The World of High End Babywearing

Online communities can bridge nationalities and culture. They have their own lexicons, taboos, and beliefs. There are many online communities focused on babywearing, High End Babywearing is one that values carriers for their utility, as objects (even art), and for their monetary value. Carriers as investment pieces. Carriers as status symbols within their closed community. This interview was originally posted in Iowa City Babywearer’s blog, August 20th, 2015. Republished with permission of Kelsey Sandeno. 

Today I interviewed Kelsey Sandeno about the world of High-End Babywearing. We discussed the distinctions between High End (HE), Highly Sought After (HSA), and Hard-To-Find (HTF) carriers, as well as some of the jargon found in High-End Babywearing communities.

What is High-End Babywearing?

Kelsey Sandeno with her own High-End stash featuring Kokoro Koneko in Mini Luna & Artemis (black) and Chibi Moon (pink). The handwoven is “Rainbow Joy” by Threadbare Designs. Kokoro wraps were purchased retail ($250 each, via stalking) but now hold a much higher value because they are HSA. The handwoven was $100/meter and is considered an artisanal product.

High-End Babywearing (HE) is pretty much what it sounds like: more expensive carriers. People normally spend fifty to a hundred to a few hundred dollars on carriers. In High-End Babywearing,  people are spending, you know, five hundred up to a thousand– or thousands– of dollars on a single big-name item.

What kinds of carriers are involved in HE Babywearing?

Mostly wraps and when you get into the whole wrap-thing you get wrap conversions (WC). Obviously, when you get a high-end wrap and have it made into a conversion, it makes the conversion even more high-end, because you’re spending money on the conversion too. Ring slings, less so, unless they are made from a high-end wrap. Pouches I have seen made from handwoven fabric– like leftover bits of handwoven wraps. But for the most part: wraps.

What makes the High-End Carriers different from other carriers? Is there a difference in the manufacturing process, materials, etc.?

It varies– some wraps are high end because they use high-end fiber, first thing that comes to mind are Kokoro Ren which are made with tsumugi silk, which is the silk that is used to make kimonos. Other fibers include Egyptian cotton, organic sea-island cotton, other silks, or ethically sourced merino wool, which more costly than other wools. So there are the fibers that make a carrier high-end. Then there are the weaves: if you consider Pavo wraps, which have very intricate weave patterns rather than just basic straight weave, or jacquard. The more intricate weave patterns requires them to have to have a good relationship with the mills, for one wrap they had to build a loom in the mill.

And there is just marketing, “we’re gonna market ourselves as a high-end wrap,” so high-end through exclusivity, “we’re only going to make so many of these”…

Which gets into the Highly Sought After carriers? Can you talk more about that?   

Okay– there are three distinctions:

  1. Highly Sought After (HSA)
  2. Hard To Find (HtF)
  3. High End
Handwoven, “Rainbow Joy” by Threadbare Designs.

Highly Sought After (HSA) means that it’s wanted and there are a number of them available. And this can be a wrap that is sold retail for reasonable range cost– say $200, but there were only X of them made, so on the resale market it’ll go for two, three, four times it original cost.

Hard to Find (HTF) again there was a small number of them made, but it might not be HSA, there might not be a lot of people looking for it. But the people who are looking for it are having a harder time finding it because it doesn’t come up for sale often. It can command a high market value because it doesn’t come up very often, but it doesn’t mean that it will. If it’s HTF because it’s not well known, then it’s not well known enough to command that high market value.

High-End (HE)  retail value from the company is going be a high cost.

Do you want to name drop? 

High-End: the first names that come to mind are the Black Label of Kokoro, ArtiPoppe, certain handwovens like Mad Hatter…. those are the ones that come to mind that if you go to buy one it will cost you a lot of money upfront. Pavo Guild would be another.

Highly Sought After: the other ones are pretty much going to be midrange originally, so $200-300 originally, which is considered the midrange, but were made in limited quantities so they will go up in cost later. Certain Pavo Forms, which is the lower-end line and run about $150-220, some of them end up commanding higher market value than others because of desirability– but not all. Some will get under retail value. And then that is why it’s a crap shoot. You never know what is going to be popular from year to next— one MONTH to the next. You take a big risk because something that you pay $800 for upfront but when you go to sell it in six months you can only get $300. Things go in and out of favor pretty quickly.

Do you notice brands trying to artificially create HSA carriers even though they have somewhat lower quality carriers? 

The first thing that comes to mind is ArtiPoppe. They make limited runs of everything and they never remake anything, except for their wait-list. They’ll have two colors of the same pattern and you can put your name on a wait list for whenever they make them– they may make similar patterns but never in the same colorways, so each run is unique. They do make some super awesome carriers with some crazy blends, like wool and silk and bamboo and viscose and linen– you know, like five different fibers all wrapped up in one wrap. But then they make some that are 100% cotton, and they are good wraps, but a lot of the desirability is that they have a specific pattern. So I think they really thrive on the idea that their stuff is high-end and maybe some of their stuff is– but the high-end price is from their exclusivity, not materials or weave, it’s just how they market themselves.

Can you explain to me what stalking/stocking is?

You need a fast, reliable internet connection. Stalking is the act of getting a wrap at a stocking which is when it is listed in the store. When new wrap or carrier release from the manufacturer that produces fewer wraps than there is demand for thousands and thousands of people will be on the site, literally stalking the stocking– if the company has announced the stocking. Some companies have pre-paid wait-lists.

So stalking is waiting and waiting, hitting F5, F5, refresh page, refresh page! and waiting for the page to stock, and then being able to cart it, autofill your information, and being able to check out in under fifteen seconds, usually in the middle of the night.

Does this kind of competitive shopping create drama in the HE/HSA community? 

Yes. There seems to be a culture of almost entitlement. That if you want a high-end carrier then you deserve one– that people who already have one of a brand should step aside and let those who don’t have first dibs. Or that buying and selling at market value is unfair. Don’t get me wrong, there are so many stories of awesome people helping out others get their dream wraps in selfless ways, but you’re just as likely to see some very bitter after months of trying with no success.

What is churning?

Churning is reselling or trading carriers, usually online on social media groups or forums. Churning is a lot like the stock market. For the most part, it’s stable. You get back what you put in. You lost $30 here but gain $20 there and end up fairly even in your plus/minus columns. But you have to be willing to take the risk of losing 50% of what you put into a wrap. But also know you may sell for double. But the true churners don’t care about the money. They are textile junkies and do it all for the wraps.

I’m imagining one of those early DARE ads featuring a junkie in the alley huffing a silk wrap.

Omg, you have no idea. Macro photos of weaves, waxing poetic on which mill it came from, these ladies know their shit.

Is HE or HSA or HTF carriers for everyone? Are they a necessary part of babywearing?

No. Absolutely not. Babywearing does not have to cost money. If you have the money and like the thrill of the hunt then go ahead. But it’s not for everyone– and it doesn’t need to be.

[Update 2018: Kelsey commissioned me to make her a quilt from her custom wrap.]

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