Finnish designer Nina Ignatius didn’t know what to say when the nurses at the neonatal intensive care unit asked her what clothing she’d like to dress her premature newborn in. “She was full of wires, her skin was paper thin and she was inside an incubator. I thought, how can you dress her?”
Clothing, the nurses explained, is good for the baby’s development. “Every feeling they feel is developing neurons in the brain,” Nina says. “Without experiences you don’t have any memory – you don’t have any understanding.”
The babywear revolution
Dressing a prematurely born baby often involves removing and reattaching wires, a process that can cause infection. Labels on the neck of the clothing and hard, chafing seams also seemed impractical to Nina.
All of which led the designer to start up Beibamboo, a community design patented collection of label-free, size-adjustable clothing that’s 50% bamboo, 50% organic cotton. The company features a regular and a hospital-wear collection: the onesies in the latter range have a fully open design so parents can dress their child in an incubator without interfering with important tubes. They also come with folding mitts, which stop the baby tampering with wires and scratching themselves. All items are washable in warm degrees because cold washes don’t kill off germs, Nina explains.
The hospital clothing is designed to help children get better faster. Leaving everything up to the nurses can make parents feel helpless, while giving parents charge of their child’s care can have positive results. A mount sinai study tasked parents with responsibilities otherwise left up to nurses, such as bathing and changing diapers, monitoring the infant’s vital signs, and recording feedings and weight gain on their medical chart. There was a 25% improvement in weight gain of the babies who were looked after by the parents. Infection rates fell from 11% in the nurse group to zero in the parent group, and treatment errors dropped by 25%. Parental satisfaction went up, parental stress went down.
It’s smart design – without the tech. Nina sees a growing trend in Finnish health start-ups for innovation that doesn’t revolve around technology and apps. “The clothing works with the system we have now. They’d work in a hospital in the US and Africa, and they’ll work without a manual. They’ll work if there’s a power cut and you don’t need any training to use them,” she says.
Bamboo can grow and spread quickly without the need for fertilisers, pesticides or much water, making it an eco-friendly fabric. Beibamboo’s items aren’t unaffordable (from roughly £18 for a baby grow) – but “it’s true that our clothing is more expensive to manufacture than one’s that are made in a sweatshop”, Nina says.
But how much people are willing to pay for healthcare depends on where they’re based, Nina says. According to a survey published by the European Commission in 2000, Finland has the highest number of people satisfied with their hospital care system in the EU (the figure stands at 88% compared with the EU average of 41.3%), a quality of service that’s often attributed to high tax rates. “People here expect to be given everything they need for free’, Nina says. In the US, where people rely on insurance, “they’re more likely to spend on stuff because they expect to.”
Which means Beibamboo’s looking to expand overseas – and aside from the US, another market of interest is China, where e-shoppers are reportedly purchasing baby products from abroad because of faith in their superior quality. This might be a result of the contaminated milk scandal of 2008, which left six babies dead, another 300,000 ill and led to an increase in demand for imported baby milk.
But geographical dynamics aside, Beibamboo might prove cost-effective in the longterm for everybody. If the clothing works as expected and can in fact speed up recovery, the reduction of hospital time could potentially be converted into money saved – which is a win for both the hospitals in welfare-based systems as well as consumers in insurance-based healthcare systems. “It’s something that could be proven – it would just take some time to do it,” Nina says.
Beibamboo is currently working with a US partner to put the clothing through clinical trials.