Bébé au Lait: Its Success is Nothing to Hide

Ronnie and Claire Ekelund

Bebe au Lait at 2012 ABC Kids Expo

I first met Claire Ekelund, co-founder of Bébé au Lait, about 8 years ago when she introduced her collection of designer breastfeeding covers, which was a first in what became a new product category for nursing mothers. I loved that she had the practical sense of humor to name her creation “Hooter Hiders,” which was brilliant too because it quickly told the function of the product, which previously had not been so fashionably conceived.

The company, Bébé au Lait, has evolved into a multi-line brand that is equally known for its fashion and function. Although nursing covers remain its hallmark, Bébé au Lait continues to expand in innovative ways, including the Lille collection of contemporary baby essentials such as Quibs, 4-in-one reversible bibs; Hooded Towels; and the Throw Blankie, a beyond clever ball and baby blanket surprise.

Bébé au Lait’s Senior Vice President Claire Ekelund gives us a “peek under the covers” of where the company started and what keeps them inspired and competitive in designing stylish, innovative and useful products for new families.

When was your brand born, and what was the initial inspiration?

The company began in 2004, but quite some time before that, I had made a nursing cover for myself and began using it when my second daughter was born. Many a compliment later, my husband Ronnie thought that we could turn the idea into a business. We began by sewing the covers, taking the orders/payments and handling the quality control and shipping ourselves, all from our home. After some time without the distractions of other careers (my husband was a pro-soccer player) we dedicated ourselves to the growth of the company full-time and began adding other products to the line and designing the fabric in-house.

What was the biggest challenge you faced when starting?

As creators of the category, the biggest challenge was to explain what the product was. No one had seen a stylish nursing cover before, so to be honest, although the end consumer understood the product right away, buyers needed a little educating –– unless the buyer was a nursing mom, we found that it wasn’t immediately obvious to them what the product was. Now that we have been in business for 8 years and the category has expanded, we don’t get the ‘What is it?’ question as much anymore.

What are the 3 keys to your success?

I’m not sure I can limit the answer to just 3. Firstly, we can credit most of our success to the wonderful users of our products –– when a mom finds a product she loves, she is very vocal about it and that has helped our business to grow.

Secondly, We started with the brand name Hooter Hiders and it was a huge hit with moms. The name is tongue-in-cheek and also explains, in a humorous way, exactly what the product does… and it’s very memorable. Also, we have an amazing team of staff around us that add so much to Bébé au Lait. We have been lucky enough to identify some really strong team players and we are proud they work for Bébé au Lait.

Finally, although these are all very important, without a product that we can stand behind 100% we would have nothing. We strive to provide our customers with fantastic customer service on products that are reliable, safe, helpful to a parent and highly desirable from a design and price perspective. I think our commitment to quality has been the biggest key to our success.

Describe a typical new product development cycle for your business?

We release new fabric designs several times throughout the year. This is an ongoing process and we’re constantly looking for inspiration. I’m always making notes of colors and design elements that I want to incorporate into upcoming patterns. We take a lot of inspiration from what ends up on the catwalks with each new season as well. For new product development, we evaluate our market and look for areas where we can provide parents with products that marry our design philosophy of innovative and stylish design with function.

Do “green” or eco-friendly concerns influence your business decisions?

Yes they do. From making products that are durable and not throw-aways, to recycling and limiting waste to switching off lights in the office. Each of us is becoming more and more educated in being environmentally conscious and we are changing our lives accordingly.

What is one new trend you’re seeing in the marketplace?

Making things smaller, lighter, easier to store or travel with, as well as the merging of two products into one. Our Throw Blankie is a good example of our interpretation of this trend –– a blankie for baby when he/she wants to snuggle and then it rolls up into a ball to be rolled or thrown when baby wants to play. It keeps the blankie clean for travel too.

How does your business make use of the Internet?

We have our own online store that acts as a great representation of our brand, showing customers who we are and what we do. It’s a great source of information from the Store Finder to the styles and products we have available. Our social media networks have also been a great tool for us, where we can directly engage with our fans and get their feedback.

What is one change/addition that’s had a positive impact for your business in the last year?

We had a baby. In fact we had ‘babies’ in the office, so to be able to reuse our own products and still feel secure that we have created amazing products that are helpful to modern parents — that makes us really proud. We are creating for a new generation constantly. What could be more exciting than that?

If you had one piece of advice for someone entering the children’s market, what would it be?

Have responsibility for your products –– create products that you would use yourself and create them to the highest standard of safety and durability.

More About Bébé au Lait

"Jaipur" Nursing Cover
It’s been a really big year for Bébé au Lait. One of the biggest developments for us is that all of the care that has gone into making sure that our products are safe and durable has resulted in our being awarded numerous patents for our Rigiflex™ neckline system, which can be found exclusively on our nursing covers. It’s of the utmost importance that a product that comes so close to Mom and Baby be made from high quality and safe materials, and Rigiflex™ demonstrates our commitment to quality and safety. From material that stands the test of time (and countless washes), to the added safety measures that prevent fabric wear, we’re proud to stand behind our necklines with a lifetime warranty. Moms can feel confident that their Bébé au Lait nursing covers are safe and durable, which makes them a tremendous value.

We’re also really excited about our new patterns this year. From four new nursing cover patterns, to two new patterns in our children’s collection, Lille –– there’s something new for everyone this year from Bébé au Lait.

Bébé au Lait
Toll Free: 1.866.940.BEBE (2323)
Phone: 1.408.356.7850

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