While growing up in Tipp City, Kelly Barth set her sights on a teaching career. She graduated from college and began teaching music at different schools all over the country, moving wherever her husband’s job with the Hershey Company took him.
“In 2013 we were living in North Carolina and my son (Conley) was born there,” Barth said. “I had to leave my teaching job because I wasn’t licensed in that state.”
Barth found herself a stay-at-home mom, not by her choice, but nonetheless, willing to embrace the opportunity to spend more time with her baby. Like many would-be entrepreneurs, Barth discovered a business opportunity by effectively solving a problem.
“I was trying to find baby shoes for Conley,” Barth said. “We couldn’t find any that would fit his feet. They were either too tight or they would fall off all the time.”
Barth decided to draw upon the sewing skills she learned from her grandmother when she was a child and designed a fabric shoe with a rubber sole that she knew would work well for her son, and possibly other babies and toddlers. “Cabooties” was the result of her creativity — the product is named after Conley Alexander Barth (CAB), her now 2½ year old son.
“I started selling my first shoes on Etsy (an online marketplace that connects creative entrepreneurs with buyers from across the globe),” Barth said. “And it turned into a way I could stay at home with Conley.
Cabooties are a cotton shoe lined with flannel that have elastic going around the ankle. Barth made them easy to pull open so chubby baby and toddler feet could slide in easily. The elastic keeps them in place and they don’t fall off. She also experimented with different types of rubber for the soles that would make them waterproof on the bottom.
“It was a trial-and-error method,” she said. “I first used a non-skid fabric with the little bumps but my son would wear holes in them too quickly. Then I went to a fake leather fabric I found but he would fall down when he walked.”
Barth ended up trying the same fabric that are used on gloves for gripping, contacted the manufacturer and was able to purchase the material. “It ended up being perfect,” she said.
Once her perfect “Cabootie” was developed, she began marketing the shoes online and sales were robust. “I was trying to solve a problem for my son and it turned out that a lot of people had the same problem,” Barth said. “Before I knew it, I sold a few thousand pairs on Etsy!”
Today, Cabooties are for sale in 30 stores in four countries, including one in Dayton in the Oregon District, “Heart Mercantile.” The shoes are designed for newborns on up to children wearing size 2 Toddler. Barth offers more than 100 different prints for her shoes and now her new line of boots, which are lined in fleece instead of flannel.
“When I first made the shoes, I was inspired by fabrics in the different baby carriers out there,” Barth said. “I got prints that matched the carriers and found designers I really liked.”
At 2 ½, Conley wears his Cabooties daily and Barth said he loves them. “The biggest thing I hear from customers is that children don’t pull them off and they don’t fall off,” she said.
Barth is also helping empower other women who want to stay at home by contracting out manufacturing of the shoes. “I have a small team of women in my local area who sew from their homes,” Barth said. “They pick up the fabric and drop the shoes off and get paid per shoe.”
The company is starting to venture into gift sets and is selling a set that includes a pair of Cabooties, a coordinated card and a matching blanket that Barth makes herself. And of course, she recognizes the benefit of being able to take her job anywhere the family may move.
“I was so excited to be contacted by the Dayton store (Heart Mercantile),” Barth said. “It’s great that my shoes are being sold in my home town and they continue to order from me. They tell me their customers love them because they fit so well.”