Tyler Howard, a 33-year-old from New Jersey, had been planning to get married in the spring of 2020. Instead, she spent a lot of her time on Instagram.
After the pandemic postponed her big day indefinitely, Howard was bored. So, she scrolled and scrolled. Before her eyes flashed mom influencers, their babies, their adoring husbands, and most importantly, their stuff.
The babies smiled and squirmed in soft, adorable clothes and cruised around in high-end strollers. To Howard, it seemed like these women and their children had it all. She began to want to buy things for her future baby too, even though she wasn’t yet pregnant.
“I thought that they were living the dream baby life and I wanted to emulate them, especially with clothing and high-end baby gear,” Howard told me.
So she started to buy things, purchasing about $200 worth of items like a pacifier clip, swaddle, a stroller blanket, and soft and beautiful outfits from trendy brands like Lou Lou and Company. She did all of it in secrecy, squirreling the packages away before her fiancé saw them and hiding them among her Christmas decorations. As the pandemic slowly ruined her plans for her dream wedding, it felt like a way to take back control of her life.
She began to want to buy things for her future baby too, even though she wasn’t yet pregnant.
Howard is far from the only person to get tempted by baby brands on Instagram. Over the past few years, Instagram baby brands like Kyte Baby, Little Sleepies, Kate Quinn, Posh Peanut, Lou Lou and Company, and Ryan and Rose have gone certifiably viral.
Each brand sells baby items with a similar airy and expensive Instagram influencer energy, but with slightly different selling points. Kyte Baby and Little Sleepies make clothes and blankets with bamboo, which is more lightweight and breathable than traditional fabrics and is said to help soothe skin conditions such as eczema. Kate Quinn does a mix of bamboo and “organic cotton.” Posh Peanut also uses bamboo and calls its clothing “hypoallergenic, ultra comfy and fashionable.” Lou Lou and Company started with swaddles and now sells a variety of “essentials that feel like love,” while Ryan and Rose is known for its sleek, monochromatic pacifiers and matching “cutie clips.”
According to a December 2020 report from Fortune Business Insights, these sorts of Instagram brands and the trendy and aspirational parents they appeal to are fundamentally changing the baby apparel industry. In the report, researchers claim that “growing social media influence and changing fashion trends” have pushed “demand for fashionable clothes” for children. According to the report, the desire of many parents to focus on sustainability has spurred a rise in eco-friendly fashions, and “social media challenges” like matching mother-daughter outfits and Instagram photo shoots have increased demand for “new age stylish baby garments.”
The brands are aspirational, with most of their companies selling their items at higher prices on average (like $18 versus $6 for a onesie) than what you might see at Target or TJ Maxx, except for Kate Quinn, which promises luxury at a lower price point.
While there are dozens of children’s brands on the market with similar looks and messaging, these brands all have two key things in common: They have grown like wildfire through social media and word of mouth, and they actively cultivate their fan communities on the internet in order to drive more sales.
People become fans of a brand based on the image and persona it cultivates and join the online groups not only to learn more about the brand, but also to connect with like-minded moms. The idea is, if you enjoy a brand’s aura, vibe, and message, you’d likely get along with other fans.
For example, Ying Liu, the founder and CEO of Kyte Baby, described the “Kyte mom” as “modern, nature and health conscious.” Kyte Baby’s social channels are often filled with videos and messages from Liu and other employees that reflect this ethos. The CEOs, founders, and employees almost become influencers themselves for moms to follow and emulate. Lou Lou and Company’s founder, Karen Klakring, shares her personal baby tips on the company’s Instagram page, recently sharing in a video how she gives her newborn a “beauty bath.” It’s also a two-way street, Kyte Baby’s marketing director, Willow Harville, told me, as the team makes sure that anyone who tags the brand in a post or sends them a message gets a response.
“When you see [influencers] getting the most adorable gifts from brands and taking the most beautiful photos of their new babe in said items, you want to recreate it,” one mom, Lynsie Salazar, told me. “So you follow the shop, browse their items, and impulse buy.”
