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Originally published in STIR®

Diaper bags are a high-function must for new moms. These days, they’re also a fashion accessory ⎯ thanks to big color.

The timing couldn't have been more fortuitous for Kristin Hunziker to get into the diaper bag business. Pregnant with her first child in 2005, Hunziker was disappointed with the options for not only diaper bags, but also baby-related goods in general. "Nearly all of the available baby clothes, baby bedding and baby accessories were still stuck in the land of pink, baby blue and light green," says Hunziker, a former product developer with Oakley and Lands End. And diaper bags ⎯ far from being the must-have fashion accessories for fashionista new mothers that they are today ⎯ were "purely functional," Hunziker says.

Fun, smart and colorful

Enter Ju-Ju-Be, the company Hunziker founded with her business partner, Joe Croft. "We weren't the first company to make diaper bags that broke the utilitarian-only mold," she says. "There were a handful of companies making high-end diaper bags, but none of them were grabbing hold of the mass market. We knew we didn't want to be the beautiful diaper bag company — we wanted to be the fun diaper bag company, because that's who we are."

Ju-Ju-Be also asserted itself as the smart diaper bag company by incorporating Teflon® (for stain resistance), AgION® anti-microbial treatment and custom hardware into its product line. And, perhaps most key to the company’s immediate success, Ju-Ju-Be daringly drenched their bags with color. Lots and lots of color.

"The development of the color and pattern for our first bags is a bit of a blur," Hunziker says of the early creative process. Blurry as it might have been, the initial line of bags hit a sweet spot with new moms and moms-to-be — including high-profile moms, such as Jennifer Garner, who were captured in celebrity magazine photos toting their fashionable, colorful Ju-Ju-Be bags on one arm and their newborn babies in the other. A buzz factor was born, and Ju-Ju-Be has been on a rocket-worthy trajectory ever since.

Color with purpose

"We realized early on that we had to get intentional about our use of color and pattern," says Hunziker, who oversees the creative side of the business. "We need to stay on top of trends, but we also have to keep in mind that our customers are walking grocery store aisles — not the catwalk. A lot of fashion companies pay big bucks for color-forecasting services that forecast two years out at a time. Color forecasts have a role in our decision-making, but often it comes down to simply liking a color and knowing it will look good."

Take pink, for example. It's a stereotypical baby color, yes, but it's a color that new moms love — and in the hands of Hunziker, pink veers far from its sweet-and-soft path to embrace an intense fuchsia hue in one bold floral pattern "Fuchsia Blossoms", and also mixes it up with an eye-pleasing green-and-orange palette in the company's signature pattern, "Perky Perennials". "Regardless of how pink is trending in the universe, it will always have a place in baby," Hunziker says. Other favorite hues? Blue, of course, "but we'll take it to cobalt blue," says Hunziker. She also points to purple. "Purple can be a gender-neutral color that's still fun and feminine. Moms love it, maybe because so many young moms today grew up loving purple."

Favorites aside, today the Ju-Ju-Be line comprises an ever-evolving, yet entirely systematic rainbow. "We have meetings where we do a print matrix; we lay out all of the existing prints in tiny thumbnails, and we'll pull anything that's going to be discontinued to the side. Then we'll find the holes in our rainbow," she explains. "For example, if yellow is missing, we may not create an all-yellow print, but we will make sure we at least have pops of yellow in other color combinations for our yellow lovers."

Beyond baby

So how does Hunziker nurture her color sense? She pores over fashion magazines and creates inspiration boards with any color stories that strike her — from print ads that use clever color combinations to images from the artist collaboration Faile and artist Shepard Fairy. In her office, Hunziker surrounds herself with items that get her creative juices flowing but are anything but baby-related, like Tokidoki collectibles and skateboards emblazoned with graffiti artwork. "It's all about surrounding myself with fun, playful stuff that I love," she says.

Building on their colorful — and remarkably successful — diaper bags, Ju-Ju-Be now offers handbags, totes, wallets, wristlets and even laptop bags so that moms can continue sporting the company's trademark vivid patterns and color combinations even after their babies are beyond diapers. "We love that we've been able to broaden our line to equip our fans for their non-mommy needs," Hunziker says. "As a mother myself, I know that whether I'm taking the kids to the park or treating a friend to lunch, life is always better with a fun, colorful bag."