Made in NY: Skip Hop

10 years in, Skip Hop founder Ellen Diamant reflects on the product that started it all.

Made in NY: Skip Hop

Like many moms, Ellen Diamant founded her baby business because she was frustrated. She spent a lot of time running around New York City with her one-year-old, Spencer, in a stroller, and yet, she she couldn’t find a bag that would hang tight on her set of wheels. So she cooked up a durable, unisex, messenger-style diaper bag: the Skip Hop Duo (above left). Ten years later, the Duo Signature (above right) is a mainstay on strollers everywhere, and Skip Hop is a baby household brand. With hundreds of products that are functional, innovative and not-so-bad-on-the-eyes (come on, you know you’re thinking about how that baby playmat will look next to your cool coffee table), you’ll feel comfortable turning to Skip Hop for just about every room in your house. Because, let’s face it: there’s a time to be a first-adopter of a cool brand nobody’s ever heard of, and there’s a time to buy something safe, smart and proven. Like when you have a baby. Below, this Diamant scoops on the last decade in the baby biz, what brands she loves, and where the industry is all headed. Tell us about the marketplace when you launched the Duo. Back then, there was nothing I could hang on my stroller. I couldn’t even find a bag that felt like my style. Diaper bags were either very cheap or very fancy. Nothing was sporty and nothing had function. I wanted a messenger-style tote that didn’t look like a diaper bag. I wanted every section to have function, and be easy to get into. And of course, it had to hang on your stroller. Our first product was that Duo diaper bag in a million different colors. How did you know you were on to something? We saw how people loved the brand. It was a time when a lot of the modern baby companies were starting as well, like Dwell, Oeuf and Bugaboo. We knew contemporary design for babies was going to be a huge trend. And once parents saw fun, cool design in the baby world, there was no turning back. How did you move into other categories? After the Duo, we designed different styles of diaper bags, then things that went with the diaper bag--pacifier holders, a changing station, etc. Then hardgoods, like a bottle drying rack. We didn’t have a big plan, we just wanted to do product that we liked. Now, it’s more about collections, like bath or kitchen. But when we were first starting, we were just thinking of parenting solutions.

Michael, Spencer and Ellen Diamant of Skip Hop

When did you know this was a business you could make a living from? When we moved from doing work in our apartment to our own space. And when we saw the parents out on the street with the product. How has New York City influenced the brand’s design, fashion and function? A NYC parent has a very special challenge because they have less space, so they can’t clutter. A suburban parent can have a play-yard upstairs, downstairs, etc. But NYC parents have to pare down, they need space-saving solutions. Also, city parents aren’t in cars. We’re taking taxis or walking. So the stroller becomes like your car. Everything has to be there. Now, the rest of the country is embracing portability as well. We’re always thinking about that urban parent, but hoping that the rest of the world embraces what we’re doing. One thing there’s not a lot of in Skip Hop’s line is bells and whistles. You’re introducing some electronic baby toys this year though. We like the idea of electronics. But we don’t want to do anything that is overstimulating. A lot of people do like electronic toys, though, so we have to do it in a thoughtful way. What are some other new areas of business for Skip Hop? Now, about 35 percent of our business is in the toddler section. That’s an underserved category because a lot of the items in that age group are licensed product. Parents don’t want their kids serving as an ad for a TV show, plus licensed products often don’t have function. So you go from having all this beautiful baby stuff that’s well thought-out, to having only licensed options from 2-years-old on. Our Zoo collection is about “tools for toddlers”--items that give the opportunity for the child to be independent: a lunch box, an umbrella.

Some of the latest from Skip Hop's Zoo Collection

Who are some of the other baby brands you admire? Oeuf furniture. Bugaboo. Aden + Anais in soft goods. These are classic, strong brands that show longevity, and are also run by really nice people. Are there any new baby brands that have caught your eye? I haven’t seen a lot of new exciting brands come out, but there are a lot of interesting designers, crafters and others on Etsy. These days, there are lots of barriers that are keeping entrepreneurs from starting businesses, especially when it comes to hardgoods. But new brands are doing daring things for baby in softgoods, like layette and nursery décor. What advice would you give to young moms balancing a business in the baby world? Try to seek out people in a related businesses to get advice. Get a reality check about how much work it takes to get into it. You really have to do your homework. It’s a crowded market right now. When we started there were so many opportunities, but now there’s strict safety requirements. Testing is so important, but it’s not something you can easily navigate.

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I never wanted to be a mom. It wasn't something I ever thought would happen until I fell madly in love with my husband—who knew very well he wanted children. While he was a natural at entertaining our nephews or our friends' kids, I would awkwardly try to interact with them, not really knowing what to say or do.

Our first pregnancy was a surprise, a much-wanted one but also a unicorn, "first try" kind of pregnancy. As my belly grew bigger, so did my insecurities. How do you even mom when you never saw motherhood in your future? I focused all my uncertainties on coming up with a plan for the delivery of my baby—which proved to be a terrible idea when my dreamed-of unmedicated vaginal birth turned into an emergency C-section. I couldn't even start motherhood the way I wanted, I thought. And that feeling happened again when I couldn't breastfeed and instead had to pump and bottle-feed. And once more, when all the stress from things not going my way turned into debilitating postpartum anxiety that left me not really enjoying my brand new baby.

As my baby grew, slowly so did my confidence that I could do this. When he would tumble to the ground while learning how to walk and only my hugs could calm him, I felt invincible. But on the nights he wouldn't sleep—whether because he was going through a regression, a leap, a teeth eruption or just a full moon—I would break down in tears to my husband telling him that he was a better parent than me.

Then I found out I was pregnant again, and that this time it was twins. I panicked. I really cannot do two babies at the same time. I kept repeating that to myself (and to my poor husband) at every single appointment we had because I was just terrified. He, of course, thought I could absolutely do it, and he got me through a very hard pregnancy.

When the twins were born at full term and just as big as singleton babies, I still felt inadequate, despite the monumental effort I had made to grow these healthy babies and go through a repeat C-section to make sure they were both okay. I still felt my skin crawl when they cried and thought, What if I can't calm them down? I still turned to my husband for diaper changes because I wasn't a good enough mom for twins.

My husband reminded me (and still does) that I am exactly what my babies need. That I am enough. A phrase that has now become my mantra, both in motherhood and beyond, because as my husband likes to say, I'm the queen of selling myself short on everything.

So when my babies start crying, I tell myself that I am enough to calm them down.

When my toddler has a tantrum, I remind myself that I am enough to get through to him.

When I go out with the three kids by myself and start sweating about everything that could go wrong (poop explosions times three), I remind myself that I am enough to handle it all, even with a little humor.

And then one day I found this bracelet. Initially, I thought how cheesy it'd be to wear a reminder like this on my wrist, but I bought it anyway because something about it was calling my name. I'm so glad I did because since day one I haven't stopped wearing it.

Every time I look down, there it is, shining back at me. I am enough.

I Am Enough bracelet 

SONTAKEY  I Am Enough Bracelet

May this Oath Bracelet be your reminder that you are perfect just the way you are. That you are enough for your children, you are enough for your friends & family, you are enough for everything that you do. You are enough, mama <3


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