Sustainable Style Spotlight: BabyBoo
BabyBoo is the brainchild of Cork mums Vicki O'Callaghan and Michelle O'Riordan. A cult favourite for parents all across the country, their iconic Droolbusting Bandana Bib has been a game-changer for teething babies. Since expanding their offering to include loungewear, knitwear, sleepwear and feeding ranges, here Vicki talks to us about what she’s learned since setting up shop nine years ago.
Tell us about your brand
BabyBoo was set up in 2014 by myself, Vicki O’Callaghan, and Michelle O’Riordan. We’ve been friends since college and both always wanted to run our own business. We have five children between us (she has 4 of the 5!) and all of them had eczema. Ruby my daughter had the added complication of reflux and I guess we saw a gap in the bib market. Anything with a plastic back would cause their skin to flare up and most of the other ones were boring or everything soaked through. If your baby has to wear a bib all the time you want it to look nice and function well.
A few years into the business we switched the cotton we were using to certified organic cotton and as we expanded the range we only used this type of cotton and oeko tex certified dyes and components. We’re nine years in business this year and we now make many products for babies and young children including weaning bibs, sleeping bags, robes and blankets. Sustainability is at the heart of every new range we create. We’re stocked in many independent stores and in Arnotts, Brown Thomas and the Kilkenny Group too.
What is your mission?
The inspiration and vision behind BabyBoo was to create a brand unlike any other with unique, functional and sustainable products to make life more comfortable for our little customers. We are committed to ensuring that sustainable practices are at the heart of how we do business – that ranges from simple things like creating a Facebook group in which people can resell BabyBoo products, to larger projects around fabrics used, certification and ensuring the partners we work with align with our values. Another key value is that nothing goes to waste. If there is excess material in a certain design, we use it to create matching hats. If a product arrives with very slight damage, we sell it at a discount in our Imperfect Stock section of the website.
Did you always want to work in children’s apparel?
I think it’s fair to say we both value quality and good design in children’s clothing but the brand was born out of necessity as we couldn’t find anything that met our own kids’ needs (and looked pretty!) on the market. We both have always loved shopping for children’s clothing but it’s definitely developed into an obsession since we started designing our own.
What kind of items do you stock?
We started off with the bandana bibs which, at the time, were completely new to the Irish market. We then designed a newborn-style bib and weaning bib. There was a natural progression into an organic cotton sleep/ bedtime range which now includes sleeping bags, zipped sleepsuits, cellular blankets, swaddles, sheets and loungewear for older children. Our knitted products are relatively new and are proving hugely popular. We have a huge array of colours in our cardigans and zipped cardigans which people love to personalise too. The fact that the yarn is organic cotton is very important to us especially as we often see people packing those hospital bags for baby’s going home outfit. We also sell hats, loop scarves, robes and our gift boxes which people love. Personalisation is huge from a gifting point of view and we see a large proportion of our customer base opting to add their own personal touch to products with a name on a blanket or a phrase on a bib.
What new brands or items are on your radar?
Well, we’ve just launched our cellular blankets which we’re delighted with. They’re independently tested from a safety point of view which is massively important to us as a brand. There was a huge amount of time taken to design these and get them just right. We also recently launched a larger family-sized blanket and a kid-sized cuddle blanket in various styles. We intend to expand our knitted offering this year too and we have some very exciting designs coming up in the second half of this year. We have a brand new range coming towards the latter end of the year as well which has taken two years to design and has sustainability and the circular economy at its core. That’s all we can tell you for now!
Best business advice you’ve gotten
The best advice we’ve gotten is not to be afraid to hire people with expertise you don’t have in-house or don’t have yourself. Know your own strengths and don’t waste time trying to learn a skill that would cost less to outsource.
Favourite sustainable style accounts to follow online
We love following other children’s fashion/toy brands like Fauna Clothing, Siolog and Jiminy. Then other brands like Reuzi, Ground Wellbeing and We Are Riley for general sustainable wholesomeness. I also love Change by Degrees and Stop Food Waste for tips around the home and food. Too Good To Go is one of our personal favourites at home!
Best fashion purchase
Both Michelle and I are firmly in the ‘buy once, buy well’ school of thought. We buy pieces that last for years and can be worn far more than 30+ times. That might be a designer piece in some cases (bags are a weakness for both of us!) or it might be a really good quality pair of boots that will last for years. We’re not fast-fashion shoppers in the slightest and work really hard to instil this logic in our children as they are growing. For Michelle, her best fashion purchase would be a black leather jacket bought 12 years ago – it never goes out of style! For me I’m more of a casual dresser, I invest in leisurewear that I know will last. I buy New Balance leggings and wear them to death – they last for years. I also have a leather Marc Jacobs bag which I have had for years and have worn every day. I would never part with it and I love the fact that stores like Brown Thomas have The Restory and are now doing bag repair services to breathe new life into well-loved classics. It makes perfect sense!
Most useful learning since setting your business up
Oh, this is a good one! We’re always learning, always improving. I think the hardest lesson has probably been around pricing. Costs have increased so much in the last few years so we’ve been forced to relook at pricing at the moment, like many other brands. Another continuous learning is to question every process and think is there a better way? We put a lot of investment and time into researching sustainable fabrics and processes and just try to do our bit. Last year we invested in a machine that perforates all our cardboard boxes negating the need for bubble wrap. We also have a tick box on our checkout page where customers who are environmentally conscious can opt to minimise the packaging used in their order.
Proudest moment so far
Seeing our stock in Brown Thomas was a real pinch-me moment. Also winning Irish Baby Brand of the year in the National Parenting Product Awards in 2022 was another real highlight for us both.
I want my brand to be remembered for… being an innovative brand that is always improving and bringing the best ideas to the Irish market first. As mothers ourselves, we strive to make parents’ lives easier by creating incredible, top-quality products that last for years and can be passed on from generation to generation.
My advice for shopping more sustainably is… if it’s cheap in comparison to other brands in the same bracket, it’s probably fast fashion and more than likely not made sustainably or fairly. Read the reviews of products and look for quality. Check the fabric used – is it natural or synthetic? Look for an ethics section on the brand’s website to get more information. If they’re an ethical brand they won’t be afraid to answer your questions and shout about what they’re doing. Brands are very easily contactable now with social media. If you’re making a purchase and you want more information, just ask them. For special occasions why not look at renting that special piece.
Best sustainability tips for parents
Our motto at BabyBoo is quality over quantity. Good quality items will last for years and can be passed along to contribute to the circular economy. Look for preloved items where you can. Most of my daughter Ruby’s baby items were handed down from Michelle’s children and I then passed them on to others after Ruby outgrew them. I’ve never had to buy a coat for her and she’s 9! This is because the items bought were amazing quality so they’ve lasted for years and if looked after, will be passed on time and time again. Buy neutral for bigger items if you are planning to have more children. For example, with sleeping bags, we always create more neutral options because we find parents prefer that. Our own Facebook group where parents can sell their BabyBoo items is very popular for new mums to pick up some preloved pieces at a great price. It’s a testament to the quality and longevity of our products.