Andrea Frost, Proprietor of BabyWit, Talks At-Home Entrepreneurship

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To check out full sized version of some sample T-shirts, click on the images above, or visit BabyWit.com for the whole catalog

Andrea Frost is the owner and operator of BabyWit, an online store for hip parents to clad their children in hip t-shirts, onesies, and other offbeat things. Andrea started the store after becoming a mother and wanting to stay at home with her daughter, evolving the business and aesthetics toward more sustainable products and surviving the ups and downs of an down economy and growing competition.

Her site offers lots of wonderful and clever products, some truly fine art, and even a “green” approach to business, to an extent. Andrea simultaneously cares for her two children and runs her own business while trying to maintain her sanity, creativity, and ideals. She’s a regular person in a sense, with an interesting life and approach.

I interviewed her via email from her home/workspace in Portland, OR. She offered an interesting glimpse into some lovely holiday product ideas, but at the same time, a glimpse into the realities of business, drudgery, and the general life of being a creative entrepreneur.

OsmosisOnline: Where and when were you born?

Andrea: Nashville Tenn., April 12, 1966, which makes me an Aries Fire Horse. Burn baby burn

O.O.: What drove you to develop your business/website BabyWit?

Andrea: Got knocked up, and no one would hire me and I had to figure out a way to spend time with my daughter. My sister-in-law, Sarah, had started a home biz so I started just thinking along those lines, something that was home-based, and would take absolutely no capital, and that I could build out myself while at home with Ava.

O.O.: How long have you been running BabyWit?

Andrea: I have been running BW since 2002. It’s a small, online baby clothing business. The venture started out on $500 and the need to stay at home with my newborn daughter. Within a few months it was in the black. It started out as an Internet site that made irreverent baby t-shirts. I added rock to the mix. Then started designing my own stuff, then added other people’s goods to the Web site. I employ between 0 and 3 people depending upon business. I also use various sewing and screen-printing contractors in PDX (ed. note: Portland area).

O.O.: So, the whole BabyWit empire is run from your house? Do the kids get involved?

Andrea: The whole website is run from the garage and basement of my home and the kids contribute as models, art and wisdom.

O.O.: Your shirts started out primarily as iron-ons, right? What percentage of it is iron-on work now? And you have a fair amount of original artwork, too, your own and from other artists. What defines BabyWit against its competitors?

Andrea: My shirts started out on that lame Avery transfer paper you can buy at Office Depot. I had no idea what I was doing. I also sold transfers from a Canadian company called Bang On, which got me trouble because apparently they did not have license to sell rock transfers. . . but these are what got us noticed . . . the Bowie, Clash, Angus shirts. Eventually the big music companies caught on and came after us. It was a huge surprise, as we were paying a premium to Bang On to carry them on the Web site. It all worked out in the end though, and now we offer properly licensed music shirts.

We have a huge amount of original artwork on the site as I wanted a way to get other people to see such fun artwork and political statements. I keep getting criticized for turning our babies into their parents’ personal billboard, but I think this the entire point behind the t-shirt. For me, the T-shirt is a form of media equal to Twitter using imagery but can be archived and reused. It’s what the t-shirt has always been to me. Same with the bumper sticker. Billboard for Barney/Dora or for the presidential candidate of your choice? Raise consciousness on our eco disaster or gay rights issues or gender issues or promote the Disney princesses? Any clothing you select for your children says something about you as does everything you consume. . . food, car, home, the Gap or Goodwill? I take the billboard statement as a compliment.

As the competition has become more and more fierce there is not a great deal of difference between BabyWit and our competitors except that we are willing to take a great deal of risk and tend to say what we think rather than cater to our potential consumers. The reason behind this, I suppose, is that I am not averse to failure. It is what it is, and the idea of turning it into a real moneymaking business seems, well, something I would not want to do. This gives us a lot more wiggle room and also defines our strong brand. People know they know with us. They also know that the stuff they find on our site they aren’t going to find anywhere else, especially since we stopped doing wholesale.

O.O.: Do you have any “BabyWit” shirts?

