In July, I’ll become a first-time mom, which means the next four months of my life are going to be spent preparing for what’s to come. In my attempt to navigate the baby-care industry, I’ve started researching the options for toxic-free, eco-friendly, safe and affordable products. To say the process is ‘overwhelming’ is an understatement.
Lucky for me, I’m not alone in asking for products that are good for the health of my kids and the planet, and companies are starting to meet this demand.
I recently spoke with Tracy Liu, the Chief Operating Officer of WAYB, a new company co-founded by former Patagonia CEO Michael Crooke alongside manufacturing experts Tio Jung and his father I.S. Jung that aims to deliver safe, well-designed and sustainable products to families with young children. Tracy (who’s also expecting) shares how the company is bringing its experience in the outdoor gear industry to design its first product, a next generation car seat.
Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.
What inspired you to join the WAYB team?
Michael [Crooke] has been a mentor of mine since business school at Pepperdine University, and he reached out to me about this position. The thought of building a mission-driven, family-focused company from the ground up was incredibly exciting to me, so I jumped at the opportunity. Now, I lead strategic planning and all of our business operations, everything from accounting and legal to HR.
How is WAYB leveraging the team’s expertise in designing outdoor gear and applying it to the baby-products industry?
Our team’s experience is in making everything from tents to high-end backpacks to rock-climbing harnesses. So safety is really at the forefront of everything that they do, and we adopt those same core elements into our products and apply it to the kids’ industry.
Car seats are giant, non-biodegradable pieces of plastic and foam that usually end up in landfills. To avoid this, we’re using more sustainable materials. For example, our main material is aluminum, which is one of the most abundant metals on Earth that’s infinitely recyclable. It’s extremely strong and we found that we can use less of it and still achieve the same strength, safety and durability of a plastic car seat.
Our other main material is a custom, technical mesh that we named ASTROKNIT™. It replaces EPS foam, essentially Styrofoam, in a car seat. It’s breathable, light, and the tension in the mesh fabric allows us to create this strong and super comfortable seat without all of the plastic and toxic foams that are typically found in a car seat. We worked closely with a team of green chemists to explore solutions, and in the end had to invent our own.
How are parents’ demands influencing your business?
Parents want products that help solve a pain point during this exciting, but exhausting chapter in their lives. Lugging around a bulky, complicated car seat is one of the most frequent pain points that we hear about and what sparked the idea for the Pico™ travel car seat in the mind of our CEO Tio.
The health and safety of their child is what parents care about most. Millennials, which make up the majority of new parents, care about social and environmental causes, and they’re looking for brands that speak to their values. The connection has been made in industries like personal-care products, but there aren’t a lot of options when it comes to gear. We saw an opportunity to integrate these values into our products and apply it to meet the needs of the modern family.
How are you integrating sustainability across the company?
We try to be very intentional about weaving sustainability throughout the entire value chain, and having it be one of the lenses that we look through before making a business decision. With early stage product design, a lot of this comes down to material selection.
We’ve pulled together a group of people to build this company, many of whom, myself included, have worked at companies where values matter, like the Walt Disney Company, The Honest Company, GOOD Media Group, among others. By having values up front, we can attract talent that’s connected to a larger mission. This creates high levels of trust, autonomy, open and honest dialogue, that helps to propel the company forward.
It can be challenging at times to balance sustainability with other macro values like quality, customer service, and finances, and the answer isn’t always clear. But I’ve always been a big believer that getting the right people in the room and having a “could we?” conversation puts us further along that path to getting there.
What’s your opinion on how the next generation of business leaders value sustainability?
It’s really encouraging to see millennials be so passionate about using their business skills to affect positive change. To sustain a business and stay relevant, companies have to be willing to adapt to the world around them, and millennials are helping to do that by changing workplace culture across industries. I think the next generation of business leaders will only benefit from this shift and continue to push companies in that direction.