Like many moms, Ellen Diamant founded her baby business because she was frustrated. She spent a lot of time running around New York City with her one-year-old, Spencer, in a stroller, and yet, she she couldn’t find a bag that would hang tight on her set of wheels. So she cooked up a durable, unisex, messenger-style diaper bag: the Skip Hop Duo (above left). Ten years later, the Duo Signature (above right) is a mainstay on strollers everywhere, and Skip Hop is a baby household brand.
With hundreds of products that are functional, innovative and not-so-bad-on-the-eyes (come on, you know you’re thinking about how that baby playmat will look next to your cool coffee table), you’ll feel comfortable turning to Skip Hop for just about every room in your house. Because, let’s face it: there’s a time to be a first-adopter of a cool brand nobody’s ever heard of, and there’s a time to buy something safe, smart and proven. Like when you have a baby.
Below, this Diamant scoops on the last decade in the baby biz, what brands she loves, and where the industry is all headed.
Tell us about the marketplace when you launched the Duo.
Back then, there was nothing I could hang on my stroller. I couldn’t even find a bag that felt like my style. Diaper bags were either very cheap or very fancy. Nothing was sporty and nothing had function. I wanted a messenger-style tote that didn’t look like a diaper bag. I wanted every section to have function, and be easy to get into. And of course, it had to hang on your stroller. Our first product was that Duo diaper bag in a million different colors.
How did you know you were on to something?
We saw how people loved the brand. It was a time when a lot of the modern baby companies were starting as well, like Dwell, Oeuf and Bugaboo. We knew contemporary design for babies was going to be a huge trend. And once parents saw fun, cool design in the baby world, there was no turning back.
How did you move into other categories?
After the Duo, we designed different styles of diaper bags, then things that went with the diaper bag–pacifier holders, a changing station, etc. Then hardgoods, like a bottle drying rack. We didn’t have a big plan, we just wanted to do product that we liked. Now, it’s more about collections, like bath or kitchen. But when we were first starting, we were just thinking of parenting solutions.
When did you know this was a business you could make a living from?
When we moved from doing work in our apartment to our own space. And when we saw the parents out on the street with the product.
How has New York City influenced the brand’s design, fashion and function?
A NYC parent has a very special challenge because they have less space, so they can’t clutter. A suburban parent can have a play-yard upstairs, downstairs, etc. But NYC parents have to pare down, they need space-saving solutions. Also, city parents aren’t in cars. We’re taking taxis or walking. So the stroller becomes like your car. Everything has to be there. Now, the rest of the country is embracing portability as well. We’re always thinking about that urban parent, but hoping that the rest of the world embraces what we’re doing.
One thing there’s not a lot of in Skip Hop’s line is bells and whistles. You’re introducing some electronic baby toys this year though.
We like the idea of electronics. But we don’t want to do anything that is overstimulating. A lot of people do like electronic toys, though, so we have to do it in a thoughtful way.
What are some other new areas of business for Skip Hop?
Now, about 35 percent of our business is in the toddler section. That’s an underserved category because a lot of the items in that age group are licensed product. Parents don’t want their kids serving as an ad for a TV show, plus licensed products often don’t have function. So you go from having all this beautiful baby stuff that’s well thought-out, to having only licensed options from 2-years-old on. Our Zoo collection is about “tools for toddlers”–items that give the opportunity for the child to be independent: a lunch box, an umbrella.
Are there any new baby brands that have caught your eye?
I haven’t seen a lot of new exciting brands come out, but there are a lot of interesting designers, crafters and others on Etsy. These days, there are lots of barriers that are keeping entrepreneurs from starting businesses, especially when it comes to hardgoods. But new brands are doing daring things for baby in softgoods, like layette and nursery décor.
What advice would you give to young moms balancing a business in the baby world?
Try to seek out people in a related businesses to get advice. Get a reality check about how much work it takes to get into it. You really have to do your homework. It’s a crowded market right now. When we started there were so many opportunities, but now there’s strict safety requirements. Testing is so important, but it’s not something you can easily navigate.