Andrea: No BabyWit shirts. Why would anyone want to wear one?! I am always surprised when someone asks if we have bumper stickers…honored…but surprised.

O.O.: So, is there a definitive BabyWit aesthetic? You do some of your own designs, of course.

Andrea: It is less of a physical aesthetic and more of an attitude that comes across if you peruse the site long enough. It tries to just throw you a curve ball every once in awhile. We have this very cute and adorable vintage ballerina outfit but also carry a DOA shirt. If you read our fan mail we are obviously irreverent and sarcastic and care enough to respond. Join us on FaceBook and see how much we enjoy telemarketers and junk email. Rebecca, Jillian and I just try to have a good time at work while making sure everyone is well taken care of. We love the people we buy from. We love the people we sell to. We love the people we contract out to. We also waste a hell of a lot of time in this little warehouse.

O.O.: Does your MBA come in handy in any way in your day-to-day work?

Andrea: I think it gives me a better perspective on input and output but no, I have never actually written a business or marketing plan for BabyWit. Funny, because I wrote a lot of these for other businesses.

O.O.: How do you work the marketing angles, get yourself into promotions, celebrity endorsements? And how does that affect your business?

Andrea: I honestly have been incredibly fortunate with marketing. Most of my dollars are put into branding and most of my time is taken up with making new things, playing with the product mix and maintenance. I don’t know how it happens that we have received such good placement over the years on Google and with national magazines and all I can say is that we hope we can prove deserving of it. It affects our business tremendously. I think that the US Weekly placement in its holiday guide honestly saved our butts this year because sales have continued to plummet since the recession.

O.O.: Guessing from what you’re saying, I suppose you don’t see the economy in turnaround yet. Do you foresee any changes? What do you do to combat that?

Andrea: I think people’s shopping habits will switch to more virtual shopping, especially in the kids sector, where trying on something isn’t really necessary. And, honestly I do very little in the way of marketing or smart business decisions. I feel like it is what it is and don’t want to invest a lot of time in marketing strategies, tackling emerging markets or following our consumers. It’s such a drag and I am already struggling maintaining an interest in running the same business for seven years. But, to combat the drop in our market share I added a ton of other’s people stuff to the site to take advantage of the eyes we get from Google.

O.O.: You are sounding a bit cynical; are you burned out? Or is there something that gets you excited about running this business everyday?

Andrea: I AM burned out on BabyWit. I have tried to keep myself entertained at BabyWit by designing our own line of yankers, an organic line of kids clothing, women’s clothing, etc. but I am quite honestly not that stimulated by what I am doing.

I tend to be fully dedicated to a project at the beginning and give it every ounce of energy I have. To create something new gives me an adrenaline rush like no other. I love seeing a concept roll out into something tangible and I give it my everything during its gestation period. But if at any point the concept shows itself to not be realistically viable or I have managed to successfully bring it to market my energy soon turns elsewhere. Same with men. HA HA.

O.O.: Looking back, is there anything you wish that you’d done differently in particular? How would you advise someone interested in starting their own such online business?

Andrea: The main thing I would have done differently is thought about scalability when I first started out. I didn’t imagine that this Web site would be supporting a lot of traffic. I had no idea about keeping up with books. And our inventory system just doesn’t work at all.

O.O.: I imagine that you consider yourself many things: an artist, a mom, a business owner. Do you feel you are all those things? Does one dominate your life more?

Andrea: It is a wonderful thing to have my fingers in so many pots and though at times I have suffered through a feeling of not being able to dedicate myself to any one thing in particular I have learned over time how to make the moments I do spend in each arena more focused and intense. I think it makes me a better rounded person and I find it much easier to adapt to new situations because there is such diversity in my life.

O.O.: When you were a little girl, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Andrea: More than anything I wanted to be an archeologist. I loved finding fossils and whatnot. Had an enormous collection of them and even found some in the Appalachian Mountains that we donated to a museum. They were stone tools. Had a huge effect on me to see this thumb groove in this stone and to know someone many years ago had held it and used it to mash a grain. I also used to have this reoccurring vision of being sacrificed at a Mayan temple.

O.O.: What about now? Is this your ideal dream job? Is there something you’d much rather be doing?

