Friday, March 31, 2006

procrastination

I can always tell I'm procrastinating when my desk is spotless or some other area gets super organized. If the whole house is neat as a pin, you KNOW I'm putting off something major.

It's not that neat, but the wood on my desk sure is pretty! I haven't seen it in a while.

So nobody's going to come swooping in with a brilliant, gorgeous idea on packaging? Where is my inspiration? Shelly brought in a Dwell magazine. It's gorgeous. I have been feeling creative lately, and it's giving me inspiration. But for baby carriers, not things to put them in. Must shift brainpower.

I have also been reading Memoirs of a Geisha, recommended by my friend Kristen at Hotslings. An amazing, beautiful book, and also inspiring. Ideas are buzzing, inspiration is welling, but nothing is forming clearly just yet. I just have to set an intention that it will come to me very soon.

The website. It's not new. Joe is not procrastinating, but he's so busy. Last night he did payroll instead of working on the website. The night before that, he worked on my birthday present. It's April 22, by the way, and I like dark chocolate.

We have family in town and social stuff this weekend, so it doesn't look good for launching the website. We'll see.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Ben, pink, postcards


This is a photo of our UK distributor Stephanie French's son Ben in a scarlet play sling. She titled it "hands free builder at work". I love getting adorable photos from people! Especially from interesting locations.

This picture, while adorable, doesn't look like England to me. It could just as easily be here in Texas. Where are the verdant hills dotted with daisies and Teletubbies? Stephanie has been generous enough to share photos of her in the metro mocha sling by the Tower Bridge, a true British landmark. Ben appears happier with the hammer and his own sling.

We are running out of our pink fabrics. We're almost totally out of the pink stripe pouches, and we're low on the pink Hawaiian print.

Why is this a problem? Well, we have a vocal group of customers who want pink. They don't just want it, they absolutely have to have it. So we try to keep them happy.

I am debating sharing a pink paisley with a friend in the biz, vs. printing my own pink & brown floral, which isn't really in the budget right now. Printing my own means having a LOT of one print.

I'm working on some promotional postcards today. I am learning Adobe Illlustrator. It's fun to learn something new, but sometimes you just want to jump to the part where you know it already.

Still no website launch, although Joe is up late working on it almost every night. It's getting closer, but it's hard to find time to work on it when there's fathering and laundry and dishes to do. Oh, and basketball. I am ambivalent about UT not making it to the Final Four.

The desk. It improved a bit and is looking not so good again.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

raffle sling, Flowbee, LLL, rain, testing, green silk


This is a picture of Clark and me in the sling we're going to raffle off for TheBabyWearer.com. We have to donate a one-of-a-kind sling, and this was a sample in this fabric. I really like the fabric, but I'm not ready to order the 500 yard minimum. Unfortunately, we did not have enough fabric for a pocket.

I cut Clark's hair with a Flowbee. Seriously. Isn't it cute? I heart my Flowbee.

I have a La Leche League meeting this morning, so I won't have much time to work. Erica is late because it is POURING down rain. Just AWFUL. I don't want to get out in it, either.

Our lights just went out, but I did not go offline because of my wonderful battery back-up. I love that thing! We are in a 1937 bungalow, and the lights go out pretty much every time it rains. Sometimes the phone goes out, too. Fun.

We do in-house safety testing, but I am talking to a lab about getting some external safety testing done. It has been a long conversation, but we are finally getting ready to do it.

They want me to get the fabric tested for stuff like flammability. The slings ARE flammable, and we say so on the warning information. I wouldn't want flame retardants that close to a baby. They also want us to test for stuff like shrinkage and "colorfastness to perspiration". Why would I pay them to do something I can do with my own washing machine? I test all my fabrics for shrinkage and colorfastness. I don't need a lab to do that.

But I would like them to test the fabric and seams to the limits and let me know what those limits are. One of my friends at a big sling company had this testing done, and her rings warped at something like 250 lbs. of pressure. That's helpful information to have.

We just got our green brocade fabric back in after several months on backorder. I have it custom made in China, and it takes forever to get here by boat. We were able to make enough slings to fill our backorders for that color, then we ran out of dupioni. I thought we had plenty. Beyond frustrating. We are also out of dupioni on the black. The good news is that the dupioni is in stock and takes weeks and not months for us to get.

My new ZoloWear labels are on the way. Yay! I tried to post a picture of it, but this software only wants me to put a picture at the top of the post. Weird.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Erica, solarveils, organizing, packaging (ugh)


This is Erica, our new employee. She's usually pretty cheerful, but not this silly. She was helping Shelly check the lighting for the photo shoot last week.

