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If you want to sell baby slings...

I would urge you to read these first: Please don't copy and Hidden costs in WAHM items

Those essays explain why you should innovate on your own (and not piggyback on others' ideas and work), and why selling anything hand-sewn isn't always as simple as it appears at first glance.

Nevertheless, I get a lot of people asking me if they can use my pattern to sell.

There are a few things you need to consider. One, it's really hard to sell slings locally and still make a decent profit. Yes, if you're wearing your baby, you will probably get a lot of people coming up to you and asking where you got your sling, and some will seem interested in buying one for themselves or other new parents. However, the actual sales rate amongst those people is less than 5%. That means that for every 100 people who ask about it, fewer than 5 will actually buy anything in the end... and that's a generous estimate. Unless you're selling for absolute peanuts (like less than $20), most of those people will look at your website or what have you and say to themselves, "Nah, that's too much to pay for a piece of cloth". They don't see the actual costs that go into making a safe carrier, and they will compare your "simple" carrier to the Snugglis sold at WalMart and other discount stores for less than $30, unaware of the cost-cutting measures that go into those carriers and how WAHMs simply cannot compete with $1/day Chinese labor. So, while you may have a lot of people asking about your slings, please don't assume that all of those people would actually buy one for a fair price... and $20 is not a fair price for anything but the simplest pouch made of the cheapest material.

I might add that, despite having a reasonably thriving internet business, and the fact that I wore both of my children (Stephen from birth through about 2 years and 4 months, Sophia from birth to over three years, Susan from birth through the present) all around town, I can still count on one hand the number of local sales I've made, and those were at La Leche League meetings, where the women had already been "exposed" to babywearing. I had, of course, been stopped by many new mothers, fathers, and grandparents who asked about my slings, and gave out as many cards as I could, but never theless, no sales resulted from those encounters. Unless you're extremely assertive about selling and go out of your way to approach people, put up fliers and business cards, etc., you're unlikely to make enough sales to strangers to make it worthwhile.

Two, if you do price your carriers cheaply enough that the local market might buy them, you're looking at a miniscule profit once all of your expenses are taken into account. Not to mention, friends and family are very likely to ask you for free or at-cost slings, and be offended if you don't do so (because you are aware that your time is valuable, right?). If friends and family are your only reliable market, you're not doing yourself any favors! And honestly, making $2-5 on a sling that takes you 30 minutes to make? Not worthwhile. You can cut costs by using inferior materials (like using craft rings instead of safety-tested rings, or $1/yard bargain fabric), but then you're truly heading into murky territory. Using cheap materials puts your customers' babies at risk, period. And in doing so, you are also at risk, leading me to...

Three, unless you're selling exclusively to friends and family (yeah, them... the ones who want free slings), you need to worry about liability. It doesn't matter how few slings you sell; if one of them breaks -- or even if it's sewn perfectly and your customer uses it incorrectly -- your customer can sue you for everything you've got. If you're not insured or incorporated as a limited liability corporation (LLC), you risk having your house, your savings, your car, and anything else that can be counted as an asset taken from you. Baby carriers are notoriously difficult to insure, too -- it's a rare policy that can be had for under $1000/year. Although you can occasionally get lucky and find a policy for less, it takes a lot of shopping around to find one (another hidden cost). Unless you want to take the risk of losing all your assets to a lawsuit, you *must* have some form of protection from liability.

Fourth, there are new regulations coming out. If you're involved in the babywearing world, you will have seen recent CPSC actions regarding baby carriers. They are extremely concerned about any and all deaths and injuries that have occurred in baby slings, and have gone on record saying they would like to restrict baby slings to babies four months old and up. They are involved in creating and formalizing the ASTM standard on baby slings, and when that standard is completed, some time in 2011, it will shortly thereafter become mandatory for ALL makers of baby slings, no matter how few or how many they sell. If you want more information on the standard, I recommend visiting and, if you're serious about becoming a manufacturer, joining the industry group, the Baby Carrier Industry Alliance. If you think your business will be small enough to fly under their radar, think again: a WAHM who had made all of 40 slings in 2006 recently had to recall every one of them, due to a death in one sling. They don't care how big you are, and they mean business.

