We paced the aisles of the recent Baby Show for Trade, at London's Olympia, to bring you the lowdown on the latest nursery gear before it's even hit the shops. Established players such as Chicco, Silver Cross, Bugaboo, Phil&Teds and Maclaren rubbed shoulders with smaller brands and new start-ups, all keen to show off their freshest ideas.
Here's a taste of what we found:
1. Ruby and Ginger, www.rubyandginger.co.uk
With much talk of belt tightening and spending cuts in the media, we were delighted to find a bit of austerity chic at new kid on the block Ruby and Ginger's stand. We loved their pretty print fabric changing pouches - an absolute bargain at just £12 (or £15 if you want one with a matching travel change mat). Add the purse to any bag to turn it into a changing bag or use alone – it can be attached to your buggy with its velcro strap. The purse comes with a plastic wipes case, holds up to three nappies, and has a small section for your own essentials such as credit cards or mobile phone. Other well-priced gear included handy toy ties, £4, (to prevent favourite playthings tumbling off the car seat or pushchair) and car seat covers.
2. Chicco, www.chicco.co.uk
Over at Chicco, it was clear that this Italian-based company had been working hard to refresh its product range.
It was certainly hard to miss what could be called their 'bling buggy', the 'White Label' Limited Edition Travel System. Due out in November, it's decked in white with silver accents and costs £699.99, including a car seat, carrycot and reversible pushchair seat.
Like the White Label, the new Liteway Glam (pictured) won't be everyone's cup of tea either - it's a brown leatherette version of this popular lightweight pushchair. We reckon both these buggies are love 'em or hate 'em products but one things for sure, they'd turn heads on the high street.
The i-sit highchair is another new item, combining a really modern look with practicalities – it's adjustable, very easy to clean, and can be used with the tray or up at a table - although the price of £269.99 is quite steep. The co-ordinating i-feel rocker chair is cool too but again this is a 'top end' product, costing £139.99.
More widely affordable is the new Echo stroller at £99.99 - a very reasonable sum for what is an attractive 'suitable from birth' pushchair. We also liked the brightly-coloured MIA bouncer chair with a toy bar to help keep babies entertained (£69.99).
3. Plush Baby, www.plushbaby.net
Plush Baby impressed us with their incredibly soft and warm to touch 'Plush Pad' changing mats (£34.95). Filled with memory foam they would surely make a baby feel more comfortable during changes, compared to standard issue vinyl versions, plus they roll up for portability and look pretty smart too in any of 13 fabric designs. Oh and in case of any little accidents they're machine washable too.
The grande dame of the pushchair world might be best-known for its traditional carriage prams but it's certainly keeping up with the times. The Surf pushchair has been around for a year or two but looked fantastic in three additional colours (available from Spring 2011).
We were also impressed by the quality and design of the new Silver Cross nursery furniture ranges, hitting the shops in January (cot-beds cost £350, including delivery and assembly). Other new items were the luxuriously soft and very pretty bedding sets. The company has also introduced some beautiful baby toys in recent years, with a number of fresh designs at the show (xxx pictured, £x).
6. Aden and Anais, www.adenandanais.co.uk
We're told this brand has something of a celebrity parent following stateside and we can see why. Their muslin cloth products utilise this lightweight natural fabric in all sorts of new ways. Their super-sized swaddle cloths are hugely versatile (uses stretch from makeshift lightweight blankets and sheets, to breastfeeding cover-ups and pram shades) but they look smart too in a huge array of designs.
We were also quite taken by the muslin cloth sleeping bags – the lighter single layer version (£22) would be perfect for holidays and hot nights when you want your baby to feel securely wrapped up but without the risk of overheating. Shown here is the adorable swaddle blanket (£34.95 for a pack of four).
7. Il Tutto, www.iltutto.co.uk
This purveyor of ultra-chic changing bags had brought along their latest designs, including the rather glamorous silver nappa leather changing mini bag (£79.99), with room for a nappy, wipes, phone and keys.
We were also swooning over their gorgeously shiny and generously-sized 'Nico' bag in blue and still saving our pennies to buy one given it's £149.99. None of their bags are what you might call cheap but they are the sort of thing you could carry on using long after the nappy years are over.
8. Ruca, www.ruca.com.pt (Click on en in the top right corner for the English language version of the site)
This Portuguese company's nursery furniture grabbed our attention in a big way. They're so new to our shores that as yet, they don't have UK prices and we couldn't get hold of any photos, but trust us, their products are worth checking out (see their web address above).
We were especially drawn to the 'school' range which encourages a bit of creativity by allowing you to customise their look, via display case-style clear fronts on the drawers and blackboard panels on the wardrobes and cot ends. And for those fitting out a tiddly nursery, the Evolution set makes incredibly efficient use of space via a very clever cabin-bed style cot-bed with integral drawers and changing area.
9. Kurtis Baby Peace, www.babypeace.co.uk
Most pushchair covers (the sort which block out distractions and make it darker to help babies sleep) are boring black mesh, so this company's little 'curtain-style' covers caught our eye for their funky print designs and simplicity of use – they just clip onto a pushchair or car seat hood. Plenty of colours to choose from, they're made from organic cotton, cost £29.99 and provide almost total protection from UVA and UVB light.
10. TUMTUM, www.tumtumtots.com
Another start-up company which we were delighted to stumble upon at the show was TUMTUM, set up by two parents with a background in product design, who are now on a mission to liven up baby and toddler mealtimes. Plates and bowls hold toddler appeal thanks to colourful imagery but are also made to encourage independent feeding, with 'scooping corners' and turned up sides. All their tableware items also have non-slip bases to limit the chance of lunch sliding across the table and onto the floor.
Cutlery sets start from £9.50 and cups £3.50. The 'Trainee Egg Set' (£9.50) with integral egg cup and plate for those all-important soldiers of toast would make a sweet gift, as would the 'Trainee Dining' set shown here (£13.50).