LOCAL PROFILES: Jennifer Cattaui (Babesta) (7.12.17)
Whether it’s for a gift for a friend’s child or something fun to upgrade our own kids’ wardrobes, Babesta is our go-to shop downtown for everything a city kid needs. With two locations (Babesta BPC at Brookfield Place & Babesta Cribz at 56 Warren St) to cover all of your needs, from cribs to strollers to decor to the perfect seasonal outfit, Babesta has been helping kids embrace their unique personalities and tastes (as well as their parents’) since 2004.
We were really excited to talk to Jennifer Cattaui, owner & founder of Babesta, to learn more about what it takes to run the coolest family-focused shops below Canal Street, how Babesta is evolving, the secret services & programs they offer that you may not know about (but should be taking advantage of)...
So you’ve lived in Tribeca since 2001 and opened Babesta in 2004.Tell us about Babesta’s history…
Just as we are today, when we launched, we were all about bringing together kids’ clothing that was a nod to pop culture and got people excited about kids clothes, especially at a time when all we saw was pink and blue clothing that didn’t excite us at all. The market wasn’t as robust as it is now, and it was really hard to find clothing that reflected the city kid’s aesthetics, personality and needs. We wanted to help parents and kids find ways to have more personalized styles and fashion sense.
So how did the first Babesta store, Babesta Threads, come to exist?
We opened online in 2004, and didn’t open a brick and mortar store until 2007. When we launched online, we got a great mention in the press and a lot of encouragement locally as we were participating in a lot of neighborhood events in Tribeca. Our first store, Babesta Threads, was not part of the business plan. But when we saw the space on West Broadway, we thought it felt so “Babesta”, and decided to just go for it...right before the opening of Tribeca Film Festival in 2007. We launched in beta and, from there, learned how to be a neighborhood store. We started with just t-shirts, then quickly learned that to grow we would need to figure out how to translate what Babesta stood for into what a Babesta pant looked like, what a Babesta sock looked like, etc. It was crucial, and still is, to figure out how our point of view is reflected in what we offer the neighborhood.
How has the neighborhood impacted how Babesta has grown and evolved?
With our first store, we slowly grew to selling furniture, strollers and more, all based on the response from the neighborhood and the growing number of families. We could see what people needed as more and more families moved downtown, and wanted to ensure we could support them. For example, if you come to Babesta Cribz, we let parents take our strollers out for a test on the streets and sidewalks so you know exactly what it feels like to push the strollers, versus the traditional way of testing them on flat, indoor store floors that don't exactly mimic the streets of New York or cobblestones of Tribeca. We’ve let local customers borrow strollers to ensure they can get into a small elevator or navigate narrow hallways (especially important with doubles!) We make housecalls when needed & have stayed open to all hours to help a panicked customer get what they need.
In 2009, we opened Babesta Cribz based on the demand of families wanting to see the furniture side of things, as well as focus on the gear families need. It created a new challenge for us to figure out who we are outside of clothing. As a brand that is all about indie rock & roll with high production value, how do we translate that into furniture and accessories? All of the brands we work with have a good ethos, solid production methodologies and everything that makes for a responsible furniture company. We’ve weeded out the brands that don't meet our expectations to ensure we can offer a variety of choices without too many choices. In 2015, we opened up at Brookfield Place, a testament to our commitment to the area, giving us a space where we can do in-store events, and reach more families in a different way. Most recently we decided to similarly integrate the Threads location into Cribz, re-launching it as Babesta Tribeca, to complement Babesta at Brookfield Place. Though both locations offer the full range, Babesta Tribeca has a greater selection of furniture, while Babesta Brookfield Place specializes in gift and clothing. The two work in tandem to give the full experience of Babesta! We are exploring other places now to see what other nabes could use a Babesta! (suggestions welcome!)
How is Babesta different than other shops?
It’s a really personal experience-we have the best team of warm associates who know their stuff and are passionate about kids fashion & gear. Whether they had a background in kids before (or their own kids) they make it their business to stay in-the-know and pass that on to our clientele. We know all of the people behind all of the brands we work with and really believe in them. We offer families the time & space, the product knowledge (gained from 13 years of clients and our own kids), and peace of mind, where clients know there’s someone there for them if they need it! As we expand and grow our selection, we continue to focus on differentiation via curation with a city child in mind. When determining what products to offer and brands to partner with, we always ask ourselves if the products will help a city child stand out, be able to express themselves, and remove any frictions that come with city living. If a family is going to invest in clothing or gear or furniture, it should be a durable and cool as they are. We don't bring on products that aren't meaningful different and better, so we can limit choice and cut the clutter out for busy families by offering the right choices (versus everything) to make decision making easier.
How is raising a child below Canal Street different than anywhere else?
There are certain things you need out of your gear here that you don't need in other areas of the country or world. Think about it: When you leave your home in the morning, you’re often out with your child for hours – not in a car, but walking, in a taxi, on the subway. You need efficiency, you need space, you need durability, and a little bit of downtown attitude...what you need here is way different than what you need in a suburb.
What else does Babesta offer that people may not know about?
We know families are short on time & space, and want to stand out, so we want to help them manage their time by giving them the right products and helping make their lives easier. For example, any purchase that you make, we will hold on to it until you need it so your new crib, stroller or whatever else you need isn’t cluttering your apartment until it’s actually needed. We also offer white glove service and free delivery below Canal Street. If you choose to shop online, we’re constantly expanding our online selection, and also offer pre-shopping so you can pay online and pick up in-store. We do our best to keep our prices competitive – we did start online – so we do price match on goods. For gift givers, we do custom gift baskets based upon your tastes (rock & roll and NYC are popular themes!), and we offer the “Onesie of the Month Club” where we send a new onesie every month for 12 months.
What are you working on now that excites you?
In addition to putting out Babesta Beat, our 2x/year lifestyle magazine, which we always love, and the window at Brookfield which is super fun, we’re doing more in-store events to help families make the most of their gear and purchases. Whether it’s learning for the first time how to collapse and open a stroller, or a refresh for parents who haven't used their gear in a few years, we have plenty of in-store events coming up so we can help parents get comfortable with and make the most of their purchases. We also believe in reaching out to people where they are. If you follow us on Instagram, you'll see we are doing live Lunchtime Learning livestreams once a week, giving people a chance to explore products, have a conversation with us, and learn something new, even if they’re too busy to make it physically to the store. We’re all about supporting our families with expert advice, how-tos, and other tips to help make city living easier.
Starting this month, we’re also offering Babesta Basic Training, a service that goes between our stores to show new parents what they need, help them choose the right gear, furniture and clothing, and help them conquer the intimidation that often comes with becoming a parent. Of course, we host many parties and social get togethers in the shop, so that city parents can meet one another and bond over the fun of raising a cool city kid!