Hundreds of thousands of Maya Wrap slings have carried hundreds of thousands of babies over the past 25 years. Many of those have carried more than one baby from more than one family.
In 1995, Maya Wrap revolutionized the ring sling. With the open tail, the fully adjustable design, and the beautiful, breathable-yet-durable handwoven fabrics, the Maya Wrap ring sling brought a carrier to the US market that held the caregiver-baby dyad in an embrace closely resembling most traditional cloth carrying traditions.
The act of babywearing – carrying a baby close to the caregiver in a way that mimics holding a baby in-arms – is thought to be as old as humanity. In fact, some anthropologists believe that babywearing may have allowed humans to develop our large brains. The rich history of carrying traditions around the world is complex and limitless. Unfortunately, most accounts of “babywearing history” are incomplete accounts written through the colonized eyes of modern Western parents, but here is one brief overview of the history of babywearing. The true history of carrying is as rich and varied as humanity itself. (If you’re interested in learning more about carrying traditions around the world, the book “Babies Celebrated” includes a beautiful anthropological compilation with countless examples and beautiful photos.)
Of course, Maya Wrap did not invent babywearing or even invent the ring sling. Rayner and Sachi Gardner are thought to have created the first modern ring slings, taking a traditional carrying shawl and adding wooden rings, padding, and other construction. They would later sell the design to Dr. William Sears, who coined the term “babywearing.”
But the open-tailed ring slings that Maya Wrap created, believed to be the first such slings widely available in the Western world, popularized the practice of using soft carriers and inspired hundreds of other entrepreneurs to follow suit with their own innovative variations on these carriers, eventually paving the way for wraps, meh dais, and other more traditional style of carriers to become popular in North America and other parts of the Western world.
Personalized Customer Service and Quality Education
Maya Wrap has been committed to customer service since its inception, even in a time when technology was limited. Almost from the beginning, Maya Wrap had an 800 number customers could call for help and ordering, and it was sewn into the shoulder of every sling. Each Maya Wrap carrier was shipped with either a VHS or DVD of extensive video instructions.
Remember that the world-wide web was only launched in 1991, and e-commerce didn’t really get a toehold until Amazon and E-bay launched in 1995, the same year Maya Wrap launched its carriers. Etsy didn’t exist until 2005, which is the same year YouTube premiered the concept of an online video platform. Even the first digital cameras weren’t available to the public until 1994, and these were very expensive and limited in their ability to capture quality images.
Maya Wrap’s ecommerce website was launched right at the turn of the century/millennium, when there were few such websites in existence. A key feature of the website was a listing of Maya Wrap distributors, so that customers could get personalized, local service whenever possible.
Today, customers can still receive that careful, personalized service on a variety of platforms, including the 800 number and a handful of small, local boutiques.
The Fabric and the Amazing Open Tail
Maya Wrap is best known for its unique, carefully-chosen fabrics, many of which are hand-loomed in Guatamala and have been for 25 years. The material has almost magical qualities, in particular the way the fabric “gives” and hugs the curves of both caregiver and baby for maximum comfort. “In the beginning, I didn’t start with the idea to use handloomed fabric,” Susan explains. “My dad was doing humanitarian work in Guatemala, and he noticed that many women carried their babies in beautiful woven cloths. My husband was struck by the beauty of the fabrics and suggested that my dad might be able to buy some fabric in the markets. My dad helped me connect with a local organization that served as a rescue for homeless young women who sewed our slings for us until we began to need more carriers than they could produce.”
From early on, Susan paid careful attention to each detail of her fabrics. Periodically, Maya Wrap tests its fabrics for strength, resistance to tearing, and durability. The fabrics are also tested to ensure the dyes are safe for babies. Maya Wrap’s fabrics became legendary in the baby carrying world – while no fabric will last forever, Maya Wrap slings combine floppy softness when broken in with reliable durability and strength over time.
In the Words of Maya Wrap’s Founder
“People liked my fabric because it was sturdy, cotton, breathable, handloomed, and comfortable. They liked the open tail of our slings. There was nobody else mass-producing an open-tailed sling.” Other ring slings on the market at the time had tails sewn into a small strap, limiting the adjustability of the carriers. They were heavily padded and often hot and bulky. The fabrics were those used for diaper bags at the time – teddy bears, polka dots. (The amazing variety of fashion-forward parenting accessories available today would not be readily available until the mid-2000s.)
