Bison Booties: Women sew colorful creations at home in ND
MANDAN, N.D. - Tiny baby booties represent a taste of North Dakota in every state and 14 countries.
Hager, who sewed for a hobby, created about 30 pairs of booties in her basement to perfect the fit and function. The soft cotton booties with a vegan-friendly Sherpa fleece insole and suede-like outsole comfortably hug babies feet – no more kicked-off socks or half-on booties.
She started selling the booties by listing five pairs in her online shop so a friend of a friend could purchase them.
Since then, she’s sold more than 8,000 pairs across the U.S. and to 14 countries.
“You make something, and it’s like the ultimate goal to have someone say ‘I want those,’ ” she says.
Hager garnered national attention when she became a top 10 finalist for the 2010 Martha Stewart American Made contest, beating out thousands of contestants. The other finalists that year had warehouses and employees while Hager was still a one-woman business.
She says the support of North Dakota propelled her to the finals since friends, family members and strangers voted for Bison Booties.
“I still look back and think it was just a dream, just to be included in that elite group of makers,” she says.
She’s also earned some celebrity fans, like actress Jaime King, who outfits her son, James Knight Newman, in Bison Booties. The booties have also been worn by babies on NBC’s “Parenthood” and “About a Boy.”
Today, Hager’s daughter who inspired the business is 4, and Hager has a 1-year-old son, too. She’s still a stay-at-home mom, but she’s also a business owner who employs a handful of women who help create Bison Booties.
“It was a lot of work, but looking back, things just clicked into place, and North Dakota as a community is just fantastic for support,” she says. “There’s something really special about North Dakota where you’re not just lost in the big fish pond.”
All but one of the women Hager contracts are moms, and all but two are stay-at-home moms.
“It’s truly cool that I can help support other families and other moms and they’re able to work at home and with their kids and do what I’m doing,” she says.
While the women have a role in various steps of the booties, Hager’s hands touch each pair at some point during the process. She also picks all fabrics and fabric pairings, answers company emails, and packages and ships the booties.
“The people who are making these are properly compensated, and you’re supporting someone in your neighborhood, whether that be the U.S. neighborhood or your local neighborhood,” Hager says.
Unglued, a craft/handmade shop in Fargo, sells Bison Booties, and they’ve become “insanely popular” with customers, says owner Ashley Morken.
“We were drawn to her booties from the feedback of customers,” she says. “Before we even had them in stock here we were hearing moms rave about how they were the only booties they could have their babies keep on their feet comfortably without kicking off.”
Besides being locally handmade and functional, Morken says the booties appeal to customers because Hager chooses trendy, fun fabrics, like gold dots or robot patterns.
One of Hager’s most popular fabrics is the North Dakota map print. The fabric, which was designed exclusively for Bison Booties, appears on booties and matching bibs.
Hager plans to fashion the booties indefinitely, and her inventory has grown to include men’s and women’s sizes of Bison Booties Slippers, bibs and booties for youth.
“I don’t have this big dream that they’re going to be outsourced to China,” she says. “If they’re Bison Booties, they will be made locally, and they will be made very respectfully and responsibly. That’s the No. 1 goal of mine, to keep them that way.”
MORE INFORMATION - To buy Bison Booties, visit the website at BisonBooties.com, or Unglued at 408 Broadway in Fargo.
- Connect with Bison Booties at Facebook.com/bisonbooties.