There’s a lot of things KMart are good at. Making commonly used products available to the masses at an affordable price pretty much sums it up. So if baby slings are so great, why can’t we get more of them in big department stores?
First of all, the benefits of babywearing are still not known or understood well enough. If all parents knew they could add a sling to their parenting toolbox to settle cranky babies, help with bonding and reduce PND, and get out and about with the hassle of a bulky stroller, you can bet that babywearing would be more popular. But the fact is, many parents just don’t know of any reason to use a sling other than keeping their hands free for a quick trip to the shops. So the department stores offer them carriers that meet that limited need at a price their customers are prepared to pay.
Second, the mass manufacturing method works against quality baby slings. I won’t even start on the CPSIA regulations in the USA, although this will have an effect in future on the Australian market, simply because so many of our products are based on their US marketability. For a product to be sold in big department stores, it needs to be available in large quantities at short notice. When a store wants another fifty slings, they will order them for delivery within a couple of days. Multiply that by the number of stores in any given chain (KMart has 182 stores in Australia and New Zealand), and it’s easy to see why big department stores require mass-manufactured products. There are implications for fair working conditions and quality control that can be daunting for designers considering the move to factory production. For a handmade product to get into the mass-manufactured market-space, they need to establish brand reputation and popularity in the boutique market, providing the designer with the cash to contract a factory to manufacture their product (the standard factory minimum is 10,000 per colourway). Brand reputation and popularity also convinces the big stores that the product is worth adding to the inventory. And this popularity is the tricky bit…
You see, there’s no one carrier that is perfect for everyone. Some people prefer the quick learning curve of a soft structured carrier, or a stretchy wrap. Others go for the quick on-off in a sized pouch, with no adjustment required. The versatility of wraps is perfection for some, while for others ring slings are the perfect compromise between flexible fit and quick on-off. With so many different body shapes and babywearing needs, it’s just not possible to find a single carrier that perfectly suits hundreds of thousands of users. Nor should we try to please all of the people, all of the time.
One of the biggest benefits of small production runs or handmade is the ability to respond quickly to consumer demand. More colourways, or prints that change with the seasons; pouches in five different sizes instead of just three; the ability to produce custom or semi-custom slings to suit individual needs.
Instead, we have the best of both worlds available to us: a wide variety of handmade, boutique-style slings to perfectly suit everyone; and a limited selection of mass-manufactured carriers to suit the budget and babywearing needs of those who are happy to compromise for budget or availability reasons. What we need to do is increase awareness of the benefits of babywearing, as well as increasing awareness of the handmade marketplace. Parents will better understand what to look for in a sling and its potential in their parenting toolbox. With increasing demand for quality slings from educated parents, the small independent boutiques will quickly respond with a wider range. So the end result is better support for a wider range of slings – something for everyone.