When Nature Baby was founded in 1998, the benefit of organic food was just beginning to be understood, but applying that insight to clothing was a bit of a stretch for the average consumer. Over the subsequent 21 years, it has ridden a wave of interest in natural and sustainable materials, now arriving at a point where it’s perfectly in step with the market.
Nature Baby founder Jacob Faull says at the business’s beginning, juggling Nature Baby with his own young family meant he and his partner had to be innovative. They ran the business from their home in Grey Lynn.
“We sold through mail order because people didn’t want to come to our flat.”
Their first web page launched in 2000 – “a Splash page with a terrible 3D variant of our logo” – and gradually evolved into a sophisticated direct to consumer offering. Now, D2C through online and three physical locations accounts for around 65 percent of Nature Baby’s sales.
The other 35 percent of sales are wholesaled through 150 retailers around the world, which are mostly department stores and baby boutiques.
Early on, Faull says, organic cotton babywear was “a polarising concept”.
“At the time, people understood eating organic but didn’t understand why having organic fabric was better for the world and the baby.”
Faull says the choice to go with a sustainable option was based on the founders’ personal beliefs at the start of the company’s life, but now, customers demand to know more and this information is being pushed to the fore.
“Now, people want to know that story.”
Given that babies grow out of their clothing every few months, babywear isn’t subject to investment purchasing as it’s traditionally thought of. With a lead time of nearly two years on product – Winter 2021 is currently being designed – the company isn’t interested in competing on speed to market, but Faull says a lively Nature Baby resale economy has sprung up. It’s currently centred around a Facebook page started organically by a customer, and thriving on Trade Me.
Brand manager Annabelle McDonald says this long chain is enabled by the high quality of Nature Baby’s products. She reports that, according to the company’s supplier in India, the longer cotton fibres chosen by the label for softness also result in a harder-wearing cloth that doesn’t break or develop holes.
“For a long time, I thought [customers] were just flattering us because they liked the design, but it’s true.”
Nature Baby is currently looking at how it can support the resale of its products more formally. Faull believes this swapping, searching and trading is an expression of community seeking, a behaviour which Nature Baby has already identified as very important to its customers.
He points out that Nature Baby isn’t actually selling directly to “our customer, the baby” but their mother, who, alongside her baby’s physical need for products, has a psychological need for support.
Nature Baby caters for this online by providing tools like the ‘What will my baby need?’ list online.
A customer will often visit one of the three Auckland physical stores very early in pregnancy to scope out what shopping for baby products is like and experience “nesting feelings”, McDonald says. She may then return regularly for events such as talks on nutrition, and as with most regulars, staff will remember her and her child’s name.
“We feel part of it, in some way, and I think it’s really natural to have that approach to it,” Faull says.
With its 2018 pop-up in Melbourne and an upcoming activation in Sydney, Nature Baby is aiming to replicate this environment in a new market. Shopping centres aren’t a good match for the company at this stage, with Faull instead speaking enthusiastically about opportunities for independent retailers within city-fringe suburbs like Grey Lynn.
“I think there’s something really magical about it because it does become like a village.”
Connecting and collaborating with like-minded companies such as coffee roastery Kokako, banana and soft drink supplier All Good, and boutique grocery chain Huckleberry is an expression of Nature Baby’s commitment to supporting other businesses.
Keeping community connection at the heart of Nature Baby’s strategy is as important as its focus on organics, Faull says: “It promotes happiness.”