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Why does it cost so much to buy a work-at-home-mom-made baby carrier? (or any WAHM item, for that matter)?

If you're reading my Baby Crafts page, you probably already know how much a baby carrier can cost. And I'm sure that most people coming here look at the various carrier sites and say, "I could do that for under $10 -- why does it cost $50 to buy?" Well, in no particular order, here are a few of the reasons why... and why, if you think you can make some good money selling a few slings in your spare time, you may be in for a surprise.

Obvious costs:

Materials and supplies. These are the costs that anyone would pay to make a carrier -- the fabric, rings, buckles, Velcro, elastic, or whatever else it takes to make it. You may be able to get them cheaper by wholesale, but your initial cost savings can be completely offset by the quantities necessary in wholesale ordering (often hundreds of yards) and the time it takes to source them.

Hidden costs:

These are all costs that are not borne by single-carrier sewing:

1. Time. When you're sewing only one carrier, the time you spend looking for fabric and related supplies doesn't seem like much. It's fun to browse through the fabric selection and choose just the right colors and patterns. You're buying just a few yards of fabric, so it doesn't really matter how much you spend per yard -- even at $10 per yard, you can make a couple of carriers for under $20 each.

If you're trying to make a living sewing carriers, you have to be paid for your time -- just as any other business person is -- and so the time spent finding supplies has to be represented in the final cost. The more complicated your carrier is, the more suppliers you need to line up. Once you're sewing dozens or hundreds of carriers, shopping for fabric isn't as much fun. It becomes work, trying to find a reliable supplier who can guarantee the quality you need, and if you plan to reorder a particular print or weave to build a recognizable line, a supplier can be even harder to find. You spend hours on the internet or telephone, tracking down just the right company.

There are also the endless hours that can be spent doing customer service -- answering emails, developing your website or other sales materials, and ensuring that your product is safe and functional. If you are conscientious, you will have developed your own design, and that takes still more time, testing, revisions, and understanding feedback from your customers. It may not seem like a lot, but all of those things are very time-consuming!

2. Labor. Making one carrier is pretty easy; most of the time, it doesn't take more than three hours, even for a complicated item like a mei tai. Scale that up, though, and even though you can cut the time spent per carrier by streamlining things, it's still going to take at least an hour each. Now suppose your business is booming, and you need to hire someone to help you out -- whe ther for sewing, cleaning around the house, or taking care of the kids (since your time is spent at the sewing machine). If you hire legally, you will be responsible for at least minimum wage, plus taxes, health insurance, and other costs associated with having employees.

3. Getting the word out. Advertizing, printing business cards, web hosting, web design, flyers, and whatever other materials you'll need to get your product into the public consciousness... These things are rarely free, and will at least cost you time even if they don't cost money (which they almost certainly will). Even if you choose not to advertize (I've never spent a dime on advertizing, myself), you'll still probably need a website and business cards. (Thanks to Amanda for reminding me of this category!)

4. Wholesale. If you are making carriers to distribute -- that is, someone else sells them for you in their store -- you need to price the carriers accordingly. Even though she's not doing as much of the physical work, your distributor still puts in a full day and will want to be paid for her time! So even if your carrier costs only $10 in materials to make, you still need to be compensated for your time (hourly rates for skilled laborers like seamstresses vary, but they're at least $12-15/hour) and other resources, which will probably add another $10-20 to the price; and then your distributor will need to decide how much she wants to be compensated for her half of the transaction. You might sell the carrier to her for $25, but she will likely have to mark it up to $40 or more to make it worth her time and effort (since she will be doing customer service and shipping, plus of course the actual expense of buying the carrier from you). Then, if you're also selling your carrier on your website, you have to make your price around the same as your distributor's, or one of you will be losing sales.

5. Insurance and liability issues: If you're selling carriers to people you don't know, it's essential to have insurance, too, which can be quite costly for baby carriers (due to the seriousness of the liability associated with them). If you aren't insured, no matter how many disclaimers you have on your site, you can still be sued if something goes wrong with the carrier (disclaimers *will not* protect you legally). If a seam breaks, a ring slips, a buckle fails, or even if, due to user error, the child isn't placed in the carrier correctly and falls out, you will be liable for the damages. An LLC (limited liability corporation) designation helps a little, because then only the company's assets can be considered fair game in the suit, but if you don't have an LLC, your personal assets will also be taken. Think about all the baby product recalls that happen each year, and then imagine what you would need to do if your carriers were found to be unsafe, or if, due to a customer's misunderstanding of your directions, a baby were injured using your carrier. It's a scary thought! I went for several years without insurance, and lay awake many nights worrying about what might happen if someone dropped their baby out of one of my slings and sued me. I wouldn't dream of doing business now without insurance. Quotes generally run from $1000-10,000 or even above, depending on your sales volume. Not cheap, but also pretty necessary.

