This week, we’re sitting down with the inspiring founder and mama-humanitarian Allie Wieser of Baby Hero. Her mission of finding a simple yet effective way to help support safe and natural childbirth for mamas around the world has definitely inspired us here at Sassy Mama – read on to find out how you can help out with this great cause!
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I grew up in San Antonio, Texas and studied at Princeton University in 2003. I married my college sweetheart and after graduating, went to work for Bear Stearns in Equities Investment Research (which later became part of JPMorgan. My husband’s job took us to Tokyo in 2008. In Tokyo, I studied Japanese and later went back to work as Client Services Manager for Asia for my same Investment Research Team, which had spun out of JPMorgan and had its own company. My future co-founder of Baby Hero, Samar, had founded a charity fundraising organisation in Tokyo called Tokyo Helps and I joined the board to co-run events for it.
What brought you to Hong Kong from Tokyo?
After residing in Tokyo for two amazingly fun, cultural and exciting years, my husband’s company decided to move its Asian headquarters to Hong Kong, and so here we came right before Christmas in 2010. Soon after we moved to Hong Kong, the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. Samar was still living in Tokyo at the time and was pregnant. She had to evacuate the country immediately and came to Hong Kong. We immediately co-founded Hong Kong Helps to do an event to help the victims of the tsunami. We raised $780,000 for Save The Children’s Japan Relief Fund in one night, an event we put together in just three weeks after the natural disaster. Hong Kong, as it would continue to prove to us later, is a very generous city in terms of helping those in need.
You’re involved in a lot of charity work. How did that tie into the foundation for starting Baby Hero?
When I had Cooper, my first child, in 2012, I was made very aware that childbirth can be a very vulnerable situation. He was a breach baby and had I not been giving birth at a hospital in a developed region, the outcome for my baby and myself may have been very different. Living in Asia and having traveled around the region, I was also very aware that so many mothers in the region give birth without any type of medical care. Baby Hero co-founder Samar also had a difficult delivery with her first child, Anaia. Samar, being from Pakistan, is very cognisant of the many women who give birth in rural communities. Samar and I were having a play date with Anaia and Cooper in the fall of 2012 and started discussing maternal and infant health in Asia.
We went back and did some research and the statistics were staggering: 2 million babies die each year in their first month of life from preventable causes. The vast majority of these deaths are in the developing world, mostly in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. The geographical distribution proves it is a poverty problem. While some of these deaths are preventable only through hospital care, the vast majority are preventable with low cost, relatively basic medical supplies. A $15 bottle of antiseptic, for example, reduces infant mortality by 30%. To put this in perspective, if every baby had access to this $15 antiseptic last year, it could have saved 600,000 babies.
Samar and I were determined to find a way to invest in simple yet effective medical technologies and get them to these mothers and babies in need.
Tell us more about “The Neonatal Survival Kit”:
A serendipitous encounter led us to Dr. Shaun Morris, a pediatrician at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, who had spent a decade studying infant and maternal health in rural India. At the time we met him, he had just put together an innovative ‘Neonatal Survival Kit’ to reduce infant and maternal mortality in developing regions. Our collaboration is currently funding the distribution and supply of these kits.
Six items comprise “The Neonatal Survival Kit”– these items reduce the risk of infection in the mother and her newborn and also reduce hypothermia in her newborn. It includes a $15 bottle of CHX – a lifesaving topical antiseptic, a clean birth packet, sunflower emollient, a thermospot sticker, a click to heat warmer and a mylar blanket. The Neonatal Survival Kit costs about $60 and if scaled up, the cost comes down to $40 a Kit. We now have a wonderful collaboration with Dr. Morris and Baby Hero invests in the six items of the Neonatal Survival Kit.
How did Baby Hero come about?
Of course, as every mama knows, having your first child changes a lot of things in your life, including shopping priorities! Like so many new mamas, we compiled exhaustive “new baby checklists”, and in doing so, we realised the mass consumerism that happens around having a baby in the developed world.
In starting Baby Hero, we saw a way we could harness the power of these consumers to help mothers and babies in need. We have created a line of luxurious and essential baby products and for every Baby Hero product sold, we invest in a Neonatal Survival Kit for a mother and her baby in need. One of our goals with Baby Hero is to create a sustainable investment in maternal and infant health that is run with the critical, efficient eyes of a business. At the same time, we aim to give consumers the option to bring giving into their daily lives just by doing a little shopping.
As we built Baby Hero, we were determined to make every point as ethical as we could and give back in as many ways as we saw possible. We have worked hard to ensure a 360-degrees ethical supply chain. We work only with Fair Trade Cotton that ensures the farmers are paid a fair price for their cotton. We also only work with 100% Organic Cotton and organic non-toxic dyes to ensure that we work with eco-friendly materials and give our customers a safe and hypoallergenic product. The production is overseen at a socially responsible garment factory that pays above market wages and employs disadvantaged persons.
How did you choose the name Baby Hero?
Baby Hero reflects both the Baby Heroes who are surviving childbirth in rural parts of developing regions as well as the Baby Heroes who champion life by wearing our brand.
Where do you source the items on the site?
We design our clothing in-house and manufacture at a wonderful, ethical factory in Southern India. The factory is run by Franciscan Nuns and makes a point to employ women and disabled persons in its community. Profits from the factory support a local cancer hospital and an HIV clinic. We also feature partners’ products on our site that are ethical, fair-trade and support a mission to improve the lives of children in developing regions.
What are some of your favourite items on the site?