“As time went by I needed more slings than my Dad could bring home in extra suitcases. I had to find a manufacturer who could make them and ship them to me. I called the Guatemalan embassy and asked for a list of weavers of typical fabric. I sent a letter to every single one of them. Six weeks later I heard from two companies.” (If you’d like to learn more about Susan the woman, check out this interview where she talks about her trip to a painted rock, becoming a pilot, and founding Maya Wrap.)
When Maya Wrap needed a larger-scale manufacturer to support Maya Wrap, Susan sought a manufacturing company that worked closely with indigenous weavers to create the traditional fabric designs. “I ended up working with a man, Don Be, who for decades had been in the business of buying fabric sewn in the highlands and making Guatemalan handicrafts. Sadly, Don Be has since passed away. When he died, Luis, his right-hand man, became the owner of the company. Luis is as honest and reliable as Don Be was, and he continues to work with indigenous weavers and make high-quality carriers for us.
“In 2006 I had a company called Coverco audit our manufacturer to ensure we were doing business as ethically as we thought we were. Based on the audit results, we made some changes and our prices went up. Recently, I revisited our costs with Luis to ensure the weavers were being fairly compensated in accordance with the rising costs of living, and we decided to raise the price he is paying the weavers.”
The original Maya Wrap design was inspired by Susan’s neighbor who sometimes made slings for friends and family. When Susan’s first baby was born, she bought a carrier from a big box store, but by the time her son was about 15 pounds the carrier was no longer comfortable. A friend told her about her neighbor’s slings, and Susan reached out to her and purchased one.
When Susan’s second child was about 2, she wanted to get a second sling. By then, both Susan and her neighbor had moved, and Susan didn’t have her contact information – in the days before the internet was popular, this was not uncommon. So Susan considered the sling her neighbor had made her, adjusted the design to suit her needs and preferences, and crafted the first Maya Wrap ring sling.
Predictably, others were interested in her ring sling, and before long, friends and family were urging her to sell her carriers. Although she hadn’t intended to go into business, she saw a clear need in the market and it was apparent that she could serve families with her carrier design.
The Original Maya Wrap
The Original Maya Wrap ring slings had an accordion-folded shoulder design with an integrated shoulder cap for maximum comfort. The design was easy to use, easy to fit, and easy to adjust, and that design served Maya Wrap for many years.
Over time, more entrepreneurs saw the opportunity in creating and selling their own variations on the ring sling, and some of them spent a great deal of time innovating the shoulder design to ensure they were bringing something new and unique to the market. Testing and discussing these different shoulder styles became a hobby for some parents.
Parents loved the simplicity and streamlined design of the Maya Wrap shoulder, but they wanted a bit more “cush” on the shoulder and a more streamlined design, visually. It was time for the Maya Wrap design to evolve with the modern babywearing climate.
Today’s Maya Wrap
Susan and her team began testing variations of the design, ultimately landing on the easy-to-use Lightly Padded Sling. Contrary to its name, the LPS is not a “padded” sling at all – rather, it is a carefully constructed shoulder that is lined with a thick fleece to create the “cush” her customers were seeking without adding bulk or fuss. The sling was still easy to use right out of the package – even easier, in fact, than the original design.
After the launch of the Lightly Padded Sling, some customers said they wished the shoulder was a bit more customizable. There was also a feeling among some babywearers that padding in a sling was “cheating” – people wanted the cush, comfort, and quality of a Maya Wrap sling but without the “padding” (which, remember, is not actually padding).
Based on this feedback from customers and retailers, Susan and her design team went back to work to craft a shoulder style that was still easy to use and impeccably comfortable but offered a bit more customization for those customers who preferred it. The Comfort Fit Sling emerged from this endeavor.
Like the LPS, the Comfort Fit sling was cushy and comfortable on the shoulder, but it used an innovative fabric loop and a special spandex lining on the shoulder to offer easy, adjustable, lightweight comfort. It was made to fit a wide variety of body sizes, shoulder shapes, and to be easy to share between two caregivers even if they’re of very different shapes and sizes. Plus-sized users particularly love the design, although users of all sizes enjoy both styles of sling.
More on Maya Wrap’s Two Sling Styles
There are no hard-and-fast rules about which style is “better” for different customers. Just like the choice between boot-cut and skinny jeans, there are people who prefer one over the other and those who like both equally.
However, based on experience, feedback, and sales data, there are some generalizations that can be made about who prefers each style of sling.
If you want to learn more about which style might suit you best, you can take our quiz for a personalized recommendation.
Other Carrier Styles
Maya Wrap has always strived to do the most good for the greatest number of people, and therefore, Maya Wrap has designed a variety of other carrier styles in an effort to serve their customers who don’t prefer ring slings for any number of reasons.