Additionally, provisions of the CPSIA (Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act) have direct reprecussions on even the smallest carrier businesses. That's an entire kettle of fish that I don't have the space to go into here; again, visit the BCIA or the Handmade Toy Alliance for more information on CPSIA requirements and their affect on micro-businesses.

I know, that's pretty depressing stuff. I don't want to quash any dreams, but I also want to make it crystal-clear that this is not a business for the faint of heart. Few vendors become millionaires -- or even break even for the first 2-3 years. It's nice pocket money if you manage to sell a few slings per month, but that's not easy, either. I'm pretty popular now, but I started in 2000, when there were few WAHMs in the sling market, and even then, I wasn't selling more than 6 slings per month until mid-2003. I do a lot more business now, but it's taken 10 years to get to the point where I am now, and I still would not be able to live on my sling-sewing income without devoting 8 hours a day to it. Now that there are so very many WAHMs making slings, it's even harder to make a name for yourself unless you have a new idea. Just sewing SBP-style pleated slings will not get you new customers, trust me. People like my pleats, but without bragging, they like my service and my reputation more, and that reputation has taken me 10 years to build.

So, sure, you can sell slings, but keep your expectations realistic. You may sell a few locally, and if you have a website, you might sell a few more. But it's going to take a long time before your name is known, unless you've got something really unique; I've seen a few new startups become near-instant successes at the BabyWearer because they offer something different, but it doesn't happen often.

Okay, if you've read this far and still want to sell slings with my pleats, here are my caveats (which don't in themselves apply to slings made with your own design; however, you should absolutely take into account the above):

  1. No eBay selling. Why? Because eBay is overcrowded with WAHM sling makers, so the prices tend to be really, really low. I'm selfish: I don't want to face competition on my own pattern on eBay, since many of those slings go for far less than I can price mine. My lowest-priced slings are $20, and your average eBay sling goes for $15. Call me mean if you like, but I don't want that kind of competition, and if you want to pay yourself fairly, you can do better than that, too.
  2. No Etsy selling. Etsy is all about original, handmade, creative work. There's nothing creative about using someone else's design, IMO.
  3. If you are selling using the pleats on my site, I request a link back to my site. If you have a website, use the image at right and link to http://crafts.sleepingbaby.net/ in a prominent place on your site -- not the links page, but somewhere that people will really see it. The point of me having the free pattern up is to allow people who can sew to do so. If others use my pattern and don't include that option, I don't think that's fair... not to mention, it goes against the whole spirit of my site. If you don't have a website but are selling at craft fairs or the like, please print the business cards found here and display them in a card holder or similar at your booth.
  4. Watch your liability and use safe materials. Please read the fabric FAQ carefully and avoid using cheap fabrics that will tear easily, or unsafe rings that can bend or break. If you're just selling a few slings at a time -- and I'm talking a few per month, tops, not per day! -- you can include the wearing directions I made. If you're selling a bunch, please take the time to make up your own directions and include them with *every sling you sell*. Clear directions are essential! Most people in the US and Canada have never even seen a sling before, let alone used one, and the thing I hear most often from women who ask me about my sling when I'm wearing it is "Oh, I had one of those, but I couldn't figure it out." A customer who can't figure out how to use a carrier -- or thinks she can, but does it unsafely -- is a dangerous customer, to herself, her baby, and you. If you can't provide clear instructions about how to use a carrier, don't even think about selling it.
  5. I am not interested in allowing large-scale manufacturing of slings made from my pattern unless I get a cut of the action. If you think you're going to be selling more than 20-30 per month, please create your own design.

If you still want to use my pleats, please email before proceeding, so I know that you're out there and you've read and understand what I've written. (I have this here mostly because I get at least 2-3 "can I sell your slings?" emails per week, and it's easier for me just to write this once than 2-3 times per week :)

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