My favorite item on the site is our Baby Hero Original Zhob Onesie. Like all our baby wear, it is luxuriously soft and yet incredibly durable. My daughter, Adri, lives in the Baby Hero Zhob Onesies. It is so easy to wear, so comfy for her and so easy to wash. It is the perfect baby garment from 0-18 months. Our latest member of the Baby Hero team, who just had her second child, actually joined us because she loves the quality of the Zhob Onesie so much.
Do you have any exciting upcoming plans for Baby Hero?
We have some amazing designs coming out for Spring and Summer 2015! We also recently hit 1500 Neonatal Survival Kits funded, which is very exciting. We hope to expand our geographical reach with the Kits this year too.
We also just won a competition to be one of eleven semi-finalists in a global Sustainable Brands competition sponsored by Target. We are the only Hong Kong company in the semi-finals and will be pitching in the semi-finals in June in San Diego. Thank you to all who helped us become a finalist!
What do you love most about your job?
I love the innovation and impact. I love that we are disrupting the consumerism in the baby gift and baby wear industry by creating an ethical baby products company that is saving babies’ lives. The conscious consumer is a growing audience; it is exciting and challenging to be at the forefront of this movement. I also love our team. To be honest, no one is getting paid at this point. Instead, we all have equity in the company. To be surrounded daily by Samar and our team of women who care so passionately about Baby Hero – about our mission to Champion Life for Young Families Everywhere – makes this one of the most empowering times in my life.
What do you dislike most about your job?
I wish we had enough money for an office! While I love working with the children crawling and running around, sometimes it would be more efficient to have a couple hours of uninterrupted work!
How do you save time? What are your organisational tricks and tips?
Checklists. I bring work with me during commutes and waiting times. As a start-up, each member has lots of different functions. A lot of my work is also idea generation. In order to have time to really think about a concept and organise the giant ‘to-do’ list, I try to assign each day to one or two concepts. For example, Mondays I work on our Email Marketing Campaigns and Analytics; Tuesdays I work on Sales and Product Development; Wednesdays.. you get the point!
I also set aside the hours each day that are dedicated to Baby Hero and hours each day that are dedicated to the children. It gives a structure to the day that helps improve efficiency.
Favourite activity with the kids in Hong Kong?
I love the Mount Austin Playground and an early dinner at the Peak Lookout. I also love an outing to Disneyland!
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Hong Kong?
Café Causette at the Mandarin. I like the food for the children and adults. The little coloring book with markers is a great treat as are the Peter Rabbit childrens’ place settings. Teddy works next door and can meet us after work. Cooper does try to take away the Peter Rabbit cup every time!
Favourite family-friendly holiday spot in Asia?
There are so many! I loved Bhutan with one child, although hiking the foothills of the Himalayas with two children may be tricky. We love a great villa in Thailand with fellow families – fabulous Thai food and all the children playing by and in the pool. I love taking the children to Australia or New Zealand for the fresh air and fresh, healthy food.
Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?
Make the effort and take the time to enjoy the activities that you did when you were falling in love, dating, or married before you had children. Whether it is a night out on the town, a rigorous hike, or an afternoon sailing… it is important to appreciate your relationship and each other in the context of just each other. One of the most important concepts, in my opinion, that we learned in Catholic pre-marriage classes, was that the family begins with the love between the married couple – it is the foundation of the family. If you do not make it a priority to take care of that love, the rest of the family can fall apart.
Favourite date-night restaurants?
Sushi Sase at the sushi bar. Wagyu Takumi and Teppanyaki Ginza Sumikawa. We love sitting at a sushi or teppanyaki bar – it is cosy when it is just the two of us and we can watch the chefs create beautiful food.
Do you have any tips for aspiring “mamapreneurs” and working other mamas in Hong Kong?
Even if you are working from home, it is very helpful to have some division of time, to have some distinction on “work time” and “time with the children”. Without this, I have experienced that the whole household gets confused on their daily schedule.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
So far, it has been to put babies on a routine. I love the Baby Whisper’s routine advice. That said, I think it is important to make the routine adaptable to your comfort level and your baby’s particular needs.
As a mama I wish I were better at…
Setting better limits. I am working on it! Reading a lot of RIE parenting concepts now.
My most humbling mama moment was…
I was able to have a natural birth with Adri after needing a cesarean delivery with Cooper. Labour was very painful and difficult, and I barely was able to have the natural birth in the end. I had an infection and very high fever during labor too. Going through the incredible process of childbirth and ending up with a miraculous life is one of the biggest blessings in my life and for it, I am thankful every day. I cannot imagine the true pain of women in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa who also go through the incredible process of childbirth only to lose their newborns 24 to 48 hours later, and from a cause that was entirely preventable.
What’s your favourite family ritual?
We love to travel. I love how excited Cooper now is to go to the airport and get on the airplane! It is so fun to get so excited with the children for a new adventure and to learn about cultures and places with them.
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about….
School applications, product launches, sales and marketing strategy!
Bedtime is always smoother when…
I stick to the routine! Sometimes, I get convinced to let the kids stay up a little bit later and it almost always results in a meltdown!
Even when my child has a family of his/her own, I’ll still…
Want to talk to them every day! I know this is not realistic, but I cannot imagine not seeing my children every day. I know they grow up fast, so I am trying to treasure every moment with them while they are home.
One thing I won’t sacrifice as a mama is…
Exercise and making healthy food choices. I want to be as healthy as possible and as strong as possible for my family.
My favourite moment of the day is…
When the children wake up in the morning. I may not always like how many hours I slept the previous night, but I treasure their morning smiles and soft eyes. We sing a good morning song and proclaim that it’s a beautiful day every morning… even if it takes me a couple lattes to really get in the jolly spirit of the day!
All photos in the That Mama article above were taken by the hugely talented Nicola Lemmon of Nicola Lemmon Photography (who now lives in sunny Australia!)