Phoenix, Arizona

Though battling competition from large e-commerce retailers in the U.S. and counterfeit product manufacturers in China, Jakki Liberman hopes her consciously created baby products will appeal to a new generation of parents.

When Liberman launched Bumkins, her goal was to create a reusable
cloth diaper that was environmentally friendly.

The mother of four designed an all-in-one product with a
waterproof outer shell attached to the cloth and Velcro closures to secure the
diaper onto a baby. She also searched for fabrics that were durable and could
be made to look more like apparel by printing fun designs on them.

Though Liberman started out using home sewers, rapidly growing
popularity necessitated the creation of a manufacturing facility in Arizona.

“It was such a little niche,” Liberman says. “We got to about $1
million in revenue in diapers, but it’s a volatile industry. As the economy got
tough, moms didn’t have the luxury of staying home with kids.”

Liberman began designing other garments, and Bumkins debuted its
bibs in 1991, followed by blankets, dishes, and cutlery. The company phased out
the diaper line in 2017 because of low margins and heavy customer education

After a divorce in the mid-1990s, Liberman decided to switch to contract
manufacturers to make her products. She found an Arizona factory that made
bicycle bags — a seasonal product — and was looking for other projects to
supplement its production.

“I was trying to simplify my life and not live at the factory,” she says. “It was a painful blending of the product lines and took a couple of

Bumkins really took off when a grandmother visited a Walmart and
tested its baby bibs with a lead detector, resulting in those products being
pulled from the retailer’s shelves. This opened the door for Bumkins, which
Liberman says “over tested” its products to make sure everything was safe.

“A lot of our competitors were taking their products off the
market, and we were given the opportunity to supply the bibs to bigger
retailers,” Liberman says.

Then the Great Recession hit, and Babies R Us told Bumkins that the company needed to cut their prices by half, or they would knock off the products and
have them made by someone else. That’s when Liberman began to explore
manufacturing overseas.

“Demand for the product changed so drastically,” she says. “Some
products people are willing to pay a premium for, but with some of the
lower-cost baby items, it’s hard to justify making it in the U.S.”

Challenges: The dwindling number of retailers carrying
baby products makes it more difficult for Bumkins to reach consumers.

“Retailers are struggling, birthrates are down, so not all
retailers are putting full baby programs in,” Liberman says. “Target used to
have a big baby department, and now it’s small and they have their own brand.
Amazon has stolen a lot of business.”

Another issue is that the Chinese manufacturing partners Bumkins
uses are knocking off her designs.

Photos courtesy Bumkins

“The knockoff situation is absolutely bizarre,” Liberman says. “You have about three weeks before someone is copying what you do no matter how
much you try to protect it. It gets very challenging.”

Opportunities: Bumkins’ products appeal to consumers who
are conscious of where their goods come from.

“As a consumer, I look more carefully at who I’m supporting when
I buy a particular brand,” Liberman says. “Millennials and Gen Z are more thoughtful
about who they’re supporting. I’m trying to appeal to that customer who cares.”

Needs: Establishing a strong customer base of 10 to 20
accounts with large retailers would help Bumkins boost its sales. Regulating
e-commerce retailers also could help smaller shops prosper — which would help
Bumkins better reach its target audience.

“The malls are all national chain stores,” Liberman says. “You
see the same thing in every city and the same thing at every retailer. There
are now about a dozen specialty stores compared to [the] 6,000 [there were] years