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Behind the Scenes Mei Tais Product News The manufacturing business

Why should you buy a mei tai for $89+ when you could buy one for $25?

July 8, 2015

May marked¬†the 10th anniversary of our first mei tai ever sold. In babywearing industry years that makes us about eleventy billion years old. It also means we have been on quite a roller coaster ride while we’ve participated in the transition from a time when nobody had heard of a mei tai (to be honest, I was unsure if “mei tai” was going to stick or if another name would be adopted) to a time when mei tais are available on the shelves (actual or virtual) of some pretty big names in retail. And it’s true that you can often score quite a deal on one, and after all isn’t a mei tai pretty much the same everywhere?

I’m sure it will not be surprising to hear that my answer is an emphatic no. All mei tais really aren’t the same! While the beauty of mei tais is the elegant simplicity of the basic idea, there are many design and production decisions that affect the final product and how it performs. So why should you choose a mei tai from catbird baby?

  • Experience: As I said, we have been in the mei tai business for 10 years; we know what we are doing! And baby carriers, and specifically mei tais, are our specialty, and focus to this day.
  • Track Record: The proof is in the pudding. Our designs have been securely and comfortably carrying thousands of babies and toddlers since 2005, and hopefully will continue to do so for many more years!
  • Quality: From our fabric selection to our workmanship, we make sure that everything we do is the best it can be. We use lovely 100% cotton bottom-weight* fabrics of excellent quality. We use needle-punched** cotton (with a tiny bit of polyester to prevent shrinkage) batting in our mei tai shoulder straps instead of inexpensive polyurethane foam. We use it because it is comfier and more breathable and helps the straps lay flat and mold to your shoulders. Our workmanship is top-notch; we expect the best of the sewers who craft our carriers!
Beautifully sewn, from quality fabrics, folded up in a lovely little package perfect for tossing into the diaper bag.

Beautifully sewn, from quality fabrics, folded up in a lovely little package perfect for tossing into the diaper bag.

  • Layers: Unlike other brands, our mei tai has a minimum of 2 layers of bottomweight cotton in the body panel. If the mei tai has a print panel, this is another panel that is sewn on top of the 2 layers. Other brands often have one bottomweight layer and a light- or medium-weight top panel layer. This means our mei tai will be more supportive with a heavier baby, but since the fabric is 100% cotton and there is no foam in the body panel, it is still lightweight and breathable.
Two full twill panels PLUS the print panel = more supportive.

Two full twill panels PLUS the print panel = more supportive.

  • Size: The body panel on our mei tai is larger than any other widely available non-wrap fabric mei tai. Because mei tais are so customizable, it’s simple to just fold the bottom once before putting on for a newborn and then later not fold the bottom to have high-back coverage for a toddler. Our mei tai is also wider than others, but has a sewn-in elastic loop that you can use to cinch it up if you wish.
  • Stitching: Our mei tai straps are top-stitched for the full length of each strap seam. This is key in enabling the straps on our mei tai to lay flat and not get “ropey.” Again, this means more comfort for you and your baby.
Shoulder straps are topstitched the full length of the seam, which makes them lay more flat and not get twisted or "ropey."

Shoulder straps are topstitched the full length of the seam, which makes them lay more flat and not get twisted or “ropey.”

  • Style: We’ve been told we have an eye for fabrics and colors. And we strive to offer you choices to match your particular sense of style.
  • Leadership: Catbird Baby has been an involved and committed member of the babywearing industry for 10 years. I personally served as a founding board member of the BCIA (Baby Carrier Industry Alliance) and continue to serve today.
  • Mom-Designed: Our mei tai was borne out of love and practical experience as a mom. We know moms, and we know babywearing.

We are thrilled that mei tais are getting so much widespread attention! My love for mei tais is what made me so passionate about babywearing and inspired me to start Catbird Baby. We hope you will love these carriers as much as we do.

xoxo, Beth

 

*think sturdy; bottomweight fabrics are of sufficient weight, measured in ounces per sq. yards, to wear well

**needle-punched battings are created when the fibers are felted together with thousands of needles punching them together to create the fabric (as opposed to weaving or knitting, or other methods of creating fabric)

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Miscellany The manufacturing business

Mission: Small Business

June 11, 2012

I know that we all get bombarded on a daily basis with contests to vote in for various causes and businesses. So I hope you will forgive me if I add another one and ask if you could support us in the Chase and Living Social Mission Small Business contest. Twelve businesses will be awarded $250,000 small business GRANTS (not loans, grants!), which would be a huge boost in bringing our products to more parents. But to even be eligible for the grant, we must get 250 votes first. So I would kindly ask you to support us by voting in the contest. Here’s how:

  • Go to www.missionsmallbusiness.com.
  • Login in the lower right corner using Facebook (yes, you must have a Facebook account to vote).
  • Once logged in, type “catbird” in the business name search bar.
  • Once Catbird Baby comes up, click “vote.”
  • Easy peasy, lemon squeezie! Share with your friends if you want!

We really appreciate everyone who is willing to take the time to help us be eligible to possibly win a grant. Also, simply logging in helps small businesses, because every person who logs in increases the pool of grant money to be given out. You can vote for more than one business, but may vote for each business only once. Again, many thanks for your support!

