Sewing Babywearing Slings for Sleeping Babies,
with Jan Andrea Heirtzler, Ep. 73
Jan Heirtzler has been sewing ring slings for babywearing families for 20 years out of Durham, New Hampshire. She is well known among certain pockets of the babywearing community, and her company Sleeping Baby Productions was considered by many to be the gold standard for handcrafted ring slings. She was busy sewing 40+ hours a week for a few years; however, things have slowed down, and she's ready to consider her next adventure. Jan has announced that she will be changing gears and closing the chapter on her sling business by the end of 2021, and she was willing to share her story about what she's been up to most recently (which includes making a lot of face masks).
In this episode, Jan shares that her career goal as a child and teenager had always been teaching; but, when it came time to do an internship, she quickly realized that she didn't feel that she had the stamina to be the kind of teacher she wanted to be. A series of temporary jobs led eventually to part-time work alongside her husband, doing outreach and web design; and when her first child was born, so was Sleeping Baby Productions. In the beginning, she was working part time doing freelance web design, and productivity was possible only when the baby was sleeping; but wearing her homemade carriers in town, Jan saw interest in her ring slings and started sewing them on the side. It wasn't until a couple of years after TheBabyWearer [dot] com (a website and forum devoted to different styles of baby carriers, a market largely dominated by work-at-home parents in the mid-2000s) went online that the custom sling business really took off. Once it did, it was an uphill trajectory through the height of the market in 2014. At that point, Jan would open the store once every three to four weeks, take in 300 orders in a couple of hours, and then close until she'd sewn through those. She talks about those years as being overwhelmingly busy at times, where her kids would play in the backyard where she could watch and talk to them through the window next to her sewing machine.
Fast forward to 2021, as the baby carrier industry has evolved, sales are now going mainly to mass-produced and -marketed carriers, with work-at-home parents making up only a tiny fraction of the customer base at this point. As the handmade babywearing market is slowing down (and expenses related to safety testing for baby-related items and business insurance have increased), Jan feels that it seems like a good time to leave the industry for something else. She's pursuing some part-time work again, helping underserved children have better access to STEM education; however, she's still on a quest to find something again that would feel as meaningful as empowering families to hold their babies close. She's starting to clean up her sewing room/workspace and sewing her slings with her remaining inventory but transitioning most of her fabric stash to quilting fabric for face masks which she continues to make and sell online. She will be keeping her Facebook group, but her Sleeping Baby website might eventually get shut down. However, Jan doesn't plan to stop sewing any time soon, and she's dabbling in other crafts and creations, so you can look for her under the future site and/or on social media under Jan Andrea Handmade to see what she's up to next.
You can find pictures of Jan's sewing room and workspace on her Sleeping Baby Productions Facebook page:
Check out her October 2021 posts mentioned in this episode here: https://www.facebook.com/sleepingbabyproductions/posts/10159493176238396
Contact: info @ sleepingbaby.net
Also, search for Jan Andrea Handmade to see what she is making after her ring sling store closes at the end of 2021.