Baby Gear Boom

You're about to become a new parent and you're in the market for a stroller or crib for your newborn, but you want to avoid the countrified aesthetic your in-laws are pushing. Don't despair. There are more options than ever before. Just don't be surprised by sticker shock -- baby accessories have become high-priced, highly designed gear and furniture.

Type in "baby gear" on Google and you will get more than 36 million results. Try "cool baby gear" and you'll retrieve more than 5 million pages. If you're still desperate, try searching "hip baby gear" and you'll have more than 2 million pages for the choosing.

The market for baby gear has more than quadrupled in the last 20 years -- the industry had more than $7.3 billion in sales last year -- and it does not appear to be a waning trend.

After a few minutes browsing the net or shopping at the various baby boutiques, which have cropped up from Los Angeles to Chicago to New York in the last five years, new parents might think that they'll only be able to have cribs for their child if they wear barrels for clothes for the first five years of parenthood.

If you're obsessing about really needing a $600 Finnish bassinet, a Moderne $1,600 crib with matching $1,500 changing station, or the Dutch-designed Bugaboo stroller that will run you a grand (there's currently a $4,000 Maclaren on the market if you're desperate) don't fret. Strollers, cribs, and high chairs can still be purchased for under $100, but it's just as easy to find the items that cost over a $1,000 these days.

Nyro Murphy owns Bump, a maternity and baby boutique in Seattle and believes designer baby gear is just starting to reach its potential: "There are new products being created every day. It's a huge market, a booming market, and there's a lot of competition within the marketplace."

The reason she believes new parents are willing to spend more than $300 on high chairs and $500 on an organic mattress -- cache? "It's definitely status driven. People are marketing new high end products as status symbols."

According to American Baby magazine, the average new parent spends between $500 and $7,000 in the baby's first year. Some parents spend much more than that.

"I have a Bugaboo, I have a Maclaren, I have Snap and Go, and I have a Phil and Ted's," said Manhattan mother Danielle Reilly as she lists off the manufacturers of her four strollers. She has two children and they have tons of gear.

"I have every dumb thing that anyone could buy. I mean all the things they tell you that you don't need -- I have," she continued. "I like the outrageous stuff, the more bells and whistles the better. I just think it's more fun for the kids."

Industry observers see the boom as a reflection of the changing demographics of parenthood in the United States and, in many quarters, growth of personal wealth.

"The consumer has changed. People are now having children at a point in their lives where they are financially stable," Heather Ross, the founder of the Munki Munki line of children's clothes, told ABC News. Ross has seen the emergence of the lavish changing tables, strollers and cribs firsthand.

"It's totally different than what it was like 15 or 20 years ago," she said. "Our generation is at a point where we know how quickly stuff falls apart. We know it stinks to spend money on something, no matter how little an amount of money it was, and have it break or fall apart. Now people are really thinking about quality."

But can't one find a highchair for under $100 bucks that will do the job? Yes, but that may not be the point. Many new parents perceive "just doing the job" as no longer good enough.

"When you have kids later you obsess about how you're going to be different from other parents," said Ross. She argues that to a large degree the growth of luxury, hip and high-end baby items is a result of the parents' needs -- not the babies.

"It's totally a matter of keeping up with the Joneses in the sense that you have to be the person with the new thing. You have to be the person who discovered the new hot thing and if you're not one of the first 30 people with it you're not interested."

Not everyone's buying into the trend.

Dr. Jennifer Ball, a professor at Brooklyn College, has two young children (both of whom slept in the same crib she did when growing up more than 30 years ago). She sees the allure of the new "hip" offering for tots.

"Everything's so cool looking, and it's hard not to want to buy some of the stuff," she said. However, she believes buying into the bonanza of design and trend conscious baby items is shortsighted. "It's such a waste, even if you have money, because your kids use almost everything for such a short time that it just doesn't need to be the top quality."

Reilly concedes many of the expensive gadgets have been neglected the second time around. "I have a wipes warmer, first baby used it all the time. Second baby, poor thing, I never use it for him. I have a bottle warmer, once again, first baby used it -- second baby, not so much."

Does spending all that money on a crib, stroller or bassinet give parents a sense of security?

Ross believes the comfort of knowing that what parents buy for their children is well made and safe is an important reason why luxury baby items have become commonplace.

"You want to be really sure that what you're buying is the safest, best. You're trying to create this perfect nest. You willing to pay extra to make sure your gear is superior."

Bump's Murphy sees it as a reflection of a large portion of this generation that's more design conscious than their parents or grandparents ever thought to be. "Our generation started buying cool furniture for ourselves and as things became more widely available people definitely started taking part in the 'mini-me' phenomenon through having a baby. And now you want to extend that cool factor to the baby gear for your children or maybe a kid's nursery."

Of course, furniture and strollers aren't the only expensive objects on the market today. If you're a parent who wants the $17,000 diamond pacifier, the $850 Gucci baby carrier, the $3,000 Goyard diaper bag, the $280 cashmere baby sling or even the $300 Danish-made diaper pail for your newborn, then options are available, but Murphy suggests one might want to ask "for whom are you really buying these items?"

"I think people want most of it for themselves, so they want it for their children. I think people take it for granted now that's what they are doing. No one wants to stop and really consider that it's possibly getting out of hand."

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