by Samantha Thompson Hatem
photographs by Tim Lytvinenko
When Kirsten Schambra Stevens had visions of creating a catch-all handbag, she wasn’t necessarily thinking of a diaper bag. But as a mother of two small children, she knew just how essential a big, boxy, stuff-just-about-anything-in-it bag was to surviving daily life as a busy mom.
Enter her Clique Publique handbag business and the MECHI bag, which Stevens launched in Raleigh last year. Made in coastal North Carolina with American leather, cotton and chemical-free, water-based dyes, it doesn’t look like a traditional diaper bag but certainly functions as one. The MECHI is ideal for the style-conscious mom who needs a few outside pockets for easy access to a bottle, wipes or phone and lots of room inside for whatever the day brings – sippy cups, diapers, snacks, books or a change of clothes.
“The idea was to have functional daytime bag,” she says. “It’s really fun and has an easy-going vibe to it. It’s a great mom bag. ”
Stevens, an N.C. State College of Design graduate and a former footwear and handbag designer, knew when she moved back to Raleigh from Amsterdam that she wanted to create something that incorporated North Carolina’s rich textile industry.
“When I moved to Raleigh, I noticed there was a whole lot more color here, the way of life is easier here, and I wanted to reflect that in my bag,” she says.
Stevens didn’t just design the bag, she also created the bright and colorful graphic geometric prints on the outside. Then she put on her production hat and tracked down a manufacturer near the coast to sew each bag by hand. “For me, it was a big thing to hire locally,” she says. “It helps the economy if you can keep everything local. ”
Find the MECHI, which comes in red, black or yellow, online at cliquepublique. com for $230, or at Progeny children’s store near Five Points.
On a mission
Moms on a mission to eliminate genetically modified organisms from their kid’s snacks may want to keep up with Liliana Cantrell, whose Sweetie Pie Organics snacks have become a new darling on natural food store shelves around the country.
Cantrell founded her company in Raleigh four years ago after quitting a corporate job to follow her passion for making baby food. With an MBA from UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and nearly 15 years of experience in the baby food industry in Europe, she set out to create a snack for toddlers made from organic, non-GMO fruits and vegetables.
“The market was screaming for a new healthy snack,” Cantrell says. “There just weren’t too many options. ”
She launched her first snack product – snack packs of freeze-dried fruit and vegetable bits without added sugar or high-fructose corn syrup – earlier this year, and already Cantrell and her team have landed Sweetie Pie in more than 100 stores around the country. She says the snacks are such an easy sell with retailers, the company is adding five to 10 stores a week. She hopes to have Sweetie Pie in 1,000 stores within a year.
“The retailers love the packaging. They love the concept. They like that the product sells. They like that it attracts the health-oriented consumer,” Cantrell says.
Sweetie Pie’s bits of blueberries, corn, peas, bananas, apples and mango are so light and airy, Cantrell and her team jokingly called it “fruit popcorn. ” A five-pack container costs $4. 95, and is sold locally at Weaver Street Market and Harmony Farms.
But Cantrell isn’t putting all her fruit in one basket. A few months ago, she launched a second snack, Tiny Wafers – three flavors of toddler-sized thin crackers made with organic and non-GMO sweet beets, apples or carrots. “It’s all made with clean ingredients that you can understand when you are reading the package,” she said.
Cantrell readily admits it’s not just healthy snacks her company is selling to moms. It’s a lifestyle, one that rides a food industry trend and a consumer groundswell for minimally processed foods without chemicals or GMOs. “We’re preaching it everywhere,” she says.
Fleming Samuels didn’t grow up dreaming about being a children’s clothing designer. She started making children’s clothes five years ago partly as an outlet for her grief after her mother passed away.
It began when she was going through her late mother’s things and found a boxed-up sewing machine. Using sewing skills she learned from her late grandfather, the late Wilson interior designer Stuart Walston, Samuels started making reversible rompers for her oldest daughter. Then she started making them for friends’ children.
“At some point my husband said to me: ‘We can do this. We can make a website where people pick out their own clothes.’ That was the lightning bolt moment for me,” she says. “We really wanted to create a customer experience where you can create what you wanted. ”
Now Samuels, who had a second daughter almost 17 months ago, has two area seamstresses helping her keep up with custom orders – rompers, dresses, overalls, pants and tops – that come through her website, flemingclothing. com. What makes Samuels most proud of Fleming Clothing is that every piece she sells is locally made by skilled workers earning a living wage. And these aren’t disposable clothes. Samuels estimates each garment is either handed down to other children, often multiple times, or becomes a heirloom.
“We want you to have these heirloom pieces that you can have your family portrait taken in or Christmas picture made in and feel good about it,” she says. “This is quality, artisanal clothing. ”
Emily Nelson’s quest for a functional burp cloth began after her infant son, Grady, developed reflux. She had gorgeous burp cloths with delicate ribbons and cute appliques, but after the reflux kicked in she quickly realized ribbons and appliques might be adorable, but they don’t absorb spit-up.
So she started hunting down burp cloths that functioned as well as they looked and quickly found there wasn’t much on the market. “Everything either had ribbons or appliques,” she said. “I thought there had to be something out there that’s functional too. ”
Nelson, who also works at White Memorial Presbyterian Church as a communications director and is a fiction writer, decided to try making her own using all-cotton burp cloths with a cotton flannel panel that would not only absorb spit-up, but wash well, too.
The next step was finding the right patterned fabrics. She knew she didn’t want traditional baby patterns, but she still wanted them to be kid-friendly. And she wanted the cloths to coordinate but not match perfectly.
The final piece: sewing the cloths. She recruited her mother-in-law, Pat Nelson, who lives in Raleigh, to help her hand sew each burp cloth. “It was important to me that each one was handmade,” Emily Nelson said. “I knew we wouldn’t have any issues with durability. ”
Seven years later, after a few learning curves and some bumps along the way, babybump is going with a collection of burp cloths with bugs, owls, elephants, whales and giraffes patterns in pink, blue, green, turquoise and brown.
Nelson sells two-packs of burp cloths in complementary fabrics for $19. 95 online at babybumpnc.com and at Nofo at the Pig in Five Points.