|Sweet Baby James, moderately safely restrained.|
|Diana, mama, designer, business owner|
I've never actually seen one of these Onyas in real life but I heard about them in a babywearing discussion on mothering.com, a natural parenting forum I was recommended by someone I met on transit who pointedly told me I should enter their contest so I could win a real babycarrier (I was mildly offended: Like, WTF is wrong with my green ring sling which is actually just a fraying piece of old cotton? If I want to carry my mid-sized-dog-sized baby on one shoulder that's my business!). The forum was discussing ways to get papas to wear their babies, a topic for which I have very little patience. I'm going to start printing 'Don't be a douche, wear your baby' T-shirts anyway now. Really. Anyway, someone recommended the Onya as a gender-neutral carrier that might appeal to those of the masculine persuasion. Its design is simple and functional, though the mamas in their promotional material look pretty darn gorgeous. Kind of like the founder herself. She's a SAHM whose product facilitates not only Attachment Parenting, but Mamactivism (the radical philosophy that mothers are people with the right to get out of the house), and is 'going pro' with her design, selling it in boutiques across America. But what's it like to break into this female-dominated business as a full-time mama? Is it easy and welcoming, with everyone nursing their babies and swapping diaper stories in the boardroom, or is it red in tooth and claw? And what kind of person willingly goes into business with not only their husband... but also their in-laws?
I contacted Diana Coote to ask her these questions and more. In this week's Sunday Brunch she discusses the joys and challenges of running a family business, how she came up with the convertible carrier-chair idea, what baby wearing means to her, and her dreams for the future.
SB-V: What got you started in making baby-carriers?
DRC: I’ve been into babywearing since 2006, when my first child was born…I actually joined TheBabyWearer while I was pregnant! One of the very few baby items my husband and I purchased prior to her birth was a simple pouch sling, which I fortunately knew how to measure for correct size. That worked well for us for a while. But my babies have a way of chunking up fast, so I had an onbu made for me by a dear friend…that’s what got me into the two-shouldered carriers. I’ve always been really crafty, sewing, painting, knitting, kind of compulsively, so when I started finding my onbu pulling on my shoulders, I decided to add a waist belt. That’s what started this train rolling…
SB-V: The Onya's dual function strikes me as particularly relevant to babywearing, since women who wear their babies usually find it easier to get around and seem to be 'on the go' a lot more. How did this design come to you?
DRC: When my daughter, who is now 5 ½, was around 7 or 8 months old, I went out for lunch with a group of friends. It was fun…who doesn’t love meeting up with their girlfriends? But – hoo-boy – did we leave a mess behind! There was only one high chair at the restaurant and there were six of us…all with babies. So, you can imagine the food and utensil grabbing going on as we tried to eat our lunches. The first thing I came up with was actually a chair cover that worked as a secure seat for your baby. But alas, as I started looking into it, I saw that there were already several options of this exact thing already on the market. So I decided that I’d combine the seat with a carrier. I don’t like lugging a ton of stuff around and already wore my baby, so…voila! I suppose it was a gradual development of an idea. It’s just easier to carry less stuff around and yes, I agree with you, I think that babywearers seem to get out more.
SB-V: Onya Baby is a family company. What does that look like?
DRC: Onya Baby, at its core, is me, Diana Rickard Coote, my sister-in-law, Aleshia Rickard, and my brother, Billy Rickard. We also have my husband, Jon Coote, as our IT guy, and Aleshia’s sister, Silvia, as our graphic designer. Our mom, Billy’s and mine, is our accountant. We all have loads to do and it’s been a wonderful opportunity for us to all become closer.
SB-V: What are the challenges of working with family, and what are the rewards?
DRC: Working with family is both a challenge and a reward. Because we live so far apart (Billy and Aleshia live outside Santa Cruz, CA, Jon and I live in Ottawa ON, and Silvia lives in San Francisco) the company has been such a great opportunity to get together more, both online and in person. It’s given Billy and Aleshia more opportunities to see the children (Jon’s and mine) on a regular basis, something that wouldn’t have happened, in all likelihood, were we not on regular Skype calls. Another reward has been our strengthened relationships. I have to say that this last point would probably qualify as both a challenge and reward. It’s not always easy to handle disagreements within families, and I think that people often tend to fall into old patterns. This isn’t always a productive thing to do. But when you’re starting and running a business, you can’t do that or the business suffers. We’ve all worked much too hard to allow that to happen, so it’s forced us all to “grow up,” in a sense, to handle disagreement, conflict and other friction in a much more productive and objective way. We have to often compromise, or step back and trust another, and it’s been to the real benefit of our relationships and our company.
SB-V: It seems that there are a few big name carriers that have 'cornered' the market if you will (Ergo, Bjorn, etc.). What's it been like to break into the market with a new design?
DRC: It’s a challenge, for sure. We’re so tiny and new and very few people have heard about us yet. We just figure that we’ll keep plugging away and hopefully the carrier will speak for itself and people will love it because it’s a high-quality, comfortable, useful thing to have in their parenting tool kit. We hope word will spread and we’ll gain traction in the competitive marketplace.
SB-V: Given that this industry caters mostly to natural and attachment parenting mothers, do you find it to be more woman-friendly or child-friendly than others?
DRC: I think it probably is, though I can’t really speak from a place of a ton of experience on this. Prior to having children and starting Onya Baby, I worked in the field of Social Work. That’s a field highly dominated by women, so it’s not a big change for me in that sense. I think you’re right, though, the babywearing industry is largely comprised of women-owned, mother-owned businesses, and you can really see that at industry events. The Baby Carrier Industry Alliance annual meeting, for instance, which takes place at the same time as the ABC Kids Expo, has children present. The women who bring them are business owners and their babies are too young for them to not have them along, so there they are. They nurse and babywear during the meeting and everyone’s totally cool with it. Not sure you’d see that at, say, the auto maker’s yearly meeting.
SB-V: That sounds great. What has babywearing meant to you as a mother? How did you come to it?
DRC: Babywearing has simply made my life as a mother easier. It’s allowed me to care for my babies, my children, and still get things done. I truly don’t know how I’d parent without it.
SB-V: Me neither. I keep asking older women I meet how they did it without baby carriers. I've gotten all kinds of responses, from "My arms were very strong" to "He just had to lie in his playpen while I did the housework." How has having this family business impacted your children?
DRC: I think it’s shown them that it’s possible to work really hard, to be creative, to be persistent, and create and build something where there once was nothing. It’s been hard, too, at times. I struggle with the guilt of sometimes feeling like I’m not giving them enough attention because I have work to do. There are days when they watch more TV than I’m comfortable with, I’m admitting it. I try to keep those days few and far between, but they do happen. But then I step back and see how well they play together…most of the time! I see how co-operative they are with each other, with me and Jon, with others, and I think it’s all good. I had both of them home with me full-time until they were each over two, so I really do think I’m giving them what they need when they’re really tiny. They have a strong foundation.
SB-V: If you could, by force of imagination, will one fantasy product into existence, what would that be?
DRC: It would be genius for someone to come up with something that could clean our house, cook our food, do our laundry and possibly walk the dog. But I don’t want a nanny. I’ll take care of that!
SB-V: Nice one. I like a woman who dreams big! Is there anything else you would like to add?
DRC: Just that it’s been an amazing journey so far and I’m so unbelievably grateful that we’re where we are. It’s been a labor of love of mine for four years and to see it actually come to fruition is amazing. I couldn’t have done it without the whole Onya Baby team. We really do need each other. If we could grow this into a self-sustaining family business I would be over the moon. We shall see, eh?