"Children don't need great wealth to grow up well, they just need parents with the wealth of great attitude." Sjorcha Daynes-Todman 2001 (CEO Bubba Moe Slings)
About us, is well literally about us. Not just the evolutionary story of how Bubba Moe Slings came to life, more the fantastic journey of the family that created Bubba Moe.
In 2005, Bubba Moe Slings was featured on the BEC (Business Enterprise Community) website as a success story, not long after winning 2005 NSW “Product Innovation Award” for small business. I started that piece by penning “I accidently fell into business in a monumental way…..”
Over the years as the Bubba Moe website changed and evolved, my signature line has been copied, almost as many times as the product, many adopting the marketing approach of presenting a product to the customer from a grounded grass roots, ‘Life as it is’ honest level. It was only just the other day when I happened upon a site called the Accidental WAHM. Her opening line was “I fell into business and the effects have been monumental……..”
I didn’t get to read much further as I needed to wipe sprayed coffee from the monitor.
Copying is a sincere form of flattery I am often told. Before I could get any angrier, I had to remind myself that we learn from others, and in all honesty that’s how many successful ‘Parentpreneurs’ often start; without the design and calculation of a plan. It just happens because they made something to make their own life easier, the plan comes after.
Bubba Moe Slings has been a labour of love since 1985 when my first child Ryan was born. I welcomed a child who had the largest chocolate brown eyes, the sweetest tussled curls, and the most endearing smile humanly possible. He was also very capable of the most blood curdling pitiful screams whenever I put him down.
Enter one very exhausted and frazzled mum, heading perilously towards the “Most Useless Mother in History “ award. As a mum, my level of self-confidence plummeted lower to the ground than an ant’s knee.
Honestly, doing things single-handed can only take you so far, hanging out the washing, making the bed, vacuuming and other really exciting but necessary daily chores. Desperate for a solution, I had the notion that if I strapped him to me somehow, I could have the return of my hands, sanity and self-confidence.
My family laughed in hysterics at my first rudimentary attempt of a sling. In my mind it seemed to work so much better.
All I thought that was needed was a long strip of fabric to tie at the shoulder and he could lie inside. After ruining 2 perfectly good sets of sheets and Ryan slipping out once, which was ok, as he giggled for the first time when I caught him mid air, I surmised the idea was still great, it just needed to be safer, a lot safer. A safer one was made, very large and a tad uncomfortable, but at least it was safer. At least he didn’t fall out of this one.
In 1987, a new version of the sling was made before my second child was born. By the time my son Drue was 6 months old, the pattern had evolved twice more, and we got some amazing new neighbours.
My neighbour was an early childhood psychologist with a handful of older kids. I loved the way the family lived together; their love and ethics became a role model for my own family.
Joanna introduced us to the art of engagement parenting, starting with baby wearing. The family had moved from South Africa, where all women carried their babies, but here in Australia it was a very much frowned upon practice during the 80’s & 90’s. People are very good at giving their point of view when yours conflicts with theirs, even if you didn’t say a word in the first place.
There’s hardly any credibility to their advice about child rearing when they are yelling and screaming at their own kids between each sentence. Most of the remarks that I encountered whilst out in public were enough to make my normally straight hair turn into ringlets, as all three of us usually went home with earaches along with our groceries.
I made the resolution that baby carrying should be done away from the public eye. Sigh.
When my first daughter Zjarie was born 2 years later, I was at it again, improving the sling. It was for her safety this time as Drue wanted to share everything with her, mostly his food.
She was one month old and in the pram when she was choking on some carrot pieces. I couldn’t undo the harness quick enough, so I had to tilt both her and the pram upside down. I know he was only “sharing” but after that incident she lived permanently in the sling.
While on maternity leave I began making clothes for my children including some pretty little clothes for my baby daughter, a girlfriend suggested that I should start selling clothing at the new markets in the neighbourhood.
Borrowing money from my parents to get fabric, plus mum’s overlocker and sewing machine, and after a furious week of sewing, the kids and I set off to the markets. The boys made loads of new friends both young and old, while plenty of people were curious about the sling Zjarie was being carried in.
After the first day of trading I managed to pay back my parents, and the little niche label called Aster Moe had started. It was supposed to be for only 6 months till I went back to work, however those 6 months lasted a full 15 years of juggling Market life with a larger than normal family and 7 years of a degree qualified corporate life.
Life paced on till 1996, when my 4th child, my last son Ritch joined the family. It was then that I took a leap of faith when the marriage collapsed, I became ‘single with kids’.
For a little while all I had left in the world was 3 eager young faces and a baby in a sling. We didn’t mind too much as we enjoyed everything money couldn’t buy; poverty, peace with a whole lot of faith and love for each other thrown into the package.
