December 16, 2007
Elizabeth Antunovic is the owner of Sleepy Wrap (now Boba), a manufacturer of stretchy wraparound carriers. Read our article to learn about how she and her husband run their business while traveling the world, including a babywearing adventure on a camel!
Describe your business.
Sleepy Wrap (now Boba) is a wrap around baby carrier company that has successfully filled the gap for a great quality stretchy wrap. Sleepy Wraps (now Boba Wraps) can currently be purchased through our website at [www.boba.com]. We will start to supply retailers in the US, Canada and Europe in the beginning of 2008 and will add other countries throughout the year.
Tell us a bit about where you live.
We would say that Boulder, Colorado was home. Yet, we left Colorado at the end of April to live the dream of simultaneously traveling the world and working. We spent the summer in Europe, a month in Egypt, and now are in the desert of Rajastan, India. We are planning to return back to Boulder sometime next year. We feel very fortunate and appreciative to have such a fantastic and professional support team back in the US that enables us to live our somewhat nomadic lifestyle. There's nothing better than being a WAWM - work around the world mom.
Tell us a bit about your family.
I am fortunate to have two beautiful children with my husband Robert. We met while I was working as an English teacher in Eastern Europe. He happened to be cycling through the town of Kosice, Slovakia en route from Slovenia to explore some neighboring countries. For a meeting of chance and at first not even speaking a common language, we have continued throughout the years to complement each other in a wonderful way. He is always contemplating new ideas and is a risk taker. We started our life together in Slovenia and moved to Boulder almost three years ago. Robert always has new ideas. America is an ideal place for souls like his as there isn't so much red tape when it comes to testing out different ventures.
Isabela is my charming, curious, compassionate "four and a half and four months" year old. She has an incredible ability to relate to anyone from infants to teenagers to the elderly. Her remarkable imagination keeps us entertained with stories of gnomes creations of things like woven rattles of green sticks with rocks inside. She dances like no one is watching. We hope to keep her curiosity alive by letting her learn with life. "Unschooling"- they call it these days.
Nikolai is my little boy who came magically into our lives as I birthed him unassisted one year and four months ago. He is very independent and has the cutest cheeks, so irresistible to the Indians that they always end up pinching a little too hard. When we are in Boulder they ride in my bike trailer and we go everywhere together. They have brought unimaginable joy into my life. More so than any traveling, any membership in any club or network, or even standing at the top of any mountain. The giving and receiving- that pure love- is indescribable, the kind that comes only from children.
How long have you been in business?
We started researching different options about five years ago before Isabela was born. Yet, it wasn't until the birth of our son that we thought that I had finally created the perfect way to carry a baby. Two years ago I started purchasing fabric, creating the wraps by hand and giving them to friends to try, but I couldn't keep up with the demand as friends started telling their friends. After people kept approaching me and saying "wow that looks so great - where can I get one?" we decided to start manufacturing them on a much larger scale, making our wraps widely available.
What inspired you to start your business?
People would put down their books while they were reading in the library and stare and smile. People would stop me in the grocery store, and in restaurants and in airports. Older women would approach me and say "I wish I had one of those when I had children." It seemed as if everyone knew someone who was expecting and all were eager to know where they could buy one.
What is the most challenging thing about manufacturing/selling baby carriers?
We get the occasional email where you can see that the woman is writing in anger. I imagine a crying baby and a mother who wants nothing but to soothe her little one, but is completely daunted and overwhelmed by this long piece of fabric that is in front of her. I wish that I could be there to at least hold the baby while she ties the wrap. I wish that I could give her pointers and encourage her. It's a big difference to go from selling the wraps locally in person to selling them internationally without seeing the customer's face. Yet, we strive to maintain personal and exceptional customer service the best we can even if we cannot be physically present to help first time wrapping customers.
What is the most rewarding thing about manufacturing/selling baby carriers?