Erica's title is "Office Assistant", but her main duties are inventory and shipping. She enters the orders into Quickbooks, prints receipts, picks the slings, and ships them every weekday. She also coordinates with the quality control people, who take our slings off-site to check them. And she counts inventory and updates quantities on the website and in Quickbooks. She also gets the fun task of ironing the returns that are in new condition but rumpled.

It seems like it would be easy to keep track of how many slings we have, but it can be challenging. Wholesale and phone orders do not deduct slings from the website, so we have to do it manually. Dozens, even hundreds of slings go in and out our door each week, and keeping track of them can be difficult. We maintain two databases - Quickbooks and the website - and keeping them in sync takes a lot of time. I'm sure there's an easier way, but we haven't figured it out yet.

Erica's having trouble with the printer. No surprise. It thinks we're out of cyan toner, even though we're not. After some massaging, it seems like it's going to make it one more day.

I checked the first 20 solarveils on Friday, and only found one bad one, which is pretty good, especially for a new contractor. In general, the stitching was very straight, which can be hard on solarveil. The bad one did not have any shoulder stitching. Just not there.

I am always amazed at the mistakes sewing contractors make. I've seen missing labels, missing pockets, crooked sewing. This is why we check every single sling. Even the best sewing contractors make mistakes sometimes. Sewn products are made by human hands, and humans make mistakes. So we have multiple checkpoints to make sure those mistakes don't go out to customers.

We lowered the pricing on several of our pouches. Black cotton is $39.99. Posie Pique and Sapphire are $47.99.

My desk is a mess. I swear I am going to straighten it up today. I am. Really. I used to be so organized....

Packaging. It is part of the problem. Packaging samples are all over my desk. I don't love any of them. I figured out that the reason I haven't done packaging yet, and the reason it vexes me so, is that I don't like doing things poorly. I'd rather not do it at all than do it badly. It took us a long time to do printed wearing instructions, because I wanted them to be great. Same with the DVD. I want to be as proud of the packaging as I am of the product, the website and the wearing instructions.

Friday, March 24, 2006

solarveils are here!


The solarveils arrived last night. I went out to run errands and returned to a porch teeming with boxes. We have 200 solarveils to quality check and thread through rings in a week. We have a deadline because the sewing people want to get paid right away, and we don't want to pay them for messed-up slings. This is a new sewing place, so I have no idea what to expect in terms of quality. The first one I pulled out of the box looked good, and their sample looked good, so I'm hopeful it's a nice batch.

We are going to be super busy today, because we have a lot of backorders for solarveil, including a large wholesale order from Peppermint.com.

Since I have to go to Office Depot to ship the order to Peppermint, I need to send off the burning love slings and pouches at the same time. We are shipping them off to have the appliques put on.

Getting the burning love appliques put on has been really difficult. We had a sewing contractor in California who could do it, but we have moved back to local production, and the local people don't do any of those nice extras like getting ribbon dyed for me or getting appliques put on.

So we're back to the old way, which is sending the finished sling pockets and pouches out of state to the company that makes the appliques.

The good thing about this is that the people who make the appliques do a great job of applying the appliques so they don't come off, and they do not send any messed-up ones like the California contractors did. Putting these And if we have any problems with ones they put on, they'll fix them, too.

The bad thing about sending them to a second contractor for the applique is that it adds cost and time to our production. First we have to make the slings/pouches, then we send them off to get the appliques on, which sometimes takes as long as a month, especially on a run this size (100 pieces). We also have the added shipping expense to and from the second contractor.

I am still working on packaging. I hate it. Have I mentioned that? I will be so glad when we are done.

We got the vinyl security purses yesterday. It looks nice. I have trouble imagining what it will look like with a printed insert. They are more expensive than I'd hoped, and I am not sure they are that much cuter than a less expensive bag that doesn't look as much like a purse.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

photo shoot


We are continuing with our photo shoot today. I'm really happy with some of the photos from Tuesday. Tiffany, at right, is SO photogenic.

We have had many requests to show more photos of dads, but a lot of dads are not into modeling. I have also wanted to find a hip-looking dad. Hip + into modeling = hard to find. I finally found one! We are photographing one of our quality control people, Nathan. He is the brother of our fabulous former employee, Heather. His 18 month old son is named Revolution. Middle name Fighter. I hope Revolution is a lover and not a fighter when it comes to modeling!

Our other quality control person, Rhia, has also modeled for us. Here she is in red dragonfly and burning love.

We pay our models in slings, which has worked really well so far.

Joe is working on a cosmetic redesign of the website. We are changing the colors to match our new logo. I really hope he can launch the new website by this weekend. I'm really happy with all the cool new stuff.