Andrea: I would rather be writing, painting, travelling. I am also still very interested in psychology (I was getting my masters when I got pregnant). If I had a lot of money and could do whatever I wanted I would like to start a home on an island that houses crazy people entering their first psychotic break. There would be no medications, only emotional/physical support. I would like to see what happens. If people can be helped if the realities they are experienced are not denied or repressed with drugs. I am curious.

I would also like to do work in changing how our society treats our elders. To start some movement that employs those over 65 to wisdom work. I think it would be awesome if our entire judicial system could be turned over to the elders….our courts, jails, etc.

O.O.: What would it mean for your business to go kaput at this point? Going back to “the real world” and getting a job?

Andrea: I don’t think I could go back to the real world as I didn’t work so well in it to start with. After my MBA I found it difficult to hold a job for more than 8 to 10 months at a time. I have horrible group working skills and people skills. That’s why we don’t have a storefront. The very last job I had I had so little respect for my direct boss that I simply refused to do any more work until they laid me off. It took one month and lots of three-hour lunches but finally. . . relief. No, I don’t see going back to the real world and I am not a planner, but what I would really like to do is start something new in the non-profit sector. Hopefully with the skills I have developed someone might want to use me. I think I would have more tolerance for working for someone if I knew it was beneficial to our society rather than that I was just making money for some asshole.

O.O.: Do you think you are doing anything important with BabyWit? Something behind the ideas and ideals you based it on?

Andrea: No. Not really. I feel honestly like I am just creating more crap to be consumed. I personally think that we should all be wearing yesterday’s clothing. I wish I weren’t making more clothing to be consumed but I am, so I am making the best of it by offering locally made goods, goods made in the U.S. or guaranteed sweatshop free, and purchasing from vendors who are small like me. I suppose, if I were in a more positive mood, I could say that I am supporting my local economy. My husband keeps trying to tell me that I have a voice and I should use it to promote the ideals I believe in. Perhaps BabyWit has or will in the future be such a vehicle that will provide me access into that arena?

O.O.: What are some of your favorite pieces that you are selling? I know that you’ve expanded your product line far beyond its original platform.

Andrea: My favorite piece is my john carpenter shirt. I love john carpenter. I also dig my urban alphabet shirt. No one buys these shirts and that makes me love them more. The babby shirt is pretty funny too. Zero sold on that one as well. I can honestly say that I am walking around in a one of a kind shirt. :)

I also dig working with Chris from Reckon. His stuff is just fun and we have amazing discussions via email about art and copyright issues all the time. I could hook you up with an interview with him. He is really fun to talk with.

Also, the “Zippy for President” shirt we sell is one of my favorites because it was one of the first artists I was able to add and it meant a lot as I grew up reading Zippy.

O.O.: So, as it’s holiday season, this must be your busiest time of the year. I’m guessing from what you’ve said before that you have some mixed feelings about being part of the capitalism mechanism. Or do you?

Andrea: Hey, I never said that I didn’t like making money. I just don’t see the point of putting much effort into that as an end goal.

O.O.: So, what is for 2010 for BabyWit? What is for 2010 for you?

Andrea: Oh Ken, I am not a planner.

We highly encourage you to check out all that BabyWit has to offer at www.babywit.com

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4 comments for “Andrea Frost, Proprietor of BabyWit, Talks At-Home Entrepreneurship

  1. December 9, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    What a great and interesting interview. I appreciated the breadth that was covered from: what it is like to run this business, what are your focuses and creative processes, how your MBA background has served you, yet not been critical with BabyWit. Most of all, I appreciated the personal insight into who is and what drives Andrea Frost, whom I’m hoping somehow to spend an afternoon studying her process when next I visit Portland.

  2. Jennifer
    December 9, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    Great read…Baby Wit rocks. Inspiring!

  3. Annabelle
    December 9, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    Wow- I am now incredibly inspired to go and get knocked up, stay at home and watch the money flow in. What an incredible role model you are Mrs. Frost- a true renaissance woman and I just love the clothes, particularly the line from Prairie Underground- incredible stuff!

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