Casually purchasing baby clothes after scrolling through aspirational mom content is just a beginner’s level of devotion to Instagram baby brands. Then, there are the collectors.
Christina Wait, a 36-year-old from Redding, California, has five kids, three stepkids, and more than 500 items of Posh Peanut clothing.
In May 2020, Wait was on Facebook when an ad caught her eye. It wasn’t the clothing in the ad she noticed first, but the pattern.
“It was a beautiful Hawaiian floral print called ‘Maui’ and I had to have it,” she said.
Soon, Wait was obsessed. She had never felt compelled to spend $40 on one piece of baby clothing before, but now she couldn’t stop buying. Though she declined to say how much she has spent in total, she told me she not only bought clothes for her three daughters, ages 13 months, 5, and 12, but also blankets and clothing for her boyfriend and herself (the brand sells a limited collection for adults). Wait has become such a valued customer of Posh Peanut that the brand has even sent her clothes for free.
“I love how comfortable they are, the quality, the softness, the stretch, the prints and colors and designs, the details,” she said.
One element that adds to the fervor is that these brands release new, limited-edition patterns, colors, and styles of the products on a regular basis (some have launches every week, while others are seasonal or sporadic). On launch days, some items will sell out in minutes or even seconds, sending a rush of accomplishment over the lucky buyers who were able to score. For many, especially during the pandemic, it has become about more than clothes. It’s a hobby.
The competition for each item of clothing creates a level of anxiety that spurs even more purchasing. Ashley Thames, a 33-year-old mom of three from Alabama, first saw Ryan and Rose on an Instagram influencer’s post. Then, she joined the company’s Facebook group, which promoted the product drops and stressed that some colors were bound to be scarce.
“I just kept buying and buying because they were limited edition and I felt like I just couldn’t miss out,” she said. All told, she bought 40 clips ($14 each), 60 pacifiers ($12 each), and other products for her youngest child, born in 2020.
This persuasive marketing can have a snowball effect. If you love Kyte Baby and the latest drop includes a pair of pink pajamas with a floral print, you might be tempted to buy them in a newborn size even if you no longer have a newborn, since you only have one chance to buy it.
When Dharini Shukla, a 32-year-old living in the Bay Area, was pregnant with her son in 2020, she researched bamboo clothing brands and was then inundated with Instagram ads for Kyte Baby. Now, it’s all her son, who was born in June 2020, sleeps in. Shukla raves about the high quality of the clothing, saying she feels good about dressing her son in “good fabric.”
The collection she’s already purchased for a future second child includes a rainbow swaddle, a “going home” outfit, and two hats, one from the girls line and one from the boys, that she said she couldn’t resist. She estimates that she has spent over $3,500 on more than 100 items from Kyte Baby.
“The quality makes me buy basics on a recurring basis,” she said. “But their limited-edition drops get me every time.”
In Facebook groups and pages for the different baby brands, women show their “hauls” of dozens or hundreds of items. These communities were created by and still run by the brands themselves to nurture their fandoms, like Kyte Baby’s “Kyte Klub” and Kate Quinn’s “VIP” group, which offer members “inside information” and sneak peeks of upcoming designs.
For the companies, the Facebook groups have been a boon. Kyte Baby’s Willow Harville described the groups as organic and free marketing. A group member will post a photo of her baby in a certain outfit and that will drive sales, because people see how cute the baby looks and want the outfit for themselves. It’s basically sales driven by FOMO.
“There’s a score thread posted every launch day,” Harville explained. “And then you see what everyone scored, and now you’ve got some more fear of missing out. Then, once their orders start arriving, you see how cute it looks on their baby. And so if you decided you didn’t want it, you go back and you want it again.”