We had to buy Adobe Illustrator and a font, so that we can edit the graphic stuff. Not cheap. People think slings are just fabric and labor, but there are so many other expenses that go into making a finished product.

One of our computers is dying, and needs to be replaced...ouch. And our poor printer is on it's last legs. She's been a good girl, but she's been rode hard and put away wet. We have to do weird stuff like opening and shutting the doors and mushing on the toner to get her to print, sometimes. She demands a massage and some attention before she'll get to work.

We have been working on developing packaging for our carriers. It's SO hard. Here is what I need in packaging, in no particular order:

  • eco-friendly, either re-useable or recyclable
  • attractive - make that beautiful. show-stopping gorgeous would be nice.
  • show the product (canvas or other non-see-through bags wouldn't work)
  • explain the product (some sort of pictures/insert)
  • Inexpensive. I don't want the cost of the product to go up because of packaging. This rules out making bags out of matching fabrics, although maybe someday I can come back to that.
  • Stackable and inventory-friendly for our space and retail stores - this rules out boxes, which would smoosh and dent if they fell off the shelf. Custom-printed boxes would also be expensive.
  • Postage-friendly - also rules out boxes, as we ship in tyvek envelopes
  • High-end in appearance

At this point, I am thinking of a zippered vinyl bag with handles, that people can re-use. I have wanted to stay away from plastic, but it is the best way to protect the slings from water damage, which is a real concern. The only way I would do it is if the plastic was re-useable. I really hate the idea of creating more landfill material.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Article: What's so great about ZoloWear?

This is another article I'm working on. Questions? Comments? Observations?

Why do ZoloWear slings cost more than other ring sling brands?
· Detailed design and sturdy construction.
· All ring slings have:
· Lightweight yet sturdy aluminum rings. Each ring passes an impact test and a 250 pound pull test.
· Sturdy webbing.
· Similar to seat belt material, the webbing has been tested to 2,000+ pounds.
· Two pieces are used for safety. If for any reason one piece of webbing fails, the other is there for backup.
· Our webbing will not wear out and fray like fabric, where it wraps around the rings. Fabric breaks down with use, but the webbing will not wear out.
· Using webbing means extra room in the rings for fabric, for easier adjustability.
· Ends of web are heat sealed to avoid fraying, for both safety and cosmetic reasons.
· Webbing is custom dyed to match fabric.
· Shoulder stitching 12” from rings keeps fabric spread evenly across the back. This is also a great place to store a diaper for extra shoulder padding!
· Shoulder fold is designed to cup shoulder without creating arm restriction. Multiple layers of fabric on shoulder distribute weight evenly with no bunching or pressure points on shoulder or top of arm.
· Silk Brocade Ring Slings have:
· 2 layers of silk: top quality, heavy brocade and dupioni.
· Sleek, sophisticated inset zippered pocket.
· Topstitching around zipper and body of sling creates a polished look.
· Cotton Ring Slings have:
· Edges finished with a morrow hem, similar to the tight stitching on a napkin edge. This finish is used so the fabric will have a bit of give on the backs of baby’s legs, and so the edges will slip through the rings more easily. This finish is used instead of a turned and hemmed edge, which causes red marks on baby's legs and does not look good on the back of the fabric, which shows on the tail.
· Zippered pocket has two rows of topstitching for strength and durability.
· Solarveil Ring Sling
· Aluminum rings are lightweight for a total sling weight of less than one pound. Smaller two inch rings prevent the thin fabric from slipping.
· Pocket has zippered closure.
· Adjustable pouch
· Securely stitched French seam on bottom.
· Reinforced buttonholes and button for adjustability. Simple, elegant design. Bring baby in closer or make the whole pouch a little more snug.
· D ring for keys.
· All products are manufactured in the USA. Most are manufactured in Austin, Texas.
· Quality materials
· Premium fabrics include custom dyed solids, organics, custom prints, and limited edition prints.
· Lightweight aluminum rings.
· Webbing dyed to match.
· Coordinating zippers.
· Detailed instructions. Both ring slings and pouches come with a free instructional DVD and detailed printed wearing instructions. Video and text wearing instructions are available on our website.
· Customer service
· We can be reached via toll-free phone during business hours. We are also available via e-mail, and live chat.
· Policies
· Generous return policy.
· Shipping cost is actual shipping including insurance.
· All major credit cards accepted.
· We carry a wide variety of colors and multiple sizes, all in stock and ready to ship within 24 business hours.

Article about choosing a sling

I am working on this article. This is a first pass at it, a very rough draft. What common questions have I overlooked? Does anything come off too heavy-handed?

