In the ’60s, when they first appeared, they were favorites of parents of the counterculture set. Today even the trendiest dads and moms (Jessica Lange and Meryl Streep, for example) can be seen toting their tots in a Snugli carrier, the shoulder-hung pouch that keeps babies secure and content while liberating their elders from bothersome strollers and carriages. To inventors Ann and Mike Moore of Evergreen, Colo., their device used to be a sideline. But now, with worldwide sales hitting $7.5 million a year, the Moores are marketing a whole line of kid-care items.
The roots of their firm, Snugli Inc., go back to 1964 and the West African country of Togo, where the idealistic young couple—he was Yale ’62, she University of Cincinnati ’56—did Peace Corps service. Ann, then a nurse and pregnant with her first child, admired the way Togolese women carried their infants slung over their backs in shawls. The kids were quiet, she recalls, and their mothers had a “marvelous inner calm.” Returning to Denver that year to have her baby, Ann decided to go native—but found a shawl too difficult to manage. Undaunted, she asked her mother, Lucy Aukerman, to sew a cloth pouch with waist and shoulder straps. Lucy, who lives in a farming community in West Alexandria, Ohio, maintained by a German Baptist sect, stitched up the carrier, and Snugli was born.
It was somewhat revolutionary: Child-rearing doctrine used to warn parents against “spoiling” babies by holding them a lot. But the Moores, who eventually had three daughters, loved the way carrying kids close to their chests kept them calm. Soon, says Ann, “Everywhere we’d go people would ask me where I got the pouch, so I’d take names and write to Mother.” As the orders swelled to 25 or 30 a month, Lucy’s neighbors helped make the carriers. Then, spurred by organizations promoting natural childbirth and breast-feeding—”We shared the same ideas about connecting with kids,” says Ann—sales exploded. In 1972 Mike left his job as a program director of a Colorado-based philanthropic foundation to manage Snugli matters full-time.
Ann and Mike own most of the firm. Today it employs 120 people in Ohio—some cut patterns in a converted chicken coop on Ann’s parents’ farm, others sew at home—and 75 in Colorado. The mainstay is still the pouches, which range in price from $35 for the mass-produced denim version to $55 for the hand-crafted corduroy model. Among other applications, they are being used in hospitals to transport babies. Says Dr. Joe Butterfield of Denver’s Children’s Hospital: “It’s a marvelous technique that allows very basic interaction between a caretaker and the baby.”
Two years ago the Moores began adding new Snugli products—diaper bags with built-in changing pads, New Zealand lambskins (good for babies to crawl or sleep on), toddlers’ clothes and a collapsible carry bed. That $45 item, introduced this year, clearly marks the firm’s rise from a cottage industry: It’s made not in Ohio or in Colorado, but by foreign labor in Korea.