These spaces function as part fan club, part support group, and part safe space for women to connect with other like-minded women. They discuss how to finance their growing collections, with one woman in a group for Little Sleepies saying a perk of getting a new job is that she can now buy more items. Some women discuss slotting Little Sleepies purchases into their household budgets, listing their “LS bill” alongside their bills for water and electricity. In the Kate Quinn VIP group, one woman said she was surreptitiously adding $100 a month to her “food budget,” which would actually go toward more Kate Quinn.
In group discussions, many of the women’s husbands appear as one-dimensional characters who most often serve as foils to their obsessions. The husbands rarely seem to understand their wives’ insistence on spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on baby items, and often blanch at their spending. Some grow furious when they see the credit card bill or accidentally glance at a receipt (though others just laugh). They often fail to recognize the importance of the collection, or how serious it is to lose a coveted Ryan and Rose pacifier. Women discuss how to hide the boxes showing up on their doorsteps and suggest ways to sneakily incorporate new items into what they already own. Some women shared how they would take the tags off and place the new items in the closet immediately, so their husbands wouldn’t know they were new.
“There are people in the group who admit to having spent $15,000. They are die-hard.”
Some of these descriptions may sound troubling, but many women make it clear they are speaking tongue in cheek. Others insist their husbands don’t care about what they spend, or they spend their own money, so no one can tell them what to do. What’s clear is that the women are finding community by trading stories about similar experiences. Many of the groups foster intense bonds, and some have even created real-life friendships. Wait, the Posh Peanut fan, is going on a trip to Disneyland soon with some of the moms she met in a Posh Peanut Facebook group.
For some, though, the groups can get a little too intense. One Kyte Baby fan, who asked to remain anonymous due to fear of being booted out of the Facebook group, didn’t have her own Facebook account, so she asked her husband to join a Kyte Baby group so she could get information about new drops. After spending some time poking around, he declared the group to be “more crazy than QAnon,” because of their blind devotion to the brand.
“He said if anyone ever went against Kyte those moms would demolish them,” she said. “There are people in the group who admit to having spent $15,000. They are die-hard.”
Beyond these brands’ own Facebook groups, there are also resale groups, known on Facebook as “buy, sell, trade” (B/S/T). In these groups, which can either be for specific brands or baby items more generally, women barter and bid on highly prized used or new merchandise. (Ryan and Rose is a notable exception in the resale market, as the brand discourages selling used items for hygiene reasons.)
The baby brand resale market is so complex and volatile that one former baby brand reseller, Anna Myers, compared it to a stock market.
“These women would pay … two or three times the retail value because these prints were so highly sought after you just had to have it,” she said.
The resale market has been a boon to resellers like Myers, a wedding planner who got into reselling when her business dried up due to COVID-19. On a hunt for ways to make extra cash, Myers went through the closets of her two kids and realized she owned a fair amount of “rare” prints from trendy baby brands. Once she started selling them, she was stunned by how much money she could make.
The prices for rare items can be astronomical. According to Megan Marshall, a spokesperson for Kate Quinn, the brand has seen “highly sought-after items fetching more than 10 times their retail price.” In one Kyte Baby B/S/T group, a pair of toddler pajamas (retail price $30-34) recently went for $335, a blanket (retail price $70-$80) for $625, and a onesie (retail price $18) for $90. Myers’ biggest profit came from a Posh Peanut “luxe patoo” blanket, which retails for $98. She sold it for $1,000.
“I ended up reselling almost my kids’ entire closet,” Myers said.
Soon, Myers said, she became addicted, stalking the drops of different brands to ensure the best hauls and reselling them for much more on the different B/S/T groups. Since then, she has sold hundreds of items, declining to answer how much money she has made.
Myers believes that most of the people who will shell out the big bucks are true believers, who participate in the B/S/T world for a genuine love of a brand.
“The whole concept is that most people are reinvesting into the brand,” she said. “So you may sell [an item] for double retail, but then you’re using that to go buy the next print that maybe you missed out on.”
