From Kristin: As part of our continuing series of interviews with sewing women who inspire us, Beth has written this splendid profile of Stacey of Karma Baby. I first “met” Stacey on the Mothering discussion boards. Not only did she seem to have a great thing going with her baby carrier company, but she was incredibly helpful to other moms starting out in small business. I hope you enjoy her story.
Stacey started Karma Baby in 2005 right after her son Elijah was born. Elijah recently turned two and Karma Baby slings are now sold worldwide. The growth of Stacey’s business (helped by some 80+ hour work weeks along the way) will leave you breathless, but one of the most inspirational and successful components of Stacey’s work is how she’s woven Karma Baby, her life and her ideals together in such a cohesive way. Elijah is the center of Stacey’s world (and a VIP employee of Karma Baby… Take a tour of the old studio with Elijah here) and the importance of early attachment in childhood is a passion for Stacey.
Stacey and Elijah with a Karma Baby sling.
The Growth of a Mother and a Business
Stacey completed her Masters degree in psychology right before Elijah was born. Stacey writes that she wanted “to specialize in the attachment issues of young children and create a therapy practice focused on helping these children heal from their traumas.” She was particularly interested in helping children learn to bond in a “secure and healthy way” and her belief in the importance of early attachment led her to stay home with Elijah when he was born. Stacey writes, “I found out right away that I had a lot of creative energy in me that needed an outlet. Mothering a newborn is oftentimes a passive job. Nursing, soothing, walking, bouncing… It was very rewarding, but I had a creative need…”
Stacey adds, “When Elijah was two weeks old my mother-in-law came and taught me how to sew. I was a big advocate of babywearing at the time so decided to sew a pouch sling. People asked me about it all the time. I started making them for other people and trading them. Then I put up a little homemade website and got an order every few days. It felt so good! I loved picking out the fabric, taking pictures, and helping new moms.” It didn’t take long for Stacey to decide to jump right into running her business. “I first hired a seamstress who sewed slings for me from her home. I got a professional website, started working on branding, and made huge improvements on the design and function of my sling. I hired five more seamstresses over the next six months, and then began working with a factory in the U.S. We still have a full-time seamstress here who works on special projects… and we have one home sewer still who helps us restock in between factory shipments. Things just kept growing and growing.”
The company is now really two businesses. Stacey writes, “The first is a sling manufacturing business. This involves a ton of work and includes selling to other stores. We are carried in a lot of online stores and are in brick and mortar stores all over the country and in ten other countries.” The other business is the online retail shop, Karma Baby, where Stacey sells slings directly to customers. Stacey enjoys the direct relationship with customers facilitated by the online retail business but adds, “We love our slings in brick and mortar stores so mamas can get one-on-one help in using their new sling.”
Comfy baby in her Karma Baby sling.
Stacey enjoyed the development process as she perfected the design of Karma Baby slings. At first she says she was “awful” at sewing but “loved the creative process of it.” Stacey tried creating mei tais and wraps, and decided to focus on slings. “I thought a lot about what made a sling good. Ease of use, comfort, convenience and style were the most important. A pouch sling is already so easy to use. We made ours just a tad deeper than other brands which helps give more support around the back and shoulder and allows the mother more adjustability for comfort.” Stacey added a pocket (just the right size for a wallet, toy and diaper) and then she added a toy ring. She writes, “Style was easy. I love picking out the fabrics. I fell in love with the designs from Liz Claiborne, Waverly and Robert Kaufman. I think we have a really good variety of prints and styles too, so any mother can come to our site and find the perfect sling for them.”
Learning as You Go
Stacey had a lot to learn when she started Karma Baby. When others ask for advice she says it’s critical to do your research: “The age of being able to start up an online business and be immediately successful is over. Websites are popping up every day. When I first started I spent over a month looking at other stores and brands, and contemplating what would make mine stand out. Get a feel for the price of things. Really spend time on the sites that draw you in. What would make you buy from then versus another store? Is it their product line? The variety? The professional look? Do they have low prices or offer coupons?”
Karma Baby slings still takes research and creativity. There are so many components involved in running a company and Stacey plays a role in managing all of the details. She writes that she chooses fabrics she loves for the slings and that, at first, she thought that if she loved the fabric other people would too. It didn’t always work out that way so Stacey started to look more at fashion and style trends. Stacey writes that she “started to look into what was going to be hot in the upcoming season. For example, the Bella sling fabric had been available for me to use for a year or so. I noticed just a few months ago that this type of design was starting to emerge on the runways and in Hollywood so I immediately ordered the fabric and had the slings made. It has been our best selling sling ever since.” Stacey tests samples of fabric with babies before production takes place, judging “comfort and durability… It is essential to find fabrics that are soft and comfy for babies,” writes Stacey.