1996 was the same year we sold our first sling after a customer wanted one too. She came back a week later wanting another one for a girlfriend and we hit a dilemma when she asked what it was called. Right then and there we wrangled with names, some bizarre, some too twee but when she said Baby Moe, Drue jumped up and called out “I know, Bubba Moe”. I wasn’t so sure, but everyone else seemed to love it and before I could protest it stuck.
From there to around 2000 I had listened to all the feedback from parents, with many road testing each new improvement I made. Even though we were selling a steady stream of slings each week, I knew in my heart it could still be better.
It was at the markets that I met my future husband. His only claim to parenthood was his canine companion, Pollie, who became the other woman in my life.
When we moved in together he inherited 4 stepchildren and I inherited a new step dog.
In 2003 our family was completed with the birth of our daughter Asjaya, her name given to her by none other than Drue. He has this habit of naming really great things. Little Miss Mischief as she is called has been my long-standing muse in the Bubba Moe blog.
Meeting Maurie, who is refreshingly normal, introduced me to another experience, one I had heard about but never experienced outside children and parents - unconditional faith with unquestioned support.
I decree that all women should have a “Maurie” in their lives. Once I figure out how to clone him, I’ll be handing them out to all women in need.
Through Maurie, we also inherited his friends, one being his osteopath, Dr Peter Reid. As Maurie lay on the table ready for his manipulation, Peter and I set about discussing the sling. We became so engrossed that we forgot about Maurie until we heard him snoring. With Peter’s excitement about the Bubba Moe Sling, offered his expert advice about critical physical support for an infant. I started a series of controlled experiments using differing logarithms to give the hammock best possible support to his specifications.
The sling was becoming very close to what it looks like today except the cloth adjustment strap was the only hindrance. I knew there had to be a far better way but it hadn't presented itself yet.
6 weeks after Asjaya was born, there was a phone call that no parent should ever get. Drue had been involved in a very serious accident. With many body parts preceding him to the grave, his life hung in jeopardy. I normally couldn’t run to save my life, but after getting out of the car, for the first time ever, I beat the kids to the Emergency room. The nurse held me back a long enough to warn me it wasn’t going to be a pretty sight.
During the months in hospital, then the next 18 months going between Nepean and Westmead hospitals for numerous operations, we met Dr Susan Carroll, a physiotherapist extraordinaire! Who took control over Drue's rehabilitation. She did have a fight on her hands though, if you couldn't find any of the nurses or doctors, all you had to do was look for Drue. Drue's charm and happy wit made him a favourite; often cheering up other patients who had similar injuries and anyone else he came into contact with.
Susan's information throughout the long hours and weeks of treatment was amazing. As the months rolled on by, Susan watched Asjaya learn to crawl, walk and talk, with a few kisses thrown in. With Susan’s insight the final structure of the sling became as it is today.
It was during the early weeks that Ritch gave me the answer I so desperately searched for. On the way to the hospital, he kept undoing his seatbelt, "Look at how easy this slides…" - that was it! We both sat there playing with the seat belt while Zjarie & Ryan thought their mother had finally gone bonkers.
Getting the elusive size of webbing was an effort bigger than filming the Titanic, or more like Avatar as a comparison.
The redesigned sling, with its unique "banana" shape hammock was created. Luckily we listened to the insistence of Jayne from BEC to not only apply for an Australian Registered Design but a patent as well for IP coverage. I didn’t at that time have the foresight to think so many others would copy and ride on the coat tails of a break through ‘first to market’ product, as using a sling isn’t a new concept but a long forgotten one.
The toll of such a catastrophe could have undone any family, but instead we all became stronger and more determined. I sewed throughout the nights to make up for the long hours at the hospital, Maurie and the rest of the kids did all the finishing of the garments and slings ready for the weekend trading.
It was time to start employing people, a prospect that induced heartburn. Along came Sarah, a skinny wisp of a girl with brilliant learning capabilities, many have joined ‘The Crew’ since then.
We also launched our first self-made website, which required learning a new field of skills. We couldn’t afford the 50-60K price tag asked by professional website builders, which in reflection, would still look ‘ad –hoc’ and basic in today’s market. I often cringe about that first website we were all so proud of back then, in reality it was awful, but it’s a part of the growth & learning process of any business.
The one aspect of starting a business from scratch, is not only the product or service itself but the building of the entire infrastructure from the ground up to support that venture. It’s not an easy feat by any measure, especially when flying solo and the reason why many ventures fail.
2004 - We start approaching stores at customer’s requests. Many doors were slammed with "No one has asked or wanting such a product" retort. One head of a major chain was far more ruthless and cutting. I walked out of there pale faced, quivering and shaking, not able to think or talk straight for days.