The most rewarding thing about selling Sleepy Wraps (Boba Wraps) is the whole idea that our product enables mothers to form a secure loving bond with their little ones. It's so nice to think that instead of leaving their baby behind that moms and dads can take their baby anywhere and have fun! It is also amazing that the business can run itself with us being on different continents. It is truly awesome how connected the whole world is through the internet and that mothers in Canada, Mexico, Japan, England, Portugal and Italy (to name several) are contacting us to tell us how happy they are and how much it has helped their lives. Receiving an email from an enthusiastic mom who swears by our wrap really makes all the difference. It reaffirms that we are doing a good thing.
Tell us about your personal babywearing journey.
I knew that I wanted to mother my children the best that I could. With a history of a fractured thoracic vertebrae and a previous shoulder surgery for recurrent dislocations I wondered if I'd be able to carry my baby. After Isabela was born I knew that I wanted to carry her no matter what it took. At the time, I thought that my only option was the classic sling. I still remember how bad my shoulder ached and how crooked and off balance I felt at the end of the day. Isabela would always have a red line on the hamstring part of her legs when I took her out. When Isabela turned nine months old I abandoned my sling and simply carried her in my arms which was more tiring but better than the pressure points of the sling and better than far away from me in a stroller.
I knew that for my next baby that I would find something much more comfortable, with no metal rings and no pressure points on me or my baby. I loved wraps because they were simple and went over both shoulders. I would try them out with my friends' babies and although surprisingly enough the tying method was not that difficult, I could never guess quite right how tight I had to tie them or how much room I needed to leave in order for the baby to fit in just right. The woven wraps were beautiful, organic, and sometimes made by hand, but too restrictive.
I went to the fabric stores in Boulder and experimented with different fabrics, and found the perfect fabric. No more guessing games on how much space to leave to get the perfect fit. I just tied it snug against my body. It was durable, soft, amazingly comfortable even while I was trying it out on my friend Jill's twin girls when I was five months pregnant. I loved it. I made one for my neighbor Rebecca, and she and her little Elle loved it. I could take Nikolai in and out of it without having to retie it; this was essential since he has been diaper free since birth. Nikolai has virtually lived in his Sleepy Wrap (Boba Wrap) since a week after birth and at sixteen months old still loves it.
How do you balance your personal and professional life?
Balancing our personal life and professional life is far from easy especially when you are a husband-wife team. It makes it especially difficult when you catch yourself still talking business in your free time. Every month, on the 21st - the day of our wedding anniversary, we make it a point to have a special date. It's nice that my children and I will have time to grow and weave in and out of each other and that this will not end when my children turn five. I won't be sending them to school or off anywhere. Essentially I only end up working few hours a day after the children go to bed while Robert does his early morning to noon shift. We have to remember what our priorities are in life. It is so easy to get sidetracked and forget.
What do you see for the future of babywearing?
It's wonderful to see that it is going more mainstream. In Eastern Europe it seems like all the mothers want to show off their hard-core strollers. People would stop me and tell me that they had an old stroller available. They couldn't imagine why I would choose to carry my son. I thought no woman would wear a Sleepy Wrap (Boba Wrap) in public, but maybe they would try it out around the house, but as soon as any woman tried on a Sleepy Wrap and felt her little one snug against her chest, she was thrilled. I gave my wrap off my back to a woman at the playground who was doing her best to keep an eye on her two other children while tending to her crying infant. She placed him inside and started to sway back and forth. Within two minutes he was sleeping on her chest. I ended up talking to her about travels in southeast Asia while she pushed her other little boy on the swing as her littlest one slept peacefully safe and secure. I think when moms start talking to other moms and women start sharing with each other what works for them that it is inevitable that the word of the benefits of babywearing will spread far and wide -and we are ready for it!
Describe your favorite babywearing memory/moment(s).
