I have recently read a few articles on the effect of women supporting women. This simple, yet powerful, concept is at the heart of empowering communities and building a sustainable future for entrepreneurial women. Shannon McLaughlin is an entrepreneur, mama and all round earth child. She has taken her new found experience as a mother and transformed it into a business, Ubuntu Baba. Her carriers are stylish, functional, local and organic.
∇ Tell us about your family
My little family consists of my boyfriend Troy, a crazy cat called Po, and our 15 month old son, Leo. When I met Troy 7 years ago he was living in Durbanville (which he still lovingly refers to as the shire) and I was living in Muizenberg. We were both surfers so we decided to make our happy middle ground the West Coast of Cape Town. We’ve lived together in Big Bay for just over 6 years now and we both work from home so the house can get a little crazy and crowded at times, but nothing that a little sunset walk on the beach can’t fix!
∇ How would you describe yourself as a mama?
Shoo, well I think that there is so much pressure to be “the perfect mom” no matter which category of mom you fall under, but if I had to choose I’d say I’m a modern hippy mama. I try to do things as naturally as possible while still maintaining a good balance of “me time”. When I do things to nourish my soul it gives me renewed energy that I feel makes me a better Mom and happier person overall.
∇ What has been the best and hardest part of motherhood thus far?
The best part of motherhood has been learning how to completely let go and not care about anything else in the world but the moment that is right in front of me. There can be so much wrong with the day and then Leo will do something that is so hilarious that I just couldn’t care about how much of a mess the house is or how much food is stuck to the carpet and I just forget about it all and immerse myself in his little world. Becoming a mother teaches you so much about yourself and what’s really important in life.
Motherhood itself has been the hardest (and most awesome) thing I’ve ever experienced, but I would say the hardest part of it all for me was not making it past 4 weeks of breastfeeding. I thought it would come so naturally to me and that I’d be one of those Mom’s that people would look at funny with my toddler on my boob, but alas it wasn’t so. If there is a next time, I’m determined to get it right. I think you learn so much the first time round and that’s why everyone says the second one is so much easier. At least you know what you’re in for then!
∇ How did the idea of designing your own baby carrier come to be?
A friend gave me a stretchy wrap and I remember the packaging showing such beautiful photos of these Moms with their babies wrapped up all snuggly against them, sleeping peacefully. It wasn’t such an easy task to achieve that though and I landed up a big sweaty, crying mess at least 10 times before I got that right. But when I got it right it was bliss! Leo slept for around 3 hours at a time on me and I finally managed to leave the house with a little bit of confidence. He was a big baby, born 16 days overdue at 4,1kgs so by 2 months old that stretchy wrap just wasn’t holding his weight anymore and I needed an upgrade. I tried literally everything on the market and nothing came close to the comfort of the stretchy wrap so I made it my mission to design something that would allow me to wear my baby well into toddlerhood, drawing as much inspiration from the stretchy wrap as possible.
∇ What has been your biggest challenge starting this business?
I’ve been self-employed as a web designer for over 10 years but I’ve never created and sold my own physical product, so that was a whole new ball game for me. And trying to do it with an energetic little minion by my side proved very challenging in the beginning. Sleep was non-existent and to be honest I actually don’t know how I managed to do it. There were many tears and many “what the f**k am I actually doing here?” moments, but in the end it all somehow came together. I’m very lucky to have an amazing family who helped babysit Leo when I needed to be working closely with my design team (my design team also consists of my Dad – without him none of this would have been possible! Thanks Dad!) as well as some very special and objective mommy friends who proved invaluable during the testing phase.
∇ What has been the most rewarding?
Definitely seeing the pics posted of all the little baba’s sleeping peacefully in their carriers. I had a really tough time during those first few weeks and there were a few special women who helped make my life a little easier by just genuinely caring and being there for me, so I try to instil the same values into every aspect of my business. It really warms my heart to see their photos and know that our carriers are serving a purpose and hopefully making life a little easier for those moms.
∇ What are the benefits of baby wearing?
There are too many to mention all of them here! We have a page on our website where you can find out more about the benefits of babywearing. My personal reasons for baby wearing would be number 1: no pram! You don’t have to worry about being stuck in a situation where you can’t get up a flight of stairs without help or trying to navigate a small shop and bashing something over or not fitting through a small gap. I remember times when I would be trying to do the shopping with a carseat in my one arm, trying to push the trolley with the other arm… it’s crazy and such a strain on your post baby body. Baby wearing just makes life so much simpler.
∇ Why hemp?
When I started researching what fabric I should use and playing with different offcuts, the hemp was just worlds above the other options in so many ways. It has a luxuriously soft feeling to it and breathes beautifully so it keeps you and baby nice and cool, even during our hot South African summers. It’s also anti-microbial, UV resistant and is 3 times stronger than cotton making it a safe choice for babywearing, not to mention the impact that it has on our planet – hemp requires little water and no pesticides while its deep roots anchor and aerate the soil in which it’s grown.
∇ The toddler carrier allows you to carry your baby facing inwards on your front or on your back, but not facing outwards, which seems to be a popular choice these days. Why is this?
Yes, I get asked this question on a daily basis! For me personally, it also put a lot of extra strain on my lower back when I tried to carry Leo this way and it messed with my center of gravity, I felt unsteady on my feet and was worried that if I had to trip the first thing to hit the floor would be my baby’s face, so with all these factors at play I decided that it was not a position I would like to offer with our carriers. In my opinion it’s extremely important that baby wearing is 100% comfortable for mommy and baby.
When facing outwards, the baby generally hangs from the hip sockets, instead of being fully supported from hips to knees. According to The International Hip Dysplasia Institute; “The resulting forces on the hip joint may contribute to hip dysplasia.” This point is relevant whether you are wearing your baby facing outwards or inwards, which is why the Ubuntu Baba baby carriers have been ergonomically designed to support your baby from hip to knee from newborn through to toddlerhood. You can find more information about this on our website.
∇ Tell us about the charity your business supports.
I chose charity: water as our charity because I did a birthday campaign with them a few years ago and I really loved the fact that you get to track your donation all the way and you get to see how your money has influenced the lives of others.
Wide ergonomic 38cm seat base for prolonged knee-to-knee support