From diaper bags to lifestyle brand: celebrating 10 years with Skip Hop

Jane Kitchen, November 7, 2013

From diaper bags to lifestyle brand: celebrating 10 years with Skip HopGetting started: When Ellen and Michael Diamant started Skip Hop 10 years ago, they had never manufactured anything in their lives. Ellen had worked as an art director for consumer publications like ‘Modern Bride' and ‘Wine Spectator' before owning her own business working with luxury brands. And Michael's background was in technology and Web design.
     But they were also parents, and New York parents at that.
     "I was a new mom...living in New York City," said Ellen. "And New York is such a place of mobility. I was running around a lot with (son Spencer) as a baby and a young toddler, and I didn't have a bag that was functional. At the time, diaper bags were all very cheap or very expensive, and nothing had a function."
     So Ellen designed the Duo diaper bag, which features a multitude of pockets and compartments and patented Shuttle Clips, allowing it to quickly and easily convert from a shoulder bag to a stroller bag.
With this first product, Skip Hop was born.

     Early days: Skip Hop first showed its diaper bag at the EN K Children's show back in 2003, when diaper bags were viewed as more of an apparel product than a gear product.
     Michael and Ellen's first customers were specialty stores.From diaper bags to lifestyle brand: celebrating 10 years with Skip Hop
     "They were very instrumental in our growth," said Ellen. "They gave us a chance, and had faith in our product."
And Skip Hop quickly grew from a diaper bag company into something more as it expanded into different categories.
"We came into the business without any preconceptions or understanding of limitations," said Michael. "...And that was one of the reasons we started early on branching out into a variety of products."
A bottle drying rack that combined form and function was next on the list, simply because it made sense to Ellen and Michael.
     "It's something that sits in your kitchen for three or four years," said Michael. "It should look more like your Kitchen Aid or your Keurig."

     Growing a brand: Today, Skip Hop reaches across a broad list of categories, including bedding, décor, bath, activity gyms, wooden toys, feeding and on-the-go gear.
     "We didn't enter the market to be a diaper bag company," said Michael. "We're a baby brand."From diaper bags to lifestyle brand: celebrating 10 years with Skip Hop
     But being a baby brand also means being a toddler brand, and these days, it is one of the most important focuses for Ellen and Michael.
     Skip Hop's popularity grew even further with the advent of the Zoo collection, and in particular the highly successful Zoo Packs, a series of friendly animal faces on just-for-toddler-size backpacks.
     Today, the Zoo collection includes insulated lunch boxes, towel sets, bibs, tableware, utensils, luggage, neck rests, safety harnesses, travel blankets, bookends, hampers and storage bins - all at sharp price points.
     "It's an entire lifestyle for toddlers that is not licensing and there's a real need for that," said Michael.
     The company has found a sweet spot with these kinds of products aimed at helping toddlers do things themselves.
     "We're really engaged by what this toddler lifestyle means," said Ellen. "This toddler independence is really meaningful to both parents and children."
     But Skip Hop also is involved in almost every stage of young parents' lives, from expecting a child to sending him off to preschool, and it's a brand that resonates well with consumers.
     "Our customer base is extremely diverse," said Ellen.
     Bedding has also been a hit for Skip Hop, whose innovative Complete Sheet Bumper-Free crib bedding virtually launched a new category of crib bedding. The Complete Sheet features bold graphics on the side of the fitted sheets and a contrasting pattern on the top of the sheet, which mimics the style of a traditional crib sheet without a bumper, for those customers who are concerned about the safety of bumpers.
     Looking forward - and back : This fall, Skip Hop is launching new products in just about every category, including a major new introduction with toddler bedding.
     "Now we think about products differently; From diaper bags to lifestyle brand: celebrating 10 years with Skip Hopwe think about products and groupings," said Ellen.
     The company has grown to 55 employees, including eight in Asia, and Skip Hop is now distributed in 60 countries across the world.
     "One of the most satisfying things is when you get to travel and see the products used around the world," said Ellen.
     "Worldwide, the brand is the brand is the brand," said Michael. "And everyone is doing their parenting thing with our products - around the world."
     Also gratifying for Michael and Ellen are the hundreds of customer reviews on Amazon.com that give Skip Hop products high marks and make it a category leader.
     But for Ellen, the best moment came when she saw a photograph of Madonna holding a Zoo pack.
     "I mean, here's this icon holding a $20 kids backpack," she said. From diaper bags to crib bedding to toddler backpacks, Skip Hop has grown by leaps and bounds in the past 10 years.
     "It's been a really, really fast 10 years," said Michael. "We still feel like the new guys."

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