How One Infant's Obsession Led His Parents to a Booming Business
Lisa Greenwald has spent 12 years in J. Crew’s merchandising department, and has amassed quite a collection of costume jewelry. When her son was a baby, he always wanted to put one particular brightly colored necklace in his mouth. “He -- and every single baby I ever picked up -- was entranced by it,” she says. “People thought I was some kind of baby whisperer, but I would tell them, ‘I swear it’s just the necklace.’” First Lisa wondered what made the item so special. Then she thought someone should make a version for babies to chew on.
That was her aha moment. In 2009 Greenwald and her husband, Eric, developed and launched Chewbeads. They’ve since sold 140,000 chewable necklaces, and expanded into dozens of styles and colors that sell for $14.50 to $38 in more than 2,000 stores nationwide.
This simple idea wasn’t actually easy to pull off, though. Lisa found manufacturers that were able to either make silicone or make necklaces, but no place seemed to do both. Also, many jewelry factories worked with metals, and the Greenwalds didn’t want to risk manufacturing in a factory that contains lead. It took months to find a solution: They hired a consultant in Hong Kong, who taught a silicone factory how to make Chewbeads. “He essentially created this industry for us,” Lisa says.
Because there were no products like this on the market, the Greenwalds were unsure which safety testing standards they needed to meet. Was it for toys? Necklaces? Chewbeads aren’t exactly either, and legal limits on the length of baby toys’ strings and ribbons would prohibit creating a necklace for babies. To solve this, the Greenwalds enlisted a third-party product-safety laboratory, which ran what it said were the necessary tests -- checking for chemicals that are harmful to ingest, such as BPAs, and for potential choking hazards. And in its marketing and packaging, Chewbeads would always be explicit that the product is adult jewelry, and not a toy.
After about a year of selling the adult necklaces, Chewbeads added baby products such as teething rings, rattles and stroller toys (which are subject to more predictable regulations). But the challenge of translating a creative vision into new prototypes remains.
On the first sample of a new bib, for example, the material was too hard. Next, the seam lines around the top of the bib were wrong. The third time, the size of the collar was too small. “If you think the factory is going to understand what you want for an end user, you’re wrong,” Eric says. “Manufacturers are typically very literal and not creative thinkers.”
But babies, at least, will always know what they want.