After Michal Chesal’s son, Coby, was born with Down syndrome in 1999, she wanted to carry him with a wearable baby carrier. But a physical therapist told her it wouldn’t give Coby, who had poor muscle tone, the right kind of support.
So Chesal, of Hollywood, began playing around with the baby slings on the marketplace, crisscrossing and wearing two of them together. She took the slings to a seamstress to connect them, eventually marketing the wearable baby carriers as Baby K’tan, www.babyktan.com, a play on words that means “little baby” in Hebrew.
The carriers can be used for kids from birth to 35 pounds. They come in adult sizes and a variety of fabrics, and range from $50 to $60.
Chesal partnered with a family friend, Isaac Wernick, to start the business after Wernick tried the product for his own son.
Chesal and Wernick developed the carrier in an all-cotton fabric with no connectors or snaps. They connected the over-the-shoulder loops with an adjustable back support band and a waist sash.
“No one had a design background, but it was a simple idea,” Chesal said.
For more than a year, the partners ordered samples from factories, rejecting fabric that was too thin or straps that were too wide. A prototype was ready in 2007, and the partners placed an initial order of 200. Since then, they have tinkered with different fabrics and sizing.
The product is now manufactured in China and Guatemala and warehoused in Davie, near the company’s offices.
Chesal and Wernick spent about $50,000 initially on setting up the business, patents, samples, testing, trade shows, marketing and initial inventory. Baby K’tan sells about 110,000 items a year and became profitable in 2011. The partners have five full-time and three part-time employees. The product is sold in 900 U.S. retailers and distributed in 10 countries.
To promote, Chesal partners with other mom entrepreneurs in press releases, advertising campaigns and trade shows. A Brand Ambassador System allows moms who demo the product and distribute brochures at parenting events to earn points toward merchandise.
They also have expanded the line with the K’tan Cloth, which attaches to a baby carrier and can be used as a burp cloth, nursing cover or blankie.
“Follow your heart. If you have an idea and keep putting it off, somebody else is going to come up with that idea,” Chesal said. “If I had to do it over again, I would have started so much earlier.”