2 weeks after the ill fated appointment, the ruthless ogre of mega proportions had gone out for lunch, and while waiting behind 2 women at a sandwich bar he overheard one ask the other where she got her baby sling, as her parachute carrier was really uncomfortable. She replied it was a Bubba Moe, but get to the markets very early or she’d miss out.
The following Saturday, Ruthless Ogre sat at a cafe in easy view of our stall, watching the trade. He called us a week later, politely asking to deliver some sample stock. That initial delivery of stock was sold out within 2 days. Delivery to all his other 17 stores was scheduled within the month. We still supply this chain, and he often still apologises for that terrifying meeting. We both laugh at the fact that he no longer scares me; underneath the façade he really is a softly fashioned cuddly human.
2005 - Bubba Moe Slings wins the NSW "Product Innovation Award" for small business. On the podium, we were hailed as an overnight success. That "overnight success" was 20 years in the making! A very long night, which had gone so quickly.
2006 - We move out of home into a factory, as there was not much space left. There were just too many slings around home; they’re everywhere, even infiltrating my dreams.
We also spent 6 months working with 4 major global underwriters to secure product liability for the Bubba Moe Slings. Bubba Moe Slings was the first to actually achieve this, as no other Australian manufacturer had this type of insurance. There were so many "suits" in the factory at one time they outnumbered the staff. While product testing, researchers had to search for any reported deaths worldwide from hammock style slings. By 2006 there had been NO REPORTED DEATHS BY SLINGS WORLDWIDE!
Bubba Moe Slings undergoes and passes the BSEN Certificate (British & European Safety Standard) after the insistence of Austrade. It was a hair pulling, wrinkle creating, and a headache evoking exercise. At the end of it all, Ryan buys a few bottles of Moscato, infusing the hibiscus flowers placed at the bottom of each glass. We all celebrate till the next morning then some more.
2007 - Bubba Moe Slings became involved in the first of many community projects; YAA Youth Achievement Australia. From there we were asked to become a participant with the Schools Industry Program, CARE program, ADHD Adults & Kids (Living It & Loving it Naturally), Parent Mentor Program. We also open our factory after hours to ‘distant’ Textile Students to help them complete projects etc.
2008 - Drue, though very delayed due to his accident, finally gets his wish and leaves for Europe. While my son is overseas, I am asked to write articles for parenting magazines and forums, which I still do today, usually at 2.30 am each morning, when the intelligent members of the household are asleep. Zjarie, the young Trojan, studies for her HSC in between customers at the markets and machinery at the factory. My girl with the long cascading hair and eyes that bedazzle manages to finish with top grades!
Oct 11th 2008, working late in the factory with children in our crèche area playing or doing homework, we are held up at gunpoint by 4 masked men. Everything was destroyed, smashed beyond repair. Within 2 days with the help of people from the community, even people we never met before, we are up and running again. 3 months later, feeling an overriding malaise, the doctor thinking its Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome decides to run tests anyway. I am diagnosed with an incurable blood disorder and the staff sign up to become blood donors. Every 3 months we close the factory as the staff herd themselves to the blood bank to help people like me and many others.
2009 - I am invited to become a member of NSW government initiative "Manufacturing for the Greater Western Sydney". An eclectic group comprised of professors (mostly nutty), teachers, employers, trades people and government officials. The aim is to resurface long lost but much needed skills for our youth through enterprise training and facilities.
May 2010 - I am nominated for the Telstra’s “Inspirational Women in Business Award by a couple of mentee’s. Overwhelmed & humbled just by the nomination itself, I had the honour to meet some incredibly fantastic women right on through to the finals.
Bubba Moe is a family business with each member with an individual quality that completes the whole. Ryan for his unwavering loyalty; Drue for barring the "give up" door, never allowing me to enter; Zjarie for grounding me, my right hand; Ritch the scientist, who is ever so logical about anything and Asjaya who brought song into my heart. Without you there would be no Bubba Moe.
Maurie, my other inspiration, my eternal sounding board. I wish there were more men out there like him.
I am blessed to have the world’s best staff! Sarah Karen, Rebecca, Dominic, Super Amy, Gina, Jess, Jessica, Papa Tim, Nat, Grace and of course our own Zjarie.
Dr Peter Reid & Dr Susan Carroll, as always our love and eternal thanks.
To Jim, you’re a legend in the Textile Equipment industry. Our 20year friendship has lasted longer than both our first marriages put together.
Our thanks especially to the many sets of parents who helped us improve and finesse the Bubba Moe Sling. For Steve & Kelly, Jo & John, Sarah & Richard, your remarkable input, enthusiasm and optimism have gone way beyond the call of duty over all these years.
If you are reading this last sentence, I sincerely thank you for your endurance and hope you have enjoyed an insight into WHO we are.