Isabela had so many questions about mummies and sarcophagus's and the burial traditions of the Egyptians. First we had to check out most of the interesting picture laden books in the library, then she stated that we simply had to go and see the pyramids. We arranged to take some camels through the desert to actually see these immense wonders. Isabela rode with Robert. I had Nikolai. It was truly breathtaking as our guide and a boy riding bareback on a little white donkey led us up to a panorama where we could see five pyramids in a row. Nikolai decided after about an hour of camel riding that it was time to go to sleep. I had my Sleepy Wrap handy like always and I put him into it and nursed him as we went down a sand dune. If you've ever ridden a camel downhill you know that your center of gravity is completely off and you have to hold on pretty tight. I was laughing out loud and told my husband "Can you believe he's nursing on a camel in the desert in Egypt?? This is too much!!" He didn't get to see the Sphinx because he was snoring that cute little baby snore on my chest five minutes later.
Another time etched in my memory was on our fifth anniversary. I had never left Nikolai alone with anyone. I left him with my mother in-law for four hours while my husband and I went for a little romantic dinner to celebrate. When we came home my four year old told me that everything was alright because when Nikolai started to get a little cranky she told her Babi ("Grandma" in Slovenian) how to tie the Sleepy Wrap (Boba Wrap) and that they all went together, with Nikolai all snuggled up inside the wrap, to pick walnuts up on the top of the hill.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge in getting carriers into the hands of new parents?
I feel women that are higher up on the socio-economic ladder are more apt to embrace babywearing and other aspects of natural parenting. I would love to see women of all economic and social backgrounds embrace the idea that carrying their child is modern and not indicative of how rich or poor you may be. I have friends from Mexico who laugh at me when I wear my son. About half of the woman nurse their children and the other half have never even tried because that's what the old school did and now they can afford formula. One of my friend's sisters asked me if I was embarrassed to carry Nikolai in a wrap because I looked like a "poor homeless indigenous woman". Unfortunately there is a stigma attached to mothering your child in some developing countries. In India, you prove your status if you can afford disposable diapers, formula, and a stroller. The poor women here smile and come up to me and nod approvingly. However, the middle class don't get why someone from the west would resort to such a primitive style of rearing children. Even in eastern Europe, everyone is quick to point out how much everyone's stroller is worth. Hopefully with time and with women sharing warm stories with one another of their awesome experiences with babywearing, things will start to change. We have tried our best as a company to keep our prices affordable so that all women may have the opportunity to carry their babies comfortably.
Describe a typical day in your life.
Right now I am sitting in a hammock tied between two guava trees. My little girl Isabela is in the other end of the garden hiding behind a wicker chair with a boy from Argentina eating beans that grow from the radish plants nearby laughing and saying "hola- hola". My son Nikolai is sleeping in our one little room not so far away so I can hear his little coughs if he wakes up. In the morning Robert wakes up early and goes to a rooftop in the market so he can plug in his laptop and connect to the rest of the world, check the new and processed orders, pay the bills, and reply to the technical emails that have accumulated overnight. He does most of the financial work, devises and optimizes the marketing strategies and deals with the suppliers and the computer programmers. I usually drink a chai and read and look up every once in a while to my children's laughter.
Sometimes Nikolai comes to nurse for a while and then resumes his play. Every other day is laundry day and I take the clothes out of the bucket and lather them up and scrub them on the cement and then hang them on the line. Isabela and Nikolai keep themselves busy in the garden. Monkeys jump up on to the walls. Cows come to eat the overgrown grass. Parrots tear off chunks of papaya from the trees. Isabela plays all morning with her brother and with Pargati and Lalu, two Indian children. She creates her world from fallen tomatillos, pieces of bamboo, sticks and dirt. She sings her own made up songs as travelers play their guitars. Today she found two straight sticks and tied them together to make a kite.
Nikolai, the joy of all the workers, tries to feed the puppies rocks and goes into the kitchen with a screwdriver to see if he can help. He observes the ritual offerings of incense and flowers to the various Hindu gods while saying "hot hot" all the while. Robert comes home around noon and we eat together in the market and spend the afternoon together. Usually we put the kids to bed around 7:00 so that we can work for another few hours and still have some time to unwind and simply be together in each other's presence. Life is good!
Anything you'd like to add?
Most of you reading this probably share the same passion for babywearing as we do. I think the world needs our children.
Elizabeth and Robert Antunovic now have a third beautiful child, Gloria, and still enjoy international family travel.