Ana Cristiana was visiting her homeland of Romania one bitter winter when she noticed impoverished mothers carrying skimpily-clad babies.
“It broke my heart,” said Cristiana, a single mom. “Afterwards, I wondered what I could do to help needy kids like that.”
Cristiana went on to found Miami-based Runway Baby Organics and its Book in a Blanket program, which donates a high-quality organic blanket to a needy child for every blanket sold. Here is how she did it:
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Runway Baby Organics’ first product, Book in a Blanket, is a premium-quality oversized blanket with a pocket that holds the children’s book, Planet Hope, written by Ana Cristiana. The blanket is 100 by 120 centimeters and is made of organic Pakucho cotton from Peru. The blanket is available in four color options, and for each unit purchased, a book and blanket will be donated to a needy child. The blanket sets are $175 to $195.
When Cristiana was living in Romania, she worked as an actress and singer for the largest musical theater company in Bucharest. In the U.S. she became a stay-at-home mom to son Nicholas, now 19.
But Cristiana longed for more. “I desperately wanted to do something else because I have a lot of creativity, and I wanted to give back.”
Cristiana was intrigued by the “buy-one, give-one” concept popularized by companies like Toms Shoes. She began researching the concept, and found nothing like a packaged book and organic blanket.
She began looking for organic cottons, and found a Pakucho cotton in Peru known for its softness and its natural color palette. Cristiana contacted the consulate of Peru to find manufacturers, and was able to locate a factory that made yarn and could construct the blankets.
For the book component, Cristiana wanted an inspiring story that a mom could read to a child and create a bonding moment. She reviewed children’s books for content, and consulted a published author to learn about the book market. She looked online to find an illustrator and book printer.
Cristiana selected yarns in a light, natural color and darker coffee color for the blankets. She went with a larger size than a traditional blanket, so that it could transition from a baby blanket to an older child’s lovey. “I wanted an oversized blanket, because I wanted it to last a long time,” she said.
The mom designed a pocket with a nickel-free, child-friendly snap to hold the accompanying book, plus the child’s other treasures. She ordered sample blankets, so she could test the feel and weight of the yarn.
Cristiana wrote a 32-page book called Planet Hope, an inspiring tale about limitless possibilities, and drew sketches of what she thought the scenery and characters should look like. She found an illustrator, book formatter and printer online.
Her ultimate goal is to release a series of a dozen book and blanket combinations. There will be run of 10,000 of each, and each blanket will be numbered, so that it is a collectible. Cristiana is working with I.Q. Solutions, which authenticates collectible items.
For the buy-one, give-one concept, she partnered with Good360, which has worked with major designers on similar projects.
Cristiana ordered no initial inventory, so that she could have the freedom to collect market feedback and tweak the product. “I have a limited budget, so I didn’t want to make 10,000 blankets and have people come back and say they want a bigger pocket, or didn’t like the snap,” she said.
The Runway Baby website went live in June 2013, and the products were posted in October. A crowd-funding Indiegogo campaign to collect pre-orders was launched in December. “I like crowd-funding because you can get a direct response from the public,” Cristiana said.
She tapped a public relations agency owned by a relative to distribute press releases nationally, resulting in stories in parenting magazines and blogs. “I have a strict budget, so I rely on people who believe in my concept,” she said. “If they believe in you, they will help you.”
Cristiana started a blog on her website, and has Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest accounts. She posts information about parenting and sustainable fashion, and inspirational quotes.
Initial capital outlay
Cristiana spent $12,000 on product sampling, website development, photography, illustrators and other start-up costs. She has received about 225 orders, and is not yet profitable.
“To find amazing people who believe in my product and concept, so that I can build an amazing team,” Cristiana said.
Cristiana would like to roll out a new blanket and book combination every three months, until she has a series of 12. She also would like to develop a children’s clothing line based on characters from her books.
Cristiana rises at 8 a.m. and prepares breakfast for herself and son, Nicholas. They talk about their day, then he goes off to work and school, and she heads to her home office.
Cristiana is at the computer most of the day, sometimes breaking for a walk or trip to the gym to decompress.
She and Nicholas eat dinner together and sometimes take in a hockey game. “I don’t believe a mom’s job ends, ever, even when the kids are older,” Cristiana said.
Cristiana will get back on the computer at night to work, and goes to bed about midnight.
“If I can do it, anyone can do it,” she said. “Women like to underestimate themselves, but if we put our minds to it, we can accomplish anything.”