“Shannon have you seen this?” I open my WhatsApp to read the message and see a screenshot of the baby carrier I designed being sold on Woolworths’ online shop. I can’t describe the feeling that went through my body in that moment.
It’s 16 December 2018 and I’ve just found out that Woolworths has shamelessly copied the complete design and concept of the baby carrier that I have put my heart and soul into for the last 4 years of my life.
At first glance, it looks like they’ve just used my product name ‘Stage 1’ and ‘Stage 2’ baby carrier. On closer inspection, I realize that they’re using the exact same colours, grey and navy to my baby carrier. Upon further investigation, it appears that they have designated the terms ‘Stage 1 carrier’ and ‘Stage 2 carrier’ as Google Adword keywords. So when you search the term ‘Stage 1 carrier’ or ‘Stage 2 carrier’ – the exact names which are unique to my little business – Ubuntu Baba baby carriers and in which my business has a reputation in – Woolworths adverts come up above my organic search results.
I’m so confused. Why would a big corporate go to such effort to try and copy my product and leverage off my marketing? This feels wrong on so many levels.
They are selling the carriers for 1/3 of the price that I sell mine – because of course they just have it made in China, while we manufacture ours locally in our little factory in Retreat.
I can only imagine what Woolworths’ strategy might be:
Jane sees Angie wearing a comfy looking baby carrier.
“What carrier is that Angie?”
“Oh it’s the Stage 1 by Ubuntu Baba. You can get them online.”
Angie goes to Google and searches: ‘Stage 1 carrier’
“Ooh wow I see Woolworths is selling them for only R450.”
Woolworths gets a sale. Ubuntu Baba loses a sale.
I can’t sleep, the anxiety of this situation is killing me. What do I do? I’m all for Woolworths selling affordable, ergonomic baby carriers, and I’m glad my little business has ‘inspired’ them, but there is a big difference in taking inspiration and blatantly expropriating another’s product – the way they have gone about this is nothing less than wrong.
No. This can’t be. They have used my exact pattern.
I don’t know what the next step is but I feel an instinctive urge to get my hands on one of these carriers, so off I go to Woolworths to go and check it out.
Not only have they copied my ‘Stage 1’ and ‘Stage 2’ names, used my colours, designated Google Ad keywords to divert potential customers, Woolworths has also shamelessly copied my design and pattern.
Their shoulder straps are exactly the same as ours, all they’ve changed is the body section of the carrier, probably to make it easier for production in China, as there are quite a lot of intricacies involved with ours.
There is no other baby carrier in the world with a waistband pattern like my Stage 1 and Stage 2 carriers. My Father and I designed them from scratch in 2015. It took us weeks just to get that waistband right, and it’s arguably part of the reason why our baby carriers are so loved by many, because they are very gentle on a Mother’s healing c-section scar, yet still supportive enough for her to carry her baby from the very early newborn days.
Moreover, the ‘Stage 1’ and ‘Stage 2’ are unique to the Ubuntu Baba brand, with no other baby carrier brands, using the same, or similar, naming convention.
Coincidence? I think not.
I feel like I’m out of my league. I call an emergency meeting with my team, I need help on what to do next about this. One of the ladies on my team suggests searching our online order receipts to see if anyone from Woolworths Head Office has ever purchased one of our carriers and surprise, we find that an Ubuntu Baba Stage 2 carrier was purchased and delivered to Woolworths Head Office in June 2017.
Woolworths can surely not contend that they did not blatantly copy the design and concept of my carriers when the Ubuntu Baba Stage 2 carrier they purchased was delivered directly to a former Sourcing Administrator at the Woolworths Financial Services Building in Observatory.
Surely there is nothing suspicious in someone from Woolworths Head Office purchasing one of my carriers? Alas, this is not the case. In September 2017, the Woolworths Product Developer purchased our Stage 1 carrier, which subsequently was delivered to Woolworths Head Office in Longmarket street.
This is surely a very cruel joke? Right?
By this point, friends and business acquaintances had told me about the hummingbird story and the Frankie’s case (which Frankie’s won), and that apparently Woolworths’ ‘do this all the time’. Really? And they get away with it? Yes, apparently they do. Because it’s not often, in the real world, that young entrepreneurs are ready to take on a retail giant like Woolworths.
Of course, I have no evidence pointing to the fact that they ‘do this all the time’ as others have told me, but after all the effort gone to here, it’s honestly not too hard to believe.
