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Baby, this is for you

Annual fair originated with 'mompreneur' who saw a niche for new parents

Once upon a time it was common for mothers to spend more than the first year of their child's life raising them at home.

With improved women's rights also came demanding careers. With careers came double-income families. With double incomes came bigger debt. With bigger debt came many parents unable to stay at home raising kids beyond the legislated parental leave limits.

In the last few years I've noticed a growing number of new mothers with successful careers venturing into entrepreneurship. Many have left behind the 40-hour office work week to have more flexible lives closer to their children.

The Vancouver Island Baby Fair is run by one such "mompreneur." It also features several others, including some intriguing Vancouver Island children's clothing designers.

"I was pregnant with my daughter when I noticed a lack of stores catering to that special time from pregnancy to pre-school," Shirley Broback, founder of the Baby Fair, tells me. As a professional event planner, she started brainstorming ways to connect new parents. "A lot of moms on maternity get inspired by their growing baby and also want to spend more time with them rather than go back to a full-time job."

The flow of ideas and desire to spend more time with her newborn daughter led Broback to conceive the fair, a place for stores and services catering to tots to connect with families and each other.

"The first one in 2007 was a great success," Broback says. The Pearkes Recreation Centre was packed with exhibits on everything from baby portraits to natural nappies and perinatal health to financial planning. A speakers' stage featured Erica Ehm, a former VJ for MuchMusic who is famous for her Yummy Mummy club.

This year the baby fair was held in Nanaimo in June and will be in Victoria Sept. 25 and 26. It features dozens of exhibitors, a photo contest, a speakers' stage and performers -- including the Juno-nominated Island duo Bobs and Lolo.

Broback got a boost to her baby fair business last year when she won the Savvy Mom Entrepreneur of the Year Award with a $15,000 prize package.

"It was a great help, especially for business planning," she says. "But having a business still takes a lot of work. Moms need help, too. Which is why child care is essential a few days a week."

Valerie Veilleux, 28, is learning to balance business and babies. Her one-of-a-kind clothing line Maman Bidule was a hit in June at the baby fair in Nanaimo, where she lives with her partner and two children under five.

"My goal is to make an extra income for my family, but it's hard with two very active children," says the former esthetician who hoped to be at the Victoria Fair but can't make it. Her love of fashion culminated in re-purposing old clothes into new styles for kids. She sells mostly at markets and on Etsy.com.

"More than fashion, I hope my kids learn they don't need everything new, that they can experiment and make things special," she says.

Childhood friends Kate Palmer and Brooke Gentry, both 33, re-connected as new mothers on maternity leave in their hometown of Lantzville. They were both looking for unique kids' clothing and a business opportunity that would give them more time at home.

"We chatted on Facebook and met for coffee, talking about how it was hard to find clothing for babies that was organic or not blue for boys, pink for girls," says Palmer, who worked as a mental-health clinician for the provincial government. Gentry worked in marketing for a dental office. "Going back to an intense job full-time was also daunting. So we decided to take our idea and go for it."

With some marketing and branding help, Hudson & Saige was born. Named after their children, a boy and girl born five weeks apart, the line features affordable organic black and white styles with easy diaper access.

"There's not a lot of black and white baby clothing out there, surprisingly," Gentry says. "We also use five words on some of the styles -- creativity, generosity, compassion, gratitude and laughter -- that we hope inspire conversation about these values around kids."

Saanich resident Lindsay McRay, 27, wanted to go back to her community relations job at Telus after being on maternity leave with her daughter Lauren. But she wasn't able to do that part-time or in a job-share so she decided to look for something else that would give her more time with her infant. "I looked for months but couldn't find anything," she says.

Then a friend sent her a pattern to make a tutu for her daughter. She started making them for friends and decided to start selling them a few months ago as her new business: Boogie Woogie Tutus.

"They're made for everyday wear [cut short for crawling] and are cheap [$30] compared to others in stores," she says. "I grew up in a single-parent home where we couldn't afford tutus for me to dance in."

McRay's tutus were also a hit at the Nanaimo Baby Fair. They're now available at Buddies Toys and Jamtots in Victoria and Podlings in Courtenay.

"Funny enough, just as business took off I got a job I really like," she says, now with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. However, part-time work at home still gives her time for tutus and Lauren.

Hudson and Saige and Boogie Woogie Tutus will be at the Vancouver Island Baby Fair in Victoria.

spetrescu@tc.canwest.com

THE VANCOUVER ISLAND BABY FAIR

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 25, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 26

Where: Pearkes Recreation Centre, 3100 Tillicum Rd.

Cost: $7 per person, kids 12 and under are free. Add $1 for a weekend pass

For more information, visit vancouverislandbabyfair.com