Having good wearing directions is essential -- my insurance agent was impressed with the thoroughness of my directions, and felt that if a court case were to arise, they would be a good point in my favor. Of course, putting directions together is a time-consuming, sometimes expensive process, and it's not one you can fudge. If you don't know how to use your carrier well enough to make idiot-proofed directions, you need to practice until you do, and not sell anything until you can show a stranger how to put on a baby safely the first time. I mean that. Your directions need to include lots of warnings about doing stupid things. They need clear pictures showing *exactly* what to do. They need clear text with adequate written direction. And all of that takes a lot of time to make, and you'll need someone who understands babywearing to take your pictures and proof your text, or you will be putting your customers at risk. Once your directions are made, you'll need a way to distribute them with your slings. I get black and white copies made at Staples, usually about $100 for 250 copies. If you get color copies made, it's more expensive, but also easier for your customers to understand, and I'm looking to go in that direction. You *must* include directions with every carrier you sell, or you are adding to your liability! And of course, if you just put someone else's directions in with your slings, you are breaking their copyright and they have every right to come after you for damages, unless you receive permission first.

6. Miscellaneous. Running a business consumes more than just time and labor; there are also the supplies you'll need, like paper, a decent computer, printer, toll-free phone number, electricity, mailing supplies (including envelopes, padding, bags, and a good scale), and some kind of inventory control system for your stuff. That's all got to be paid for somehow!

Intangibles:

Quality of life. Many WAHM baby carrier makers are not in the business just for fun -- often, they are sewing or selling for a living. Unless you're selling on an enormous scale, it's just not possible to make a living on carriers that are priced too low (also keeping in mind that sales in such large quantities will necessitate pricing them at a wholesale level, making your own profits much lower). So while a hobbyist seamstress, making carriers in her spare time, might be able to sell hers for $30 or under, a woman who is trying to feed and clo the her family, pay her rent, and have a comfortable lifestyle, will have to price hers higher just to get by.

There are a lot of small-scale manufacturers who started with very low prices, and then quickly found that they were spending all their time sewing, while not having a whole lot to show for it at the end of the day. They learned that they had to raise their prices in order to make the trade-off -- time spent sewing vs. Time spent with family -- worthwhile. It's not uncommon for beginners to start at $15 for a sling, then go to $25, then $35 and higher, because they've become aware of the costs associated with running a business.

Why am I writing this?

Well, in part because when I started selling slings, I wasn't aware of most of this myself! I bought a MayaWrap pouch before my first child was born, and when I got it, I thought, "Why did this cost so much? It's such a simple concept!" At the time, all the effort that went into it didn't really occur to me. There are a lot of people to be paid in their supply chain: the women who weave the fabric, the people who sew the carriers, the folks at the distribution centers, and the people who sell them... so what seems like it shouldn't cost very much actually has to cost rather a lot to make it equitable.

In the United States, we're used to buying things at essentially slave-labor prices. Clo thes and accessories that are made in China, Taiwan, the Philippines, and many other eastern countries are priced far below what they really ought to be, if the people making them were earning a fair wage. Instead, we're able to purchase t-shirts for $5, jeans for $10, etc., not because they're not well-made, but because the people making them are earning less than $1 per day in many cases. (Not to mention that the people selling them are often earning little more than minimum wage themselves!) Among the many other problems this causes, it also breeds a mindset that price is everything. If it can't be had for cheap, we don't want it. This devalues work that is done by hand, by conscientious craftspeople who are trying to make an honest living, and leads us to question whe ther $50 for a handmade sling is really worth it. If you're barely making ends meet yourself, then the answer to that is probably "no", if it can't be bought at any price. Then making your own is a terrific alternative, and one I whole-heartedly support, of course :) But I think it's still helpful to understand what goes into the price of a carrier, or any other WAHM-made product.

In my own case, I can price my slings on the lower side of the market because I don't have a lot of the associated costs. I purposely buy smaller quantities than wholesale (for one, because we don't have room in our house for 100+ yard rolls of fabric, and for another, because I don't want to deal with the whole supplier headache) and so I don't have a reorderable line, which is a downside (most of the larger WAHM sling companies have a line that one can count on -- you can get the same brocade sling at ZoloWear today that you did three years ago, for example -- and that's a real plus for their business). I've avoided "growing" my business through advertizing and the like because I want (and can afford) to stay smaller -- I don't want to have to outsource my sewing or customer service. And I don't wholesale my slings to distributors (although I have had many offers) because I'd then have to raise the prices on my own website to compensate for the distributor's price (since otherwise, the slings would be nearly half the price on my site as they would be on the distributor's site). I do all that because I'm happy at a small scale right now, and so I can sell a $25 sling and still make a little profit doing it, even with the business-associated costs I do have to pay. Anything larger, though, and that would be the end of my $25 sling. (Not to mention, most of my slings are more than $25, which means that the more expensive ones can serve to subsidize the lower-priced ones.) It goes that way for pretty much every WAHM who goes from small-scale through medium to large.

And that's why, in most cases, carriers cost what they do.*

* There are a couple (and just a couple!) that I feel are exceptions -- slings that are not all that special in the way they are made, whose costs cannot possibly be more than $50/each in materials and labor, and that sell for three to five times that amount -- but they are the exception rather than the rule. Most carriers I have seen on the market are either fairly priced, given the hidden costs that go into them, or are actually underpriced, like most mei tais, which are extremely labor-intensive. Very few people in this market are going to be millionaires selling slings!

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