Tags:Honeywear Inc. began humbly enough: two busy working moms with an idea for a better baby sling. Now, after less than two years in operation, the home-based business appears poised to make the big time -- or at least take a giant leap.
Honeywear, an Alexander-based S corporation, was founded in January 2007, by Kristin Keliher and Christen Ward to offer affordable, American-made organic products. The company's first product, the Baby Bee Sling, is an adjustable, one-size-fits-all carrier for infants and toddlers. The carriers are available in a handful of retail stores in eight states; locally, they're sold at Heaven Rains, Nest Organics and The Littlest Bird in Asheville, as well as GreenPea Nursery in Cary, N.C. Honeywear plans to inaugurate a line of organic-cotton children's clothing this fall.
The fledgling company has already caught the eye of Forbes magazine's annual "Boost Your Business" contest. Entrepreneurs across the country are vying to garner the most online votes from readers in hopes of winning the $100,000 grand prize. Voters are asked to choose the companies with the best prospects for growth if given a modest financial assist. Four runners-up will receive office equipment from co-sponsor Hewlett-Packard.
The contest closes Sept. 30. At press time, Honeywear was holding a solid fourth place, says Keliher, who hopes WNC residents will log on to www.Forbes.com to help push them to the top -- and the grand prize. Now one of 20 companies in the semifinals, Honeywear has distinguished itself in a contest that began with nearly 1,500 applicants. If the company makes the final five, Ward and Keliher will be flown to New York, where they'll have to give a 10-minute presentation and take part in a 10-minute Q-and-A with Forbes editors. Those presentations will be recorded, and online voters will have a chance to help pick the winner.
Before launching Honeywear, Keliher was a massage therapist and stay-at-home mom. Ward -- a mother of four who co-owns SouthEast Ecological Design, a green-building firm -- says the original idea sprang from her own dissatisfaction with store-bought carriers.
"I had a hard time finding a baby sling that worked for me, so I started coming up with a hybrid. Then it occurred to me that I couldn't pull it off by myself," Ward explains. "That's when the other Kristin came in. We've been friends for years."
Honeywear was birthed via a $5,000 loan from a family member. The business has since acquired a $15,000 line of credit used to finance operations and production, says Keliher, adding: "We have some cash flow from sales. Our marketing expenses include giving away slings to blogs and magazines that provide PR, as well as [to] celebrities and other individuals who provide word-of-mouth advertising."
It seems to be working: In the first quarter of 2008 alone, Honeywear's gross equaled 75 percent of its total sales for last year, and at press time, the company's 2008 gross was already 121 percent of total 2007 sales, Keliher reports.
Honeywear's one-size-fits-all sling, which can carry up to a 30-pound child, is made of organic cotton and formaldehyde-free silks. "We're really focused on natural living -- eating organic, buying organic fabrics," Ward explains. "We did research for about six to eight months, trying to find out where we could source fabrics and who could we contract with to do the pattern design."
"When we created the company," adds Keliher, "we wanted to keep it sustainable and green. We print on recycled paper; our boxes that the sling comes in are compostable. We wanted to be as eco-friendly as we possibly could. We're still working toward that every day."
In addition, notes Ward, "We have a huge focus on the community -- creating jobs in Asheville." Seven local contract seamstresses produce upward of 250 slings every six weeks.
If Honeywear wins, it will use the prize money to strengthen its position in the retail market, says Ward. Forty percent would go for advertising and marketing to expand the company's current retail-and-wholesale customer base. Twenty-five percent would be used to boost the launch of its organic-clothing line; the remainder would be spent on salaries and on expanding the current line of carriers.
Both women believe their company can prevail, based on both the product's merits and the competition's history. Last year's winner, notes Ward, recycled yogurt containers into razors and toothbrushes that users could send back after use to be turned into new razors and toothbrushes. "Everybody seems to be looking for environmentally responsible, socially responsible companies," she notes.
And if Honeywear doesn't win?
"Oh, we're going to win," Ward proclaims. "We are going to win."
For more information, go to www.honeywear.net. To vote, visit www.forbes.com and click on the "entrepreneurs" link to access the "Boost Your Business 2008" page.