Every wondered how the people YOU choose your baby equipment from decide what to stock? We spoke to baby equipment specialists Mamas & Papas, a family business run by Luisa, 59, and David Scacchetti, 60, and their daughters Amanda, 32, and Olivia, 29.
The M&P story began 30 years ago, when Luisa was expecting Amanda, and was unable to find her dream pram in the UK. On a trip to her native Italy from Huddersfield, Yorkshire, she saw that fashion conscious Italian women were pounding the pavements with prams in dazzling colours and fabrics. Two years later, Luisa and David opened their own shop, selling products imported from the continent - and changed our perception of prams and pushchairs forever!
Have buying habits changed since your first started?
When we first started 30 years ago, there were lots of grandparents buying - usually one set buying the furniture and the others getting the pushchair. Now that has changed. So many children have moved away from their parents and purchase most of these items themselves.
What other changes have you noticed?
The industry was previously characterised by very functional commodity type products. So you got a cot, you got a pushchair, but they were all very basic and not fashion lead. That was really where our opportunity came - to introduce fashion. You saw fashion in baby products so much more on the Continent than in the UK. When we joined the common market the import duty barriers disappeared over time which allowed us to bring in products from abroad.
Did people suddenly start spending much more on nursery kit?
Thirty years ago incomes were increasing quite rapidly - although there was a recession in '81-'82 , incomes were generally going up quite fast and that made a big difference. People were willing to spend more.
So fashion suddenly became as important as functionality?
The industry had been run by men and it was much more about the hard goods/products and not so much about the colour, or the comfort for the baby. So the fact that the products we designed had inner liners, and quilting inside the carry cots and because we were looking at fashion trends and lots of colour it made them popular. People who had our prams used to say 'I love pushing my pram but I get stopped by so many people asking where I bought it from, you know, my shopping takes forever!'
So apart from colour, what did you first bring in terms of new innovation?
Corduroy! Nobody had used corduroy in those days. The framework and chassis were different too, we had a back rest like an armchair almost so that when the baby fell asleep it was laying on something soft or padded. So our first pram was stylish, it was comfortable and I think that is what every one liked.
When did the car-seat boom begin?
Car seats didn't come in until much later, during the mid 80s. The first were for 2 year olds or 1 year old - you would actually take your child home from the hospital in a carry cot in the back seat, we did the same thing because that was all that was available! Nobody thought anything of it. The first real infant carrier came out around the early 90s, and then what revolutionised the transport pushchair was an American influence of actually fitting the car seat to the pushchair. That then became called the Travel System, but not until the late 90s.
And that changed everything?
It did actually transform in a big way the way people perceived what they wanted from a pushchair, and it really ended up with the demise of the traditional pram, the big coach built type. And to some degree lots of prams were no longer necessary because you could put your baby into a car seat straight from hospital, transport it safely in the car and then into a pushchair. But then the trend has changed again because having the baby in the car seat for an extended time is not good for baby, so we are now seeing lie-back styles again.
Do you have a product now in your range that is the same as thirty years ago?
The Pliko, it is not exactly the same product that we had 30 years ago but it is in the same fashion. It is like the new Mini I guess, you know the Mini in the late 50s and 60s compared to it now, that type of thing!
Tell us about your move into babywear and maternity wear?
It was about designing a great product with something that was unique to us. When we first started, buyers liked cream, and the range was unisex because many mothers, when they were expecting, did not whether they were having a boy or a girl.
The trend now is about 'little me,' - sort of 'what does the father wear?'.We look at the trends for the adults and skinny down and have elements of it on the baby clothes. But again it's about having practical pieces. We do lots of sets so the outfit is already put together, or gift items that are all about pink or blue, and we have a trendy section, so we try really to have a complete range for the mum, and also good clear price points.
How do your clothes differ from other brands?
We consider our quality to be higher than the high street, but the prices are lower than designer - quite considerably lower than the designer brands. But if you feel the quality, you wouldn't know the difference. It's really good quality and design. We tried to do something similar with the maternity wear.
Ah yes, maternity wear...
Again with maternity wear, we used to find that the clothes were not stylish and we always used to think that at the end of the day, just because you are pregnant doesn't mean that you are not stylish! You don't want a baggy dress! We thought we could make a difference with our range by introducing styles which are fashionable in fashionable fabrics. We introduced was the baby bump, which is like a silk cushion that mums can put on in store to see how they will look at 4 or 5 months into their pregnancy, and purchase their clothes accordingly. We actually won an award for that!
Are women's expectations and what they want from their maternity wear different now to what it was?
Yes, absolutely! Going back 30 years, I had a small boutique and a range of maternity wear from Germany, and it was really mainly gowns shaped like tents with no shape to it, whereas now, mums are much more focused on not putting on too much weight and wanting to look as nice as possible all the time.
We also have a range of feeding tops which are still fashionable but they have hidden pockets so they wrap around but still look brilliant and can be worn before and after pregnancy and birth. The other thing is that mums work in business environments and offices and are no longer stuck at home all the time. They used to leave work when they were 7 months pregnant and now they work right up to 2 weeks before having the baby, and they still need to dress for work.
What other changes have you noticed over thirty years?
Parents are leaving their buying decisions until much later. A few years ago, 10 years ago, you would be 3 months pregnant and you would have made all your decisions in buying and you would have them all on order! Now, two weeks before, they are going into the stores and saying 'ah we will have that, we will have that'!
Have you noticed men becoming more involved?
Yes! It's like the old buy a car thing where men want something sporty and women want something beautiful! And with men it's a big part now because they take ownership where at one time it was the mother and that was it. They would buy it and she would be pushing the baby all the time, whereas now the man actually has a big say. We don't really see men coming in on their own, but they certainly influence the buying – you hear 'well I wont be pushing that!'
It used to be very mother and daughter and almost like the husband was forgotten, whereas now it is very much joint, a sharing thing.
So who road-tests all your stuff?
Our daughter! She tested something like 10 pushchairs, all the high chairs, and we have all the products at home ourselves and we test them as well. We went to Italy on holiday and we had seven pushchairs, we had for the twins when they were taking two grandchildren together, then we had a carry cot because we had a little one, and there was something else... but it was great because you can actually then find out practically in different conditions, heat and sand, sea! We know then that everything is really good! They also get all the clothing and I will go back with garments and they will tell me they are not easy to put on, put buttons down the back, that sort of thing.
So you love feedback?
We do love feedback! Positive or negative! It's because people tell you, 'well I don't like that and think this is great'. You learn so much so quickly and the customer can be so unforgiving, if you get it wrong, they will tell you about it, but then you learn.
So are you constantly checking out people's prams on the street?
Always! Cant help it! It's part of our life, part of our culture. I don't like to see a baby in an upright pushchair that can't recline. That really upsets me because a child, a three-month-old baby needs support. A comfortable baby is a happy baby!
Are you an M&P fan? Can you remember the prams of old? Do you maybe have a 'heirloom' pram from one of their first ranges or one of the enormous carriage prams their ranges superseded? Tell us your pram stories!
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