How I Created a Baby Clothing Brand Moms Can’t Resist

More than a decade after founding her eponymous children’s clothing brand, Kate Quinn was still struggling to make a name for herself in the fashion world. So in 2018, it did what many in the industry have been doing lately and bet on direct to consumer. Turning to a strategy that cuts out the middleman has transformed her Seattle-based company into a cult brand, thanks in part to moms’ penchant for sharing cute photos on social media. Quinn’s jungle animal and plant prints on everything from onesies to quilts are in such demand that some products fetch several times the retail price at mother-run secondary markets. Now the company faces a fun new challenge: how do you acquire new customers when brand loyalists grab your products as soon as they drop? –As said to Graham Winfrey

I went to the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles with the goal of starting my own business, but didn’t graduate. It was very expensive, so I went there for a year and chose courses that I thought would help me run my own business. One of the things I learned at FIDM is that baby clothes are much less economically sensitive than women’s clothes. People still buy baby gifts, even when the economy is bad. This launched me in search of manufacturers all over the world.

I eventually found family factories in India, and in 2006 I started selling organic cotton baby clothes on Craigslist. Seattle Magazine did a little feature on me and it got me more attention than I thought possible, so I moved from Craigslist to specialty shops pretty quickly. Designs are generally not based on trends. I draw a lot of inspiration from interior design. It’s often nature-based, and maximalist for sure. We make a ton of impressions.

I had international distribution and was selling at Nordstrom and Target and on Zulily, but as a brand we never really broke through. We would have a good year and then a supplier wouldn’t deliver. And if you don’t ship a fall collection on time and everyone cancels, that’s probably 40% of your year. There have been tons of cancellations and tons of late shipments. Another big problem was not getting our samples on time, so we couldn’t pre-sell them or bring them to trade shows. It was just one thing after another.

For the first twelve years, we really struggled. Wholesale accounted for 70% of our revenue, but I was just done with all the added costs, risks, and challenges of being an omnichannel brand. I would make four big collections a year, so you make four big bets, and I didn’t even know if there would be any that would sell at the retailer. On top of that, I was disconnected from the customer because it all depended on the retailer.

So, in 2018, I decided to get rid of wholesale entirely and only sell on our website. Until then, we were selling a bodysuit for $11 to a retailer and he was selling it for $22. We took that wholesale margin and gave it back to the consumer. We uploaded the Fall 2018 collection, and it sold more in the first two days than it would have for the entire wholesale practice.

On October 3, 2019, the site made $90,000 in sales out of nowhere. He had averaged $10,000 to $20,000 a day up to that point. We think what happened was that one of our creations on Instagram caught the eye of someone with a lot of followers and brought a whole bunch of people to the site. We had around 20,000 Instagram followers at the time. Today we have more than 430,000.

Instead of doing four collections a year, we now do 50-70. Each collection has hundreds of items and is its own order form – and its own little bet. So, instead of making four big deposits, we make 50 small bets, and we can take more risk. We can be more creative.

Today we are using a flash sale model. When you announce a collection on Facebook, there can be 1,500 comments. The majority of them are a mother tagging another. We get virtually all of our online notoriety through Facebook and Instagram. Our clients are very social. Parents love showing pictures of their babies. It’s part of what you do as a parent.

If anything, our challenge right now is how to acquire new customers when our current customers are gobbling up all the inventory. A lot of it sells out within the first hour, so we still have a hard time predicting and predicting. Being fully primed was also difficult. If we were to hire an investment partner in the future, they should help us do what we do best. For now, we’ll stay obsessed with our client.

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Excerpt from the September 2022 issue of Inc. Magazine


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