I searched the topic online and found an article quoting their marketing and communications strategist, Clive Simpkins:
“Woolworths learned a pivotal lesson with that Frankie’s debacle and I don’t think they would have consciously gone and done the same thing again. They have made it quite clear that they have an incredible paper trail, they’ve got protocols in place, they’ve got all sorts of agreements with designers and artists and people like that, so they can go back and point to the timeline.”fashionentlaw.com
If you’re confused, so are others.
As we are in the ‘babywearing industry’, it’s our job to be a part of many online Mommy and babywearing groups, where Mom’s go for advice on babywearing and reviews on different brands of baby carriers.
The amount of confusion that has already been caused by the Woolworths carriers, as well as their use of our names ‘Stage 1’ and ‘Stage 2’, is really concerning.
We’ve been asked whether we are now stocking our baby carriers in Woolworths and how Woolworths are able to sell them for so cheap compared to ours? (The answer to that is: manufactured in China + made with polyester VS manufactured in South Africa + made with organic hemp.)
Dear Woolworths, that is my design.
The only reason it’s comfy, is because you blatantly copied my pattern. I have reached out to you via email, on 3 different email addresses I could find, but all I got back was a lousy response saying that you have forwarded my email on for further investigation and you gave me a reference number. I’ve phoned your customer service department and followed up with my reference number and apparently my complaint is now sitting with your technologist who will be investigating the query.
Meanwhile… people are buying baby carriers which have been designed by me and copied and sold by Woolworths, countrywide.
Potential safety risks of the Woolworths baby carriers
What makes this confusion so much more severe is the potential health and safety risks the Woolworths ‘Stage 1’ carriers pose in that it appears to conflict with recognized health and safety standards for baby carriers.
“Baby on your back is recommended for babies up to 6 months.” – This safety warning appearing on the packaging of the Woolworths carrier is misleading as it appears that it is recommended that you wear your baby on your back if he/she is under 6 months, instead of over 6 months. This is arguably an unsafe position as it is impossible to monitor a newborn baby when they are worn on your back in a buckled carrier and if left unmonitored, there is a risk that positional asphyxia can occur. Therefore, should, God forbid, an infant become hurt as a result of the unsafe directions of the Woolworths carrier, give the striking similarities between the two carriers, this poses a severe risk to the reputation of my business, which places the safety of babies above all else.
*Please note this is very different to how South African women often wrap their babies to their backs with a towel or woven piece of fabric and I am in no way comparing a back carry position in a buckled carrier to this form of babywearing.
“Recommended weight range for Woolworths Stage 1 carrier: 3.6 – 15kg.” – There is no possible way to safely wear a baby from the 3.6kg to at least 6kg range in the Woolworths Stage 1 carrier, because the seat is too wide and not adjustable (the Ubuntu Baba Stage 1 has a string that runs across the body allowing the wearer to narrow the seat for a newborn baby.)
This means that people will most likely try to wear a newborn baby and assume that they need to put the babies legs inside the carrier, creating another safety hazard as there is no infant insert sold with the carrier to keep the baby in place from the inside, making it a possibility that the baby could slip through the bottom of the waistband, see below photo where Ryan Reynolds made this mistake with his own baby in a different brand of baby carrier (he should have been using the infant insert in this case – I am merely using this picture to point out the possible safety hazard).
The day after I wrote this article, I happened to be at Canal Walk, taking my son to the movies, and spotted a Mother wearing her baby in the Woolworths Stage 1 carrier – with this exact thing happening, see pic below.
The Woolworths Stage 1 and Stage 2 baby carriers threaten to tarnish the very foundations on which my brand is built, and will no doubt result in substantial damage to the reputation and income of my business.
For a company whose values include “helping local enterprises to grow, and contributing to a prosperous, secure future for our country”, Woolworths – I’d say you have some explaining to do. I understand that mistakes happen within a big company, and maybe you have some sort of explanation for how this all happened, if so I’d love to hear it.
As a South African manufacturer, we’d be happy to consider working together with Woolworths and ‘contribute to a prosperous, secure future for our country’ by manufacturing a local baby carrier option on your behalf.
I’d personally LOVE to see an ergonomic and safe baby carrier on the Woolies shelves, because I know how much of a difference babywearing can make, especially during those first few very tough months of bringing a baby into the world. That is, of course, why Ubuntu Baba exists.
So here’s my reference number, again: 20181224-380204207. Let me know when you’ve got some feedback for me.