When choosing a carrier, many factors must be considered. Here are some of the main considerations:
  • Comfort.
    When selecting a carrier, think about how the baby’s weight will be distributed on the parents’ body. In general, the wider the straps, the more comfortable the carrier. Narrow straps dig into the wearer, and the heavier the baby, the more uncomfortable narrow straps become.
    Also keep in mind the baby’s comfort. Think about how you would feel hanging from your crotch with your legs dangling straight down. Carriers that have wide support to form a seat are more comfortable for babies.
  • Flexibility.
    How long will this carrier last?
    Can it carry a baby from newborn to preschooler?
    Will it become uncomfortable when baby gets bigger, in the case of most front carriers?
    Or does it only work with babies who can sit unassisted, like most hip carriers?
    Does the carrier hold baby in one position, or a variety of positions? Typically, the more structured a carrier is, the fewer the options. Many front packs can only be worn on the wearer’s front, with baby facing in or out. Very unstructured carriers like wraps allow the most flexibility, but require time and patience to master. Mei Tais are also very flexible, allowing even newborns to be worn on the wearer’s back. Ring slings and pouches offer a wide variety of carries on front, back, hip, and nursing.
  • Lifestyle.
    Are you a grab-and-go person? You might prefer the simplicity of a pouch or ring sling.
    Would you rather take time and get the maximum comfort and flexibility? More "advanced" carriers like wraps and mei tais might be right for you. Do you want a carrier that can easily go in the wash, like cotton, or are you willing to do some extra work for a gorgeous fabric like silk?
  • Style.
    Are you a dressy person, or a casual person? Sporty or spicy? Solarveil or silk?
    Do you like the look of a very streamlined carrier, or does a long piece of dramatic fabric add to your look
    A baby carrier is YOUR accessory, so choose something that fits your style.
  • Season.
    If you live in a cold climate, you might enjoy the comfort and softness of silk or fleece.
    In a very hot climate, you might opt for lightweight, breathable, sun-protective solarveil.
    Cotton is an excellent, breathable option for all climates.
  • Who will wear the carrier?
    Many first-time parents look for one carrier that both mom and dad can wear. Experienced parents, however, realize that mom and dad would seldom choose the same clothing accessory like a bag or jacket. There are many exceptions, but as a general rule, dads often prefer simple designs like a pouch, or something with buckles and straps like a front carrier or backpack. Moms also like pouches, but unless the parents are very close in size, it’s not possible to share something this fitted. Ask yourself: could you share a fitted jacket with your partner? Would it fit both of you well? Many moms are drawn to beautiful fabrics and the flexibility of pouches, ring slings, wraps and mei tais.

If no one carrier suits you, you’re not alone. Many babywearers have multiple carriers for different occasions. You wouldn’t wear your running shoes to a formal wedding. A good babycarrier should last three years, as long as most pairs of shoes. Better brands have high resale value as well. So it’s well worth it to build a collection of carriers to carry you through three of the most precious years of your life.

photo shoot, embroidery, bubbles


Yesterday we did a studio photo shoot in our office. Our inventory room is a converted 2 car garage, so it's a fairly big room, but it's full of shelves and boxes full of slings. We have a large roll of paper set up as a backdrop, and two GIANT "softboxes" - the boxes that go around the lights that create a nice even light.

Photo shoots are exhausting.
It's so hard to get:
MOM: smiling, eyes open, no hairs out of place, no clothes out of place (shirts often shift when adjusting the sling), not holding baby (people unfamiliar w/ slings ask "do you have to hold the baby?" if models have hands on babies.) It's hard not to hold babies when you're posing! They are so touchable.
BABY: smiling or at least looking at the camera or sleeping. Yesterday we had a teething baby, so lots of shots of baby gnawing on things. Smiling babies are almost too much to hope for. Cranky babies are more common, unfortunately. We usually have 2 mom/baby dyads at once, so we can give one baby a break while the other one gets photographed. Babies get burned out on modeling pretty quickly.
SLING: positioned correctly, fabric showing well, pocket showing, no lint
LIGHTING: no shadows or bright light in eyes making people squint
BACKGROUND: nothing distracting

Shooting in the studio really helps factor out the last two problems. Lighting and background are perfect every time, except that we did capture the edge of the background a few times.

We'll be editing photos and shooting more over the next several days. I'm always eager to get new pictures posted once they are "in the can".

We've been working on an embroidered sling and pouch since last fall. Supposedly the embroidery part is done and the slings are in production this week, but it's taken so long that I'm not holding my breath. I'd like to have them while it's still spring, as they are a bright, leaf green color that is perfectly springy.

We have the reprint of the bubbles fabric cut, and it's going to the local production people today.

The new solarveils should be here any day now. Yay!