by Sarah Heydinger Blakeley
The babywearing industry has experienced mass growth and change in the past decade. Multitudes of manufacturers and retailers have joined the market. Where babywearing was once inaccessible to many due to cost and lack of brick and mortar retailers, many have filled the voids. Where voids remain, caregivers can now turn to online retailers aplenty.
Babywearing has long existed and is still being practiced by many communities around the world. Its growth and popularity in the US has been spurred by the invention of the Snugli by Ann Moore in 1968, followed by Didymos weaving long wraps inspired by a gifted Mexican Rebozo in the 1970s and finally the invention of the ring sling by Rayner Garner in 1981. The industry really began to flourish when Dr. William Sears coined the term babywearing and purchased Garner’s design for mass production in 1985.
Nancy Warwaruk, a long time weaver and owner of West of the 4th Weaving, has seen the industry trends from high to low.
“I’ve seen the industry through a few stages — from weaving customs and not having many takers because no one knew about babywearing to the peak where the demand was so high that there were a 1,000 interested buyers for every wrap to the return to a normal marketplace just like every other product. I think it’s a healthier market now but the number of companies recently started and all the options available to can be daunting for caregivers to make the right choice for themselves.”
Nancy also notes industry standardizations for safety will bring another round of unknown to the industry. (Author’s note: CPSC has recently granted a one-year grace period for compliance testing, extending to January 1, 2018).
With industry growth, safety standards have also evolved. The Baby Carrier Industry Alliance was formed in 2010 as a non-profit corporation. All of the board members has been or is currently a babywearing business owner or educator. They operate with the goal to serve the needs of babywearing businesses and educators, both large and small. BCIA has worked tirelessly with CPSC in forming industry standards and regulations for carrier safety. With the formation of BCIA and industry standards babywearing is beginning to move into mainstream parenting where it was once an outlier.
Jamie Gassmann, owner of BijouWear, points out “As new manufacturers spring up, our responsibility to grow the culture of babywearing increases. Manufacturers have to both support babywearing awareness and education at the grassroots level and use our marketing reach to promote babywearing among the uninitiated, that´s why we decided to start using SMR Digital to do our marketing. If we fight for market share rather that growing the size of the entire babywearing population, we are doing our business, the industry, and (worse) caregivers a disservice.”
Babywearing International plays a critical role in introducing caregivers to babywearing and helping them feel comfortable with the carrier of their choice. Bringing friends to meetings, gifting memberships at baby showers and answering a stranger’s questions in the grocery store are all big parts of how our organization grows.
As BWI grows, we help the industry grow.
Micah Woodbury, photographer, babywearing enthusiast and member of the BWI Diversity Committee notes, “The babywearing industry is becoming more accessible as far as pricing and availability goes. More big box stores are carrying a variety of options that fit into most price ranges. Most carrier companies that had fast sell outs are also holding inventory longer which helps newer members of the community have access to these companies. Especially ones that are uncomfortable or new to the buy/sell/trade scene. The swaps are also more accessible because of the second hand market having better prices.”
Micah highlights changes that are ongoing and need to occur for all members of the community to truly feel a part of it.
“Another way that the babywearing community is becoming more accessible is that there are more groups that are dedicated to marginalized people. More marginalized people are feeling confident enough to be vocal about their marginalization in the bigger groups as well. So, while you may have only seen one or two People of Color (PoC) after much scrolling before, you can see multiple strong PoC voices in the community, which can lead you to the other groups that focus on the marginalized.”
Brianna Fanelli, VBE and owner of Wonderful and Wild, says “Increasingly, expectant families come into our store having found us by seeing caregivers wearing their babies out in town. Babywearing has become a common enough practice that many caregivers are seeking out carriers and looking for instruction prenatally. They plan to include carriers as a parenting and bonding tool, before baby is born. Just a few short years ago, more families sought babywearing as a solution to a problem, when their baby was already a few months old. I love being part of this shift in our culture, and helping parents to that “a-ha!” moment when they find the carrier that suits them best.”
The growth seen over the past five years in the industry has been explosive, giving caregivers more choices on what is now available on the market. When I began babywearing over nine years ago, there were not a lot of choices available. There wasn’t a local shop and online retailers were mostly out of my price range as a recent college graduate. Thankfully we had a local babywearing group that reached out and introduced babywearing to me, helped me learn about carriers and selected one in my budget that worked for me.
Tracy Wu Fastenberg, an admin for Babywearing 102 – a large online community – is seeing similar changes.
“Caregiver-owned businesses are my favorite because they are born out of our global community. As it’s made the Western model of babywearing more accessible to and inclusive of more caregivers, I see it as a benefit overall — varying price points accommodate those looking for affordable and beautiful functionality, while innovative blends and weaves still excite collectors. The increasing awareness around cultural appropriation and inclusivity not only makes me look forward to how the babywearing community will continue to grow and evolve, but how we will raise the children in our care.”
Caregiver owned businesses help the industry because carriers are now designed by those that use the carriers themselves. The blossoming of these manufacturers helps grow the industry because those purchasing carriers can choose from options with impeccable attention to detail.
I’ve watched the market flit from one style of carrier to another or one manufacturer to another but the most noticeable change to me is the number of people I see babywearing. When I first started attending meetings there were four caregivers present, one was the leader. When my friend group started having second babies, they all started using various carriers. With my third child, caregivers were asking about using baby carriers during the maternity ward tour at the local hospital.
As for where the industry is headed Nevette Bailey Hill, VBE for BWI NYC shares her vision. “Babywearing is an especially meaningful parenting tool for me, so I am hopeful that the expansion of the babywearing industry means that more people are becoming interested in wearing their babies. I also hope that the availability of more baby carriers means that babywearing will become more accessible to more people. From my personal experience when I first began wearing my baby, the exclusivity of the industry made it difficult for me to feel like I “belonged” — in online babywearing communities there was a strong focus on specific brands, high priced carriers, and obtaining the latest releases. Now that the babywearing industry is expanding, the availability of more carriers has saturated the market somewhat, especially the second hand baby carrier market, so that the focus seems to be (slowly) shifting away from exclusivity. Additionally, several newer baby carrier companies have formed with a specific focus on inclusivity and accessibility, directly addressing the exclusivity problems and making change in a positive direction.”
In conclusion, we as BWI, caregivers, manufacturers and retailers all need to work together to grow the industry further. Inclusivity is the cornerstone to this growth. Making all caregivers feel comfortable in the community, providing carriers that are accessible across all economic backgrounds. Continuing to promote what we love — babywearing — by doing what we love — babywearing — will introduce new caregivers, making everyone feel a part of the community is the responsibility of all.