Playing the stock market

I’ve written on and off about the reasons that I carry the girls. I was always clear in my head I wanted to carry and started off with a Close stretchy that was soon followed by various SSCs until we settled on a Madame Googoo. I started wrapping when our second child was about 4/5 months old. For me carrying is a practical answer to these hills we reside amongst where pushchairs are a hindrance. Carrying also keeps the girls close, helps develop their communication, is a huge comfort (for both of us), is fun, feeds my passion for fabric and has brought on my slipknot skills no end.

The stockmarket for cloth

At no point in this journey did I ever think “hey I really think I might make a bit of money off this gig” or “damn I shouldn’t have bought that wrap, I might hike up it’s value and sell it on”. Never have I looked at the latest releases, or wanted in so badly on a brand that I’d buy ANY release to trade on for whatever the DISO (desperately in search of) is this week. But this happens; the high-end babywearing world is like a stockmarket for dreamy cloth. Some wraps that were released for, say, £350 (not a small amount in itself) reach a sort of unicorn status and the market values them at double this cost. Imagine this valuing process as me licking my finger and sticking it up into the air to gauge wind direction for that’s all a market amounts to really. Yes I know, supply, demand, trends etc are at play.

Many would shrug and say well if there are just 12 wraps released and hundreds of babywearers chasing them then the seller can demand whatever the market (buyers) will sustain (cough up). Buyers do indeed cough up thinking they can sell it on for a similar price. This isn’t helped with people still talking up wraps as a good investment.

The brand arc

Brands typically go through certain arcs a little like this: small brand with niche audience > releases a few highly sought after wraps > attention increases as the next brand to watch > more buyers chase the wraps > secondhand wraps change hands in trades only > frenzy levels reached > secondhand wraps sometimes get listed for massively hiked up amounts > buyers swallow this because they’re finally IN THE CLUB > chatter in the facebook groups starts to falter > more and more posts appear talking up market value > more posts for sale/trade > buyers/sellers get antsy > something happens to tip things over the edge > brand and group interest wanes > buyers/sellers look for next big brand > stalwarts remain because the wraps are probably ace but staring at the ruins.

This is a cycle that has happened many times over. I shouldn’t be surprised, these are arcs that can be carried over to many different ‘commodities’. But as we saw in each of the many financial crashes, stock that goes up can also come down so when the brand crashes people have wraps that they might have paid £700 for a couple of months earlier that are ‘worth’ half that. If you consider that might be one wrap and someone might have 6-7-more in their stash then the implications can be desperately impactful. There are (mostly) women who have thousands of pounds worth of debt thanks to the addictive whirlwind that high-end wrap chasing can create.

Just a piece of cloth?

What irks me though is these are baby wraps – pieces of cloth designed to carry your baby – merely a beautiful mode of transport and a means of closeness. That these mahoosive amounts of cash are attached to them leaves me cold.

Babywearing also comes at a time when women are potentially at their most emotionally vulnerable which is a fact that goes unacknowledged when it comes to driving a deal. This issue was astutely summarised by a friend who said:

That, for me, is the real issue. I can appreciate something being a collector’s item, but… when it come to wraps, women are already feeling so out of sorts; often they wrap their new identity up with the wraps. The whole market is emotional manipulation for personal gain.

Her thoughts resonated particularly when I look back at the mire of PND and searching for a sense of self in the midst of maternity leave. My default refuge is my own sense of style and the fashion that informs it however that is harder to maintain when the aim of the day is to just make it through till bedtime and into the long lonely nights of feeding. The alluring world of wraps enables a sense of identity that can flourish within the many positive elements of the babywearing communities. This is why, for me, the advantage taking approach of market value sits so oddly.

Hang on, aren’t high end wrap prices just preying on the vulnerable anyway?

Is the refrain often used to question the retail value ethos by those used to market value. Kathy Le, provided this thoroughly eloquent explanation during one discussion:

The difference, as I see it, is the reason why the price is high and how that reason intersects with buyer psyche.

In a brand like Sling Studio, the higher retail value of the wrap is based on the actual cost of making a high quality wrap with quality materials; direct quantifiable costs. The buyer agrees to pay $400 retail for a Sling Studio vs $150 for another brand because of the high quality materials, ethically sourced, social mindedness, etc.

Whereas market value is not based on something quantifiable but on some intangible hard to find/highly sought after status of the wrap. This status is created by people talking up the wraps, and is made morally complicated because that intangible status will have largely been created by the ultimate sellers of those wraps. It is further morally complicated because buyers generally only pay these high market values with the belief that they will ultimately be able to sell for the same price so it doesn’t feel like you’re actually spending that money.  Yet the reality is at some point market value for every wrap will fall and you just don’t know who will be stuck with the hot potato in the end.

So, market value by it’s nature rests on playing with the psychology of the buyer, who are often times mamas who may be struggling with identity and just want to belong.

Retaining value

Perhaps I’m old school but the fact that you can buy something new, use it, repair pulls in it, clean baby sick off it, wash it and STILL sell it on for the amount you paid for it is pretty cool. How many other baby items can you think of that retain their value? None that I can call to mind yet this position – selling and trading for retail value – is still seen by many as a strange thing to be doing. Brand groups (and one might question the potentially complicit wrap makers) that have lived for the chase and thrill of market value don’t really know how to cope with it.

The answer as a potential trader is to swallow your market value loss if someone only wants to trade at retail if you really want the wrap. Sadly, instead you find that the market value ethos spreads to previously quietly happy retail value groups.

As a relatively aged mother I’m a stubborn sod and won’t enter into trades like this. I’d rather say ta-ta to a wrap I’m after if the only option is a trade/market value transaction. To me, no wrap is so important that I will either get myself into debt for it or, in a position of selling, ask so much for it that it goes beyond retail.

Keeping it retail?

I’m writing this because how we trade our wraps is a matter for us all to consider; retail value (which is still amazing I might remind you) is something many wish to see become the norm for trading and selling high end wraps. These are articles for carrying our children and if a wrap’s history is one of being traded for ever greater amounts of money or representing a stinging loss for someone else then that’s ultimately depressing. Carrying your child should be a joy, or a least a way to not go quietly crazy when you’re dealing with a teething baby.

I honestly believe in wrap karma. What love you imbue in a wrap as it carries your child should continue in the way it finds its next owner and the owner after that. What are the chances we can keep it retail, please?

Update (24/8/16)

I have just read this very interesting article from a UK wrap producer (Firespiral) about how they have altered the way they release and sell wraps. They have made these changes to try and encourage a more sustainable new and secondhand market by removing the many reward and panic techniques that other companies rely on. Whilst this is partly a marketing piece it is still worth a read. 

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