The beautiful, top-selling Bella sling.
How does Stacey, still in her twenties, find time to raise a boy, run a thriving business, develop her new business CarriedBaby.com and a nonprofit foundation, have a little fun, find balance and actually get any sleep? Stacey writes, “I think the hardest thing is that people don’t realize that you have a full-time job and that taking care of a young child is a full-time job too. I am a single mother, so trying to balance out giving enough attention to my son and keeping up with work is really challenging.” Stacey’s typical day is busy. She writes, “I wake up around 6 a.m. with my two year old. We make eggs and a smoothie and then I spend the morning checking a million emails while he plays. At 9 a.m. our shipper Kristie comes in, as well as our full-time seamstress, Nikki. It is such a wonderful environment. All of our employees, full-time and part-time, love Elijah and will stop whatever they are doing to play with him, give him kisses, or just take him outside for a moment. Whenever I hire someone I make sure that they like children and tell them that there are many disruptions each day by the little one.” The women that comprise the Karma Baby family often have a background in childcare and they all work create a nurturing, fun environment for Elijah. Elijah helps run Karma Slings throughout the day, doing things like coloring packing slips, sewing and modeling doll slings. When local moms come to buy slings Elijah loves meeting their children. Stacey adds, “We often make friends this way and will later have playdates with our customers… Usually at some point during the day we have a playdate… [Afterwards] we might go to the store or run some errands, then we come back home and work again.”
A popular Karma Baby sling.
Integrating a Creative Life
Karma Baby is a lot of work and Stacey finds that she can get a little “obsessed” with work. Karma Baby was a very creative endeavor in the first year and now, as it has “settled,” there’s less creativity and learning involved in the process. In her efforts to remain creative and to grow and learn she’s started a new business CarriedBaby.com and a non-profit organization, The Prajna Foundation. She writes, “I make sure that I have plenty of creative hobbies to keep me busy. Right now I am taking online tutorials on photography, and would love to someday become a professional photographer, or at least be able to take quality photos for Karma Baby. Also, right now I am in the middle of sewing Elijah a complete set of pretend foods out of felt. I often go to the craft store just for fun. This weekend I made Elijah a fishing game by getting wooden fish, alligators, ducks, etc., and gluing magnets to them, then making a fishing pull with magnets so he could ‘fish’ for these pieces. I also love to make candles and my next project is making soaps from scratch.”
Doggedly maintaining a creative life helps, but it can still be difficult to balance all of the components of Stacey’s busy life. Stacey writes, “It is so necessary for me to do yoga, therapy, and to work out. I need to make sure that Elijah and I have a strong community here since we have no relatives near by. I have made sure that my friends know my door is always open, so we often have people stopping by just to spend time with Elijah and I, have dinner, or just study or work while we are working. I really feel like we have a large extended family here in Boulder and it really helps me to not get lost in my business and other projects.”
Stacey and Elijah
Looking to the Future
Stacey recently moved to Boulder, Colorado and is working to set up a new home for her, Elijah and the business. She envisions a relaxed atmosphere for Karma Baby and loves the peaceful, outdoor-living focus of the Boulder community, nestled in the foothills. Stacey would love for Karma Baby to continue to grow but writes that that the growth has been “challenging” at times; “Growth never comes at a pace that you would like it. I am always either wishing we were doing better or wishing things would slow down… I would ideally like to grow at a steady pace that I could count on.” Stacey appreciates that Karma Baby remains “small” but adds, “…We have retailers all over the world who carry our slings and we can honestly say that at this very moment there are probably thousands of babies that are being held in a Karma Baby Sling.”
In the future Stacey envisions selling Karma Baby and focusing on her non-profit work. She’d like to build on her graduate work with foster children and her support for orphans through The Prajna Foundation to work more one-on-one with orphans; Stacey writes, “I am not sure exactly what that looks like right now, but I know that helping children and babies is my passion.” Once you spend even a moment learning about Stacey and her passions it is clear that her powerful efforts will continue to grow, thrive and to inspire.
To look for your own Karma Baby sling, visit here. For more about Stacey’s business (“the inside scoop on a mama-run baby sling business”) visit here. Stacey wrote a wonderful piece on baby wearing here and her website has a great list of the Top Ten Reasons to Baby Wear here. For a fun, inside look at a baby sling photo shoot visit here. Karma Baby also has some great links to articles of interest related to babywearing and attachment parenting here.
Some of Stacey’s favorite additional resources on babywearing include:
The Baby Book by Dr. William Sears
Birthing from Within by Pam England and Rob Horowitz