Making a Difference Child by Child
ERGOBaby Carriers Inc.
To produce an
baby carrier as part of a
broader lifestyle emphasis
Deep in the jungle of southern Venezuela, the Yequana people do not know that they changed Karin Frost’s life.
Pregnant with her son in 2001, Frost read about the Yequana in a book by the late Jean Leidloff, who had lived with this tribe and witnessed their contented babies, happily straddled to their mothers 24 hours a day. Concluding that this constant contact spurred healthy child development, Liedloff called it “continuum parenting.”
Frost says. “It’s not just that I came
up with a product that really works,
but that we’re making a difference
in families, child by child.”
“I decided that this was how I wanted to bring my baby into the world,” says Frost. “I was so committed to the idea that I needed to ‘wear’ my baby.”
There was just one problem: She couldn’t find a baby carrier that worked for her. So the solution seemed obvious: She would make her own.
She didn’t call it the “ERGObaby carrier” at first; she didn’t call it anything. She just sketched a design for a carrier, sewed it, and carried her baby in it. When other mothers noticed, admired, and wanted one like it, Frost began to sew for them, too, selling the carriers one by one in 2002. Eight years later, she had indeed named her company; in 2010, she sold ERGObaby Carrier Inc. for $90 million.
The extraordinary ERGObaby story unfolded on Maui, where Frost lives with her now-10-year-old son Keala Kaj. Its genesis, though, might be traced to Denmark, where both of her parents have roots. Frost spent much of her childhood in Denmark with a beloved grandmother and her inspiring needlepoint handiwork.
“That influenced me, so I have always been interested in creating with my hands,” says Frost. “Even as a young kid I would buy clothing and take the collar off or shorten sleeves or tuck here or there and also sew clothes for myself.”
If clothing design was in her blood, so were languages. She had already traveled extensively by the time she arrived at the University, graduating in 1984 with degrees in French and Danish—although, she jokes, she was already so fluent in Danish that she feels like she cheated the U out of some of her major credits. Later, however, her work as a document translator in Germany became the impetus to get out of an office
environment and become serious about clothing design. So it was back to the University and a master’s degree in clothing design in 1988.
“I remember walking into a store in Lahaina and the owner said, ‘My customer doesn’t want to think about what she wears. She just wants to have a fish on it that says ‘Maui.’ So that was the tourist kind of attitude—according to that guy anyway.”
And then came ERGObaby. The steep transition from hand sewing to large-scale sales began when a friend connected her to a Chinese manufacturer who agreed to produce and ship 200 baby carriers in 2003. By 2007, Frost’s company was selling 10,000-12,000 a month in more than 20 countries. Both her baby and her baby carrier were growing well.
“My family and I feel so blessed,” she says. “It’s not just that I came up with a product that really works, but that we’re making a difference in families, child by child.”
“My advice would be, don’t expect to hit it on the first go-around. It’s something you work into. Keep going. Just put one foot in front of the other. There’s a lot of learning in the failing. That’s the reality.”
“I don’t know how I could have done anything differently. It was holding on to the reins and going full speed ahead every day. My saving grace was my parents... and really good support. The people who worked for me really supported me psychologically.”
“As I look back on my life, I’ve never had a fear of not being able to provide for myself. That was never the predominant motivator for me. For me, it was just—what is my future? What am I really supposed to do?”
“All my business acumen has been intuitive,” she says. “It’s been a matter of hard learning, of knocks along the way. Tenacity is one of my biggest attributes. And I think that’s what it takes to be an entre- preneur. All you know is to keep going.”