Maradith Frenkel, the owner of Little Sleepies, said she agrees that the thriving resale market can be good for fans, saying, “I love that customers can literally get back what they paid for their Sleepies after they’re done using them.” However, she is against “flipping,” or people buying up all the inventory during launches in hopes of selling it for a premium, and many retailers are attempting to curtail it. In a bid to stop flipping, Kyte Baby only allows one blanket purchase per variant per household.
“We care more about our customers,” Harville said. And their “experience,” added Liu.
But these groups are undoubtedly beneficial for the brands, too. Klakring said if she hears of a Lou Lou and Company item going for over $150 more than retail value online, “it’s a pretty good signal to us to produce more of that particular style.”
Many collectors, such as new mom Mallory Hallon, a 34-year-old from Houston, do view their pieces as an investment and the hunt as a fun hobby.
“The way [Kyte retires] prints and colors makes it so that you get a rush when you find the hard-to-find thing you’re looking for,” she said. “Also, knowing the resale value is high makes me feel more justified in spending the money.”
While some enjoy the hunt of B/S/T, the groups can get intense as well. There’s usually a long list of rules for participants. When sellers list their items, they have to meticulously note the condition of each item: new in box, with or without tags, or used. Some groups require members to include details about which laundry detergent was used on preowned clothing, how each item was washed, and every blemish on the garment.
Punishment can be swift for rule breakers, and discussions can get nasty. Wait, the Posh Peanut fan, said she has either left or been blocked from multiple B/S/T groups after she received and responded to mean comments about herself or her kids. One Lou Lou and Company fan, Lauren, told me she joined the B/S/T Facebook groups for fun, but now they “scare” her.
Myers’ biggest profit came from a Posh Peanut “luxe patoo” blanket, which retails for $98. She sold it for $1,000.
“The moms are so aggressive,” she said. “You have to label everything perfectly and sometimes for things that have been worn they want, like, the specific number of times they have been worn and washed. If you label it [excellent used condition] and it’s only [good used condition] in their opinion, they will ban you from the group for being a liar.”
Sellers can also offer their wares for “deal or no deal” or “DOND,” meaning they only want to sell if they can get a good price. In a recent “DOND” on a B/S/T page, a fan who offered $110 for a Little Sleepies blanket (retail $68) was rejected. However, many used items, especially ones that aren’t as highly sought after, can go for close to or less than retail value in the B/S/T groups.
The halcyon days of big profits in the groups may be over, though. According to Myers, the market has slowed after peaking in 2020. She believes that demand was so strong then due to both COVID-19 related boredom and the fact that s0me people during the pandemic were flush with cash. She has largely gotten out of the reseller game now and worries that some might lose out on the large profits they were hoping for, or might not be able to recoup their expenses as easily as people did in the past.
“Nowadays the market [is] a gamble,” she said. “Back in the day, a year or two ago, you could drop $500 on a blanket and sell it a week later for the same price, if not more. It’s just not like that anymore.”
For some former baby brand obsessives, the appeal is wearing off as well. Many women I spoke with said they were happy with their purchases and consistently shopped at the same brand or brands not because it was trendy, but because they genuinely believed in or liked the clothing or items.
For Howard, the woman who got sucked in before even giving birth, her purchases came in handy. She now has a 4-month-old baby boy.
For the most part, she’s been happy with her purchases, but she has reflected on the impact influencers had on her spending and the “pressure to buy the best and most expensive for your baby.” Plus, she admits, not every purchase made a ton of sense.
“The expensive baby outfits are totally not practical, because my baby grew out of them already,” she said.
Others say they recognize that they got caught up in a “buy buy buy” mentality that they now regret.
Thames, the mom who bought dozens of Ryan and Rose pacifiers, said that her baby wouldn’t even take the pacifiers. She said she feels “so silly” now for buying so many before she even knew if she could use them.
“I think they have great products, but they’re no better than any other pacifier on the market,” she said. “I do believe they use a strategy to sell to women, and while it’s working for them, it feels icky to me now.” ●