issues (past surgeries, looking at future ones)... especially not the side-slings... but ones like this where it's evenly balanced and waist-supported look more likely. Luckily, I have some (black market?) patterns to make my own... although I don't know if I'd trust something I made to be sturdy enough to hold a person!

    (Commenting here, because, while your bag is precious, I really have no use for another bag, and no children yet... ask me again next year!)

  6. Oh my what a pain! I love your carriers. I made one once and a sling also. So easy to use. My son hated sitting in a back carry though and a hip carry became too much after 30 lbs... :)