- Buyer's Guide
Leader Bag Co :: Baby Business
Diaper bags are a staple when it comes to EDC for new parents. The problem is that style often gets left behind – just like that poor stuffed toy on the park bench when parents are in a rush – and functionality becomes the focus. Though this is understandable, since there are often plenty of baby-related items that need to be transported from one place to another on a daily basis, the founders of the Leader Bag Co didn’t believe it was necessary. So they set out to create a diaper bag that serves baby EDC needs without sacrificing style. Their aim was to create a bag that moms as well as dads would feel comfortable carrying, one that would serve its intended purpose and look good doing so. To find out more, we caught up with Leader Bag Co to chat design, business challenges and creative inspirations…
How did Leader Bag Co come to be?
Leader Bag Co was born from a love of beautiful design, and the desire to create a family-centered product that is truly missing from the marketplace.
When Meghan Nesher was pregnant with her son, Julien, she went shopping for a diaper bag that would work for both she and her husband. Coming up empty-handed, she opted for a Brooklyn Industries messenger bag; great for function, not so much for fashion. After a few months of use, she switched to the Fjällräven backpack; stylish and more comfortable, but not super functional. It was around this time that Meghan and her sister-in-law Liz Elliott, also a new mom, had their lightbulb moment: Why isn’t there a diaper bag that is beautifully crafted, simply designed and practical for both mom and dad?
Meghan, Liz and third sister-in-law Jess Nesher formed and funded Leader Bag Co as a family business in 2013. Since inception, we’ve enlisted the help of technical designer and manufacturing guru Jay O’Neill to bring our idea to life, and the uber-talented Lotta Nieminen to create our brand aesthetic.
What key insights drive your stuff?
There is power in a strong family bond. We believe that in order to raise a healthy, happy family, each member’s unique roles should be celebrated.
For example, our husbands want to be involved in our kids’ lives at every level – so we want them to feel comfortable carrying the gear that goes along with it.
We also have a ton of respect for good design and meticulous process. Good design looks good – and makes you look good – for life, not just this season. Great design ages well, and grows with you.
Your brand is still only a year old, but what’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
As a team of four, we all bring different strengths to the table, but at the same time, we all have strong opinions about pretty much every aspect of the business. We value playing to each other’s unique talents, but it’s not always easy with lots of cooks in the kitchen. We are constantly perfecting our team’s balance.
Manufacturing in the US – we were totally warned over and over that this was going to be difficult. All of us are perfectionists, and we’re all demanding, and I don’t think Unionwear knew we’d be so high-maintenance. Lucky for us, they have tons of pride in their work and are always striving to exceed expectations – which they did and continue to do.
Best thing you’ve learned?
Mistakes are opportunities, either to learn from or to create something new.
Your signature diaper backpack, the Julien, is a slick answer to a universal need; what kind of R&D did you pursue in the early stages?
Since we were all new moms, we did a lot of research for ourselves in the diaper bag market. We spent time looking at bags we didn’t like – even bought a few to compare. At the same time, we collected non-diaper bags we liked too, mostly based on modern aesthetics and strong craftsmanship.
We made lists of all the gear we stuffed into our baby bags and measured everything to make sure we designed the right size storage. We talked through where we would take the bag and what features we might need; for example, a hook to hang it in a bathroom stall while you change baby at a restaurant.
We collected tons of images on shared Pinterest boards – including inspiration for the brand, the bag and the lifestyle we wanted to promote.
Jay led us through multiple rounds of bag sketches – all different flavors and styles – until we settled on one we liked. He took the sketches to technical drawings, collected materials and had samples made. We went through at least three rounds of samples with Unionwear before we got our pack just right.
We put our samples on everyone’s backs, asked for feedback and took photos. We were careful to remove any design elements that seemed “girlie”, and made sure the shoulder straps were long enough to fit a really tall dad.
What features make the Julien awesome for carrying baby essentials?
The fact that it’s a backpack is key. We are all about leaving both hands free for tending to baby and being fully involved in family activities. Style-wise, the backpack is better for dad too – he’ll feel much more comfortable than if he were asked to carry a one-shoulder bag.
Ultimately, the Julien is awesome because of its storage and organization. We loved the idea of doing a drop-in “pouch” that can house some basics like a change mat, a few diapers, diaper cream and wipes. This way, you can just reach in and grab it for a quick change while you’re out.
We also made sure there were tons of compartments for all the essential gear. Outside, there are four decent-sized pockets for easy access, plus a clasp for hanging your keys. We also added stroller straps and hooks so you can easily hang it on your stroller when you don’t want to carry. Inside, there are four baby bottle (or water bottle) pockets, a sleeve for the change kit (or even a computer or iPad), a zipper pocket, and a few other larger pocket compartments. It’s wipe-clean and very utilitarian, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it from the outside.
When you’re running on no sleep and wearing the parental uniform of tracksuit pants and an old t-shirt, why is a luxe bag like the Julien important?
Being a parent isn’t always an elegant, effortless job. Especially when you’re a new parent running on empty and feeling overwhelmed.
The Julien immediately elevates your look: leather and canvas with rose gold details, all mixed with fine Made in the USA craftsmanship. And it’s effortless – it looks great with everything, is comfortable and keeps you organized so you can focus on what’s important: being present for your kid. There is absolutely nothing more chic.
Who else is making rad baby-related carry? Who inspires you to be better?
No one, in our opinion, is making a great diaper bag we’d want to carry! We do like Fawn and Cub’s change mat, and Ida Ising’s change mat/bag design.
Accessory and clothing companies outside of the diaper bag industry inspire us to be better, and companies that are producing their goods in the USA: Clare Vivier, Emerson Fry, Mansur Gavriel, Marine Layer, imogene + willie, etc.
What’s next for Leader?
There is a ton of room for us in the baby market right now. We see a lack of simple but beautiful and useful design, especially in kid accessories – which creates a whole lot of space for Leader to play.
What do you personally carry daily? And why?
Our Leader bags, of course!
Items are: Steven Alan beach blanket, Baggu pouch, plum, MacBook Air case from HarLex on Etsy, Ray-Ban sunglasses, VW keys, NARS lipstick, iPhone, Vogue and Harpers Bazaar Magazines, iPad, Leader Change Pouch, Loeffler Randall wallet, Leader Bag, and Leader limited-edition notebook.