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The manufacturing business

From kitchen table to factory floor

October 13, 2011

Someone recently asked me to talk about how we grew from sewing in-house (literally, in my house. Er, rather, condo.) to finding a manufacturer. Honestly, I knew from the start that I had no interest sewing anything on a large scale myself. Before I even had a website I tried to find some sewers on Craigslist and did end up working with several for a brief time. That was a mostly discouraging exercise because I expected that people who answered ads for “professional seamstress/sewer” would actually be more skilled than I was, and frankly, some weren’t. It was also a pain managing them, cutting, getting them the materials and everything. I started searching for a contract sewing company in the Chicago area from very early on. This was even more discouraging than the Craigslist experience. One, when you don’t really know what you are looking for, finding a contract sewer is hard. Especially when at first you don’t know the words “contract sewing,” or “cut and sew,” or CMT (cut, make, trim). Then, you make appointments with the ones who didn’t run screaming from the telephone when you said “baby carrier” and go see them and the few who will actually consider quoting you give you crazy high labor-only quotes that are like 75% of the full retail price that the carriers are going for then and you despair that this will never, ever work. I did one run of mei tais with a local place that agreed to give it a go. While they were professional and polite, I made compromises on materials and design that I didn’t really want to make because they said the way I really wanted to do it “couldn’t be done.” So, even though it was only 100 mei tais, at the time it was a lot to me, and I was disappointed with the end result. Luckily, I then found the local sewing house that, to this day, makes our mei tai carriers (well, a former employee of the original sewing house started his own business after that one closed and now his company makes the carriers). In 2007 when we were trying to bring the pikkolo to market, we searched for another local sewing house. I felt like this product was more complicated than the mei tai and I wanted to diversify. I found another local place, with about 25 sewers, who had experience making bags and camera cases, and they made the first few thousand pikkolos.

I am lucky in that I live in a large city and one that used to be a manufacturing center. So there are still businesses around doing cut and sew. It’s hard to find them, and textile, apparel, and contract sewing businesses are notorious for not having websites, or having bad ones (especially 5 years ago), but I’m really good at googling and was able to find a lot of phone numbers and clues to go on. The AIBI (Apparel Industry Board Inc.) in Chicago was also a very useful resource for sourcing raw materials and contractors, as well.

When the pikkolo quickly became our number-one seller and I realized the labor costs were probably going to preclude any possibility of international regional distribution, I started looking for overseas alternatives. Again, my mad google skillz enabled me to find a place in Estonia, where we produced the pikkolo for a time. Since then we have produced the pikkolo in China and Egypt, as well, and are about to also resume production in the United States, on the west coast, after searching really hard and finding an affordable domestic manufacturer. I plan to continue to consider overseas sources as well that make sense for the business. With the exception of Estonia, I have visited every country or specific facility that we manufacture in, and intend to always do this going forward.

What’s tricky about making the jump from individual seamstresses to contractors is managing minimum order quantities. In order for it to be worthwhile (in terms of time to set up a sewing line) for most contractors, they will require you to make a certain minimum number of units. They also, of course, want to know that you have long-term intentions to work with them, because if they invest time in getting to know your product and figuring out to integrate its production into their business, they certainly don’t want you to sew with them for a couple months and then move on. Most domestic manufacturers will only require a few hundred pieces, because nearly all domestic manufacturing is offering a labor service. This means that the client sources and does all the purchasing of the raw materials and the contractor is only cutting and sewing the raw components to make the finished item. Many overseas contractors are also sourcing, purchasing raw goods, and making the finished item to your specifications, which they are then selling to you–the manufacturer. Some overseas contractors do cut and sew separate from sourcing/purchasing (or will help with sourcing/purchasing and simply pass through the cost of the goods without mark-up), but most large facilities, especially in Asia, are doing all the sourcing and purchasing and selling the manufacturer a finished good. In these cases, there is a large jump in minimum order quantity. This quantity is driven by the minimum order quantities of the raw goods they must purchase to make your product for you, but instead of working with a few hundred pieces you are most likely now going to be looking at a minimum of 1,000 to several thousand pieces per item (of one color; it’s not usually the number of units that is hard for small, growing businesses, it’s that to get a reasonable SKU assortment, they could be looking at having to order 15,000 units for example). This is why it’s amazingly difficult for small growing companies to make the leap from one production level to another, especially if they are trying to bootstrap their business. Working overseas almost always requires that companies raise capital, either by obtaining debt financing (small business loans, loans from friends or relatives) or selling equity (get friends and family to invest in the business by buying a stake in the business–i.e. putting in cash that will not be repaid to them until the company is sold or another party buys their shares, or angel investors–sort of like friends and family, except they don’t care if you’re supersuperniceandsweet and usually expect a higher rate of return, or venture capitalists, who *really* don’t care if you’re nice and sweet and expect an even higher rate of return and have pretty firm exit timelines).

The above is why it’s been incredibly frustrating for businesses trying to grow the past 3 years; access to capital is key to growing a successful business and bank lending has dried up. No matter how much promise your idea shows, even proven sales success, it’s been very difficult to find financial institutions who will loan money. It’s gotten better in the past year or so, but it’s still bad.

Anyway, that’ s the story of our jump from kitchen table prototypes to factory-made products. It’s a story that continues as we keep striving to find and hold onto the perfect manufacturing partners that can make our items exactly how we want them, on time, and at a cost that we can afford, given the prices consumers are willing to pay for products.

 

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