In 2015, Robin Hayes was living in Gardiner and doing respite foster care for a newborn. "His sister was just two years old, so I helped the family out a lot," she says. "I had him two to three full days a week when his foster mom worked, and I just got attached to the little guy."
For Robin, a hobby sewer, this attachment manifested in bespoke baby garments. After seeing her own son Sam's animations, she asked for the files to print them on fabric so she could stitch them into onesies and bibs, "You know, just for fun, for this little guy," she says.
Suddenly, everywhere she went with the babe—the bank line, the post office, story time at the local library—Robin was getting compliments on his clothing. "One day, my daughter Eva was home from college and came on rounds with us," Robin recalls. "She saw the response and said to me, 'Let's start a business after I graduate,' and I was like, 'Sure!'"
One diploma and six months of R&D later, Lucky Bug Clothing Company was born—a labor of love and family, with Robin at the helm as CEO, her daughter Eva in charge of operations, and her son Sam as creative director and illustrator. Their guiding principles were threefold: sustainability, great working conditions, and comfort.
They settled on an organic bamboo jersey fabric, which is naturally soft and stretchy—both necessary qualities for a wiggling, crawling, burping, and falling baby. Initially, they were planning to outsource all their sewing to the city, when Robin decided to tour The Accelerator, a production facility and business incubator in New Windsor.
"They proposed that I do it all on site, train and hire people locally," Robin recalls. "I said, 'Great idea, but that's more than I can do.' I handsew, but I don't really sew—it felt out of my league. But they said, 'We'll help you find people to train your employees.'" So Robin conferred with Eva, who decided to postpone graduate school for a year, and the pair joined the incubator. By 2017, they were producing onsite, using a team of sewers they had trained in-house.
A poster child for IDA's mission, Lucky Bug began creating jobs and training people in marketable workplace skills. "We got three training grants through SUNY Orange, which were so supportive," Robin says. "Most of the women trained together onsite—it was very community-building."
But it wasn't long before Lucky Bug outgrew their facility, and in the spring of 2018, they moved their production to the city to meet the growing demand. "It was a slow transition, because we didn't want to leave anyone hanging," Eva says. Luckily, there was a happy solution in-house: The women they had trained went on to sew for a high-volume manufacturer also housed in The Accelerator. "It was the perfect dovetail," Robin says.
Lucky Bug now produces 4,000 to 5,000 units a year. The fabric is knitted and printed in LA and stitched at a small sewing studio in Brooklyn. With 11 prints currently available, their line of organic bamboo babywear has expanded to include onesies, pants, rompers, bibs, and blankets for newborns through toddlers.
"We have several super fun new prints that we hope to release in the next year—so cute," Robin gushes. "We also are putting more focus on partnering with other small businesses to create exciting collaborations for the future."
Though the majority of their business is through their online retail store, they are planning to onboard several wholesale accounts later this year. "In 2018, we had a long residency at Artists and Fleas market in SoHo, where we had a great response and had the opportunity to sell our items to people from all over the world," Robin says. "This market experience helped us refine our brand and made us enthusiastic to move into the wholesale market."
The Hayes's commitment to environmental sustainability is stitched into everything they do—from the Prius Robin drives to their plastic-free packaging.
"We don't want to come off as sounding too precious with the environmental stuff," Robin says. "But having spent all of our time and putting all of our heart into it, we want it to be consistent with our values. We are always, always about sustainability, working conditions, and style. That informs every single decision we make. And luckily, we're living in a really good time for that."