Aden + Anais (pronounced ay-den and a-nay) blankets have been used by so many celebrity mothers that employees at the company jokingly call them paparazzi shields. But when Australian-born CEO and co-founder Raegan Moya-Jones got word that newborn Prince George had made his public debut swaddled in one, she didn't believe it.
“I was in a meeting when our national sales manager walked in and said the royal baby has just come out in an Aden + Anais blanket," she recalls. "Everyone texted me and showed me the pictures on their phones—I said, ‘Don’t be bloody ridiculous.’”
She thought someone in her design department had used Photoshop to play a prank. But the immediate onslaught of interview requests changed her mind.
It's not exactly what Moya-Jones was planning when she started the business seven years ago with four product offerings. At the time, she was focused on making products with her own daughters and style in mind. Muslin blankets have been widely used by Australian mothers for years, but were only available in plain white and sold in unglamorous cellophane. She wanted to bring beautiful, bold colors and contemporary designs to muslin as she introduced moms around the world to swaddling blankets. But as the Brooklyn-based company grew, Moya-Jones had to learn to design more for her customers than herself.
"I've learned you have to design outside of your own taste," she says. "I've had to design things that I wouldn't want for my own kids, like patterns I would never buy, but they have become some of our best sellers."
As she looks ahead to next year, Moya-Jones says the company has more than 300 products waiting in the wings.
"We're moving into adult home products because we get slammed with mothers asking for blankets for themselves, rather than just making blankets for their babies and children," she says. "We also just recently launched a skincare line."
The company describes the new products as gentle enough for babies and sophisticated enough for their parents. In creating the line, which will debut two new products in 2014, Moya-Jones again drew on globalizing something native to Australia.
“We have these products back in Australia that contain paw paw, which is a fermented fruit,” she explains. “It's a real differentiator for skincare products in the U.S., so I went about researching that.”
Research, hard work, and confidence have been at the heart of Moya-Jones's startup strategy. She started the company in 2006 and did not leave her full-time job in the sales department at the Economist until 2009, saying she chose sleep deprivation over poverty to protect her family against the uncertainty that comes with running a startup.
When she did feel ready to leave the magazine, a manager gave her less than encouraging parting words.
“He didn't think I had an entrepreneurial bone in my body and by then I had already done $1.5 million in sales with Aden + Anais and I was blowing my numbers out of the water at the Economist,” Moya-Jones says. “It was pretty awesome to have the last laugh. Being in sales you live and die by your numbers. I left a solid pipeline for whoever would move into my chair.”
In the last three years, Aden + Anais has grown 355%. One of the major baby retail chains that sells the company’s product says 97% of gift registries include items from Aden + Anais.
She never worries about copycats that have introduced their own muslin cloths, except when she talks smack around the office.
The company has never spent money on marketing, relying instead on mothers—including celebrity moms—recommending products to their friends. Yet, when paparazzi favorites, like Beyoncé or Kate Middleton, swaddle their newborns in Aden + Anais for their cameras, she shrugs it off.
"I'm as grateful, if not more grateful, to the millions of moms who supported the products, used the product and got us to the point where the Duchess walked into a store and said that's the blanket I want," Moya-Jones says. "I don't want to sound ungrateful, because it's obviously the ultimate PR and marketing opportunity. It was a wonderful thing, but it didn't change our business."
[Image: Flickr user Paul Ashley]