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Saturday, February 6, 2010

And Baby Makes Three

We were so sure that our idea for a hip little designer baby furniture company was destined for billion dollar success, that we became paranoid that, should anyone find out, they would surely steal our idea. To protect the concept, we nicknamed the idea “The Cat”. We discussed “The Cat” all the way on the train.

The next few weeks every conversation included “The Cat”. We would lie in bed at night, with Stephen drawing and me adding my two cents. We came up with the name, "Bratt Decor" because Stephen, being South African, loved the American cheekiness of the word Brat (we added the extra "t" to soften the effect) and Decor, because we felt it added a bit of range. All in all it's proven to be a great name. People remember it. It's sort of sassy with a dash of elegance. We incorporated our business, copyrighted our name, and were ready to make our millions. Stephen did all of his homework with the Consumer Safety Products Commission, and made sure that the design was safe, so that limited our artistic freedom, to some extent. Once we knew our boundaries, we were off. We decided that the crib had to reflect our tastes and truly be a work of art that we both loved. I had some requirements. I wanted my beloved French wrought iron to be the medium, because Paris was still in my soul. I wanted to be taken back to the windy French streets where iron balconies reached the sky of the fanciest of facades, where four-poster iron beds graced huge, marbled rooms and where even the signposts for the metro were curly wrought iron and totally gorgeous. So, with that, we had a beginning, a four poster wrought iron crib. Stephen had to put some Africa in there, so he decided that the top of those four posters would be a perfect place to incorporate the exotic wilds of Africa. He called his father, who drove for miles to an ostrich farm in the Karoo and hand selected a beautiful display of white ostrich plumes. Once they arrived, he carefully inserted them into these beautiful hand turned wooden finials that he finished with linseed oil, and then wrapped with leather. They were stunning. He kept the design fairly simple so the feathers could sing. The wrought iron was slate gray with simple scrollwork along the bottom and finished with brass balls on the feet. He also insisted the bedding be stark white with a bit of movement, to counterbalance the lines of the crib, so he designed and sewed a beautiful white wave bumper. The look was completed with a bed skirt. It was the most beautiful sight. I felt sure that this was a winner, and that the entire world would definitely want this crib. I was so caught up in the loveliness of the object that I didn’t really think too much of the logistics of how actually turning that crib into a business would really play out. Because, let’s face it, Stephen couldn’t put this much time into every single crib, there would be manufacturing to consider, inventorying, procurement, government regulations and that was just the start. However, there would be plenty of time to think on those things. This was the time to focus on my husband, my nursery and my growing baby.

We had so much fun putting that room together. Stephen painted a romantic blue sky on the ceiling, and then went into the attic and drilled tiny holes throughout which he filled with soft, twinkling Christmas lights. The affect was pure magic, Paris at twilight. We placed the crib in the center of the room on a large sheep skin rug, and as far as I was concerned, we were done. However, that wasn’t entirely practical. We had an old walnut dresser refinished, and filled an antique book case with Curious George, Dr. Seuss, and Goodnight Gorilla. I put my mother’s old, armless, spindle rocker in the corner and recovered the seat cushion in white. We purchased a beautiful yellow animal mask from a street vendor on our last trip to Africa, and we hung that on his wall, then we were complete. The room was simple and dazzling.

In June of that year, Sebastian was born, and like every first time parent, we were all consumed with wonder over every single thing about our magnificent baby. We would put him in the bed between us, and gaze endlessly at the rise and fall of his little chest while he slept. A heavy sigh or sudden startle would fill us with joy indescribable. You know how it is. Those first few weeks you're walking in the midst of a miracle, and your mind really can't catch up with what your heart and your soul know in it's deepest most eternal secret places.

Needless to say, not much happened with Bratt Decor for the first few months following Sebastian's birth. We were just settling in, experiencing all the changes a baby brings to one's life. Stephen's illustration business was very successful, and he worked from home. So, the three of us had what I referred to as our Camelot year. It was the most perfect year. Money was not a worry. The baby was a constant source of joy and pride. Stephen worked, but not too much. I didn't really work at all. I don't recall one fight, not one moment of stress. Honestly, I was so grateful that God would see fit to give me so much love, I don't think I could have mustered an unkind word to anyone, let alone the two loves of my life. We had so much time together, and Stephen didn't miss one of all those amazing "firsts" of a new baby. I was still planning on making Bratt Decor a real business, but had no idea when or how that would happen. Until our fist day at Gymboree. Sebastian was six months old, and we decided to join a mommy and me gymnastics class. On the first day, all the proud mommies were sitting in a circle with their little fat cherubs, and the instructor asked us to go around the circle, introduce ourselves and our babies, and tell a little bit about who we were. There were doctors, lawyers, school teachers, stay at home moms, and just about every thing in between. When my time came, after introducing myself and Sebastian, I told the group how I was planning on creating a crib company, and producing wrought iron cribs. But, that I really wasn't sure how all of that was going to happen (this was before the internet), because I hadn't figured out manufacturing. We made the prototype locally, but the costs were prohibitive. Just the four sides of the crib cost us $800, and that was in the mid 90's. So, we knew we'd have to make the product somewhere besides the U.S. if we ever wanted to actually sell any. And, then, from the other side of the circle, this cute little mommy piped up and said, "Well, one of my best girlfriends, who was my maid of honor and who is little Isabell's godmother, represents iron manufacturers in South America. I bet she could help you find someone to produce your designs." As it turned out, she did. We worked with a small foundry in Nicaragua who was run by two sisters. They produced our designs for several years, and it was one of the most extraordinary coincidences I've had in this business. I mean, really, what are the chances? If you don't believe in God, start your own company, and soon you will.

That's when Bratt Decor actually started to take shape. Stephen worked with them, faxing our specifications, and working only over the phone and fax. In all the years we worked together, we never once met them. When our first cribs arrived, wrapped in Tide boxes and flown in, it was like Christmas morning. It's one thing to make yourself something that you love, it's quite another to communicate something you've dreamt of and imagined to people thousands of miles away, and then see it all come to life in your living room. When we assembled it and saw that it was good, I wept.

2 comments:

  1. Wonderful story Mary! Congratulations on your success! I am starting a business with a friend in your industry and we LOVE everything Bratt Decor...it is neat to know the story behind it!

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  2. It's so nice to hear of not only the growth of your business, but the personal story as well. Yours is quite a love story and one of wonderful success! Can't wait to hear more!

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