I recently attended the Wrap Show in London which was good fun. Babywearing exhibitions are always frenetic but as my journey has continued I’m glad to say they’ve become more about meeting friends, those in my phone, in real life. Having recently splurged on Lawilde’s Corvus I didn’t buy much except for a scrap from Lawilde that needs to become a jacket, but that’s another story. By purchasing said scrap I got a ticket to enter into a draw to win lunch with Charlotte from Lawilde along with Christina and Sarah from Woven Wings. I didn’t win and thought nothing more of it.
Fast forward a few weeks and I get a message from Charlotte telling me she had a redraw due to a winner unable to make it and my ticket had been picked, would I like to go? I didn’t have to think long because the opportunity to sit for a length of time with successful business women chewing over the babywearing scene was a no brainer. I bought a ticket to London and got promptly sidetracked in work and the mess that is UK politics.
Soon the Sunday arrived; I was up and out of the house for 7am to be down in London in good time. I could have slept a bit longer on the journey but favoured binge watching silly Versailles and trying not to be nervous.
Here’s the thing. Enjoying woven wraps and geeking out is one thing. I adore how these conversations turn over to real life so easily. You meet and pick up where you left off from threads and private messages. Somehow though, the business women, these fairy wrap creators, are a slight step apart. It is wonderful but ultimately unsatisfying to meet them at babywearing exhibitions as the hubbub and jostling doesn’t lend itself to picking up from any conversation you may have had, no matter how cursory. Add in a slight social awkwardness and a tendency to blurt out oddly disjointed thoughts and you usually move on in slight embarrassment. I suppose, in a different way, it’s like hanging with the band after a gig. You want to, it’s bound to be great, but there’s a niggle that you won’t have much to relate to and it will be slightly weird.
Then I look at the absurdity of those thoughts. These are women that yes, are masters with yarns and weaving, design and individualism, but they’re also mothers and in all likelihood, a similar age and with relatable life experiences to you. Deep breath.
To chill out pre lunch I nipped over the Charlton Street in Pimlico. Home to my favourite charity shop, the Terrence Higgins Trust, it is a treasure trove of fashion and culture. Tickled to pick up some vintage John Galliano jewellery and having stopped for coffee I jittered my way over to Browns in Victoria.
Lunch was with Christina, Sarah and Charlotte along with one Woven Wings winner (Rachel) and a fellow Lawilde winner (Saara). I’d like to say we ate a sumptuous three course meal but in actuality the food was pretty forgettable. Well except for the British Royale aperitif. That’s not to say the food was bad, I just didn’t notice it because once the small talk was out of the way three hours had disappeared in a moment.
So what do you talk about with when you’re sitting with three successful business women and fellow babywearers? Well, lots. For example: handling samples and talking about the design process; the merits and criticisms of Peppa Pig; the effect of Brexit on the babywearing industry; how the new US woven wrap testing scheme will further alter the industry; how to live in two countries but manage a business based in one, and lastly, the unique intricacies of a business based on social media.
It is the last I particularly want to pick up on because I came away from the lunch with a renewed respect for the way these businesses are run. Babywearing brands are unique; successful ones are driven by creative women – often negotiating how to run a business for the first time – who have a personal investment and understanding of the art of babywearing having carried their own children and worked out what their woven jam is.
These are businesses that begin with a concept and a product that must find an audience. This audience is, unusually, based online; yes there are babywearing meets but the purchasing power to make a business sustainable resides on social media. It is a given that brands have their brand groups; places to geek out, meet, share spam etc. Brand owners were typically present and fully participatory in these groups; after all this is the most direct feedback and interaction a business can ever have. Customers are also fellow parents and are interested in what comes next and how to be involved.
But with that comes the perils of social media, the international 24/7 assumption that the office is always open, the 1-2-1 nature of messaging that breaks down interaction norms between businesses and their customers and the tricky expectation of wrap concepts being a shared and iterative experience. In summary it is a risky way to run a business; customers easily feel entitled and the business relationship becomes enmeshed.
Over time many brand owners have taken a step back from such involved social interaction. Successful brands are ageing and developing well; they may not be able to sustain their 1-2-1 social media presence. That’s ok, that’s understandable. It is also risky too because these are businesses based on the intensely personal – wrap brands make woven dreams happen.
We discussed the experiences and reflections Charlotte, Christina and Sarah have had as they continue to maintain a high presence in their brand groups. I found their insights were unique, beguiling and enlightening. I came away with a feeling of admiration for all three of them but also a sense of equality. All those anxieties had melted away because really, we were just women, mothers, babywearers, all enjoying lunch together. Isn’t that lovely?