Bugaboos are Dutch, Maclarens are British [or, in the case of the Starck line, Franglais], Gracos are, um, American. But with a few exceptions like Stokke, whose strollers are apparently made in Norway by melting down new Audi A8's, no matter where the major stroller companies design their products, they're all manufactured in one place: China. [Alright, Bugaboos are made in Taiwan, but depending on how you slice it, it's part of China, right?]
Which should surprise absolutely no one. What DID surprise me at the ABC Kids Expo last week, though, was the number of eye-catching stroller startups where major portions of the design and development had taken place in China, too.
These weren't the random junk umbrella strollers that someone named "Vivien" emails me about all the time, either, but technologically sophisticated, high-design models that, with the proper localized fine-tuning and brand positioning, the theory goes, could hold their own in the US and European markets.
There were at least four such ABC [Actually By China] strollers at ABC this year:
One, Uppababy, has already graced the screens here on Daddy Types recently. The Uppababy flagship stroller, the Vista [left], is based on a patented Chinese design, which the Uppababy founders adapted the design and tailored things like the fabrics, materials, finishes, and wheel options in order to enter the US market as an 'entry-level luxury' model.
[The same Chinese design is being tweaked and adapted by a veteran stroller company in Germany, to where it's sold as a sport stroller, the ABC Design Astro Sportwagen.]
Another standout in Las Vegas was Baby Planet. If UppaBaby is the Bugaboo of ABC stroller startups, Baby Planet is seeking to be the Maclaren [with a bit of Stokke thrown in].
Baby Planet's lightweight umbrella-style strollers, the Solo [left] and the Striumph [kidding! it's called the Unity, but the Solo/Volo comparison was too easy to pass up] wrap a familiar set of features in a very distinctive design. The curved frame looks great, I think, especially in profile. And the way it integrates the canopy line, too, is pretty sweet. It kind of reminds me of the swoopy paint job on my first car, a Citroen 2CV Charleston. The Unity, meanwhile, solves a problem that plagues many double strollers--too wide handles-- by replacing them with a single, central Xplory-style handle.
But the Xplory-ism doesn't end there. Baby Planet also entered the car seat carrier market--maybe because neither of their folding strollers can accommodate car seats at the moment--with the Max [right], a 3-wheeled, universal car seat cradle that ressembles a barebones Xplory instead of the traditional 4-wheel carts. It's bold, and it's not super-cheap--$199--but the company's promising to quickly roll out a stroller seat attachment, too, to extend the usable life of the rig.
It's worth noting that both UppaBaby and Baby Planet are founded by executives who've fled the giants of the Baby Industrial Complex, folks who have been in the market a long time and can see gaps that need filling. It also helps keep the focus on the market and the customers rather than on just pumping out whatever product the factory's tooled up to make. At least that's the theory; we'll see how these rigs perform on the street soon enough. [UppaBaby's shipping right now; Baby Planet's taking orders for January.]
Another probable ABC stroller company is Joovy, which I admit, I don't know much about. But they were showing at least one stroller I know I've seen before under a different brand. Their Caboose Stand-on Tandem stroller used to be sold under the Right Start or Baby Trend brand. [I spotted a stripped down version on the kid's first trip out of the house, in March 2004. Some young hillbilly couple was pushing their kids in it at the zoo, and it looked so techy cool without all the padding, I stopped them and asked them who made it. They had no idea. Just a couple of weeks ago, I spotted one again, this time, it was at Nieman Marcus, and it was covered with a very trendy-looking [sic] lime green fabric. Clearly, it had been rehabilitated. By Joovy, it turns out, as this picture from ABC shows:
The other obvious ABC stroller at ABC, where market-specific fabrics and wheels were put onto already-designed mechanicals, comes not from a stroller industry veteran, but from an auto customizer. It's neither Buggy nor Macky nor Stokke-y; if anything, it's like those Silver Cross rigs that Ellen Degeneres pimps out for her celebrity parent guests. It's called the Baby Bling Metamorphosis, and it is getting its very own post. Turn down the lights, and stay tuned.