In addition to the beloved Maya Wrap ring slings and complementary accessories, Maya Wrap has made both sized and adjustable pouches, the Maya Tie (a meh-dai style carrier), and premium woven wraps (still available). Although these other carriers have filled holes in the market, what customers love most about Maya Wrap is our ring slings, so those are the carriers we keep coming back to.
Leadership in Baby Carrier Safety and Compliance
Maya Wrap has been a leader in baby carrier safety since before there were ASTM standards for baby carriers. The first baby carrier standard was published in 2003, and it specifically excluded sling carriers, so in 2007 Susan joined other industry leaders in calling for a standard for baby slings in order to ensure that her carriers were rigorously tested to the highest possible safety standards.
Even though there was no standard for infant slings until 2010, Susan was already testing her carriers. She tested things like strength and resistance to tearing of her fabrics to ensure they were suitable for carrying babies and toddlers and even preschoolers.
Susan has been involved in the creation of the baby sling standard since its first meeting, and in the standard for soft carriers as well. In fact, Susan led the task group for infant positioning, a committee designed to ensure all infants are positioned in the sling in the most optimal position. Incorrect positioning in carseats, baby swings, bouncers, baby carriers, and even in parents’ arms is an issue that researchers have been investigating for many years.
In addition to her work on the ASTM committees, Susan was heavily involved in the founding of the Baby Carrier Industry Alliance, an international trade group that brought together babywearing educators, manufacturers, and retailers in a first-of-its-kind interdisciplinary organization that worked to ensure that all voices in the baby carrier industry were heard, lifted, and supported. The BCIA has been working since 2010 to get more babies into the safest possible place – their parents’ arms, where they can be constantly observed and monitored right from their births.
What You Buy When You Buy a Maya Wrap Sling
Today, there are hundreds of companies selling ring slings. Yet, Maya Wrap slings remain a family favorite. Why?
No Cut Corners
Firstly, Maya Wrap believes that families deserve the best ring slings at a fair price. Maya Wrap will never skimp on materials, ethics, testing, labor costs, or quality in order to save costs.
As we’ve explained previously in this article, Maya Wrap is committed to using the highest quality materials and buying them at a fair price. When possible, Maya Wrap sources materials inside the US from family-owned businesses, and otherwise works with an Indigenous Guatemalan company for fabric and sewing.
American-Made, Top-Quality Hardware
In addition to the high-quality fabrics and living wages used to produce Maya Wrap slings, the rings are made by SlingRings. SlingRings is a small family-owned business in Arizona who created a proprietary method for making seamless, weld-free, lightweight rings specifically for the purpose of carrying babies. Their products have inspired overseas companies who utilize their invention to make similar rings at a much lower price, but Maya Wrap continues to pay for SlingRings quality and assurance.
Most rings are batch-tested, which means that rings are pulled at random to test for strength and integrity. SlingRings, however, are individually pull-tested to ensure that each ring meets rigorous safety standards. They are also tested for resistance to various temperatures, chemicals, and other factors that can cause some styles of rings to become brittle or prone to bending out of shape.
Leadership and Advocacy
When you purchase a Maya Wrap sling, in addition to the sling itself and all the care and quality sewn into baby carrier, you are also supporting other families in carrying their babies and realizing the benefits of babywearing. Susan has been the treasurer for the Baby Carrier Industry Alliance since she helped create the organization as a Founding Board Member in 2010. She continues to support various babywearing nonprofits and has been involved in babywearing conferences since the first North American Babywearing Conference in 2006. She continues to be an active member of the ASTM Sling and Carrier Standards committees. So by purchasing a Maya Wrap sling, you are supporting Maya Wrap’s work in supporting affordable access to rigorously tested baby carriers for all families.
A Quarter Century: A New Generation of Maya Wrap Families
Susan is a grandmother now, and she is still carrying the new generation of babies in Maya Wrap slings. In fact, many of Maya Wrap’s original customers have grandchildren now, and some of them are proudly passing on the carrying tradition in Maya Wrap slings. She didn’t know, in 1995, that her fledgling company would impact so many, and she couldn’t possibly have envisioned herself one day carrying her grandbabies in one of her own slings.
Susan certainly never imagined that her carrier would one day reach hundreds of thousands of people, and yet in a quarter century, that is exactly what has happened. The author of this article knows countless women who were connected with each other simply because of Maya Wrap slings, and also many women who, like the author, have had their entire parenting journey shaped by finding Maya Wrap and the carrying community before “babywearing” was commonplace in the US.
If Maya Wrap has touched your life, or if you’re a second generation babywearer, or even if you just have a question, we’d love to read your responses to this story, so please comment below!