Bridport woman helps parents carry on
BRIDPORT — Raising five young children takes patience, physical strength and some ingenuity.
Nancy Sunderland possesses all these qualities, and is using them to literally reduce the heavy lifting of child rearing for moms and dads. Along with business partner Jessica Young, Sunderland has formed the company Poe Wovens, which is making woven baby wraps to help parents comfortably and stylishly carry their infants or toddlers with less stress.
It’s a business that Sunderland is currently operating out of her family’s home on the Rolling Acres Farm in Bridport. She plans to grow the enterprise into an empty barn next to the family homestead, eventually contracting with local farmers for alpaca or merino wool to create a Vermont value-added baby carrier product.
“There’s nothing more fulfilling than teaching a mother how to carry her child,” Sunderland, 36, said on Thursday, as her two-year-old son Beau helped her demonstrate one of her woven baby wraps. Beau, swaddled snuggly in the light-green, checkered wrap, grinned and munched on some goldfish crackers from his secure perch on his mom’s back. Beau is the youngest of the Sunderland brood, and all have been passengers on their parents in one shape or form during their young lives. The other children include Laila, 5; Venessa, 8; Abigail, 10; and Brittany, 14.
Truth be told, Sunderland is resilient enough to carry a couple kids and a backpack across long distances. That strength and toughness comes from having served four years of active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps. She enlisted in the Marines in September of 1995, made it through boot camp and was assigned to the 9th Engineer Support Battalion. She was stationed for more than a year in Okinawa, Japan, driving Humvees, 5-ton trucks and other heavy vehicles. Sunderland began her stint as the only female soldier in her platoon.
It was an experience that she said taught her toughness, teamwork and how to accept some ribbing.
“When I was in Okinawa, the guys would give me a hard time, but they respected me and I respected them,” Sunderland said with a smile. “There was camaraderie. I loved my time there.”
Her tour in Okinawa over, she found herself assigned to Camp Pendleton in California. It was there that she experienced some tough times, including sexual harassment. She was ready to move on to civilian life, which she did after receiving her honorable discharge in 1999.
Sunderland moved back to her native Vermont with an infant in tow from an initial, unsuccessful marriage. She enrolled at business school at the University of Vermont, earning her bachelor of science degree in 2003. It was during this time that she met her current husband, Bob, a partner in the Rolling Acres Farm.
The past decade has seen Sunderland spend much of her time caring for the couple’s children, as well as working at some part-time jobs such as bank teller, barista and administrator for a local nonprofit. It’s an active lifestyle that involved shuttling her young children from place to place.
“I found that lugging around the heavy and awkward infant car seat was difficult at best, damaging to my back at worst,” she recalled.
That’s when she became a devotee of “babywearing,” using various wraps and devices to carry a child on her body in a manner that could better distribute the weight and put less stress on her body.
“Babywearing allowed me to be mobile, hands-free and pain-free, all while having the added benefit of bonding with my baby,” she said. “Babywearing was empowering me as a young woman on the go.”
Sunderland tried a variety of babywearing devices. There was the “mei tai carrier,” the “soft-structured carrier,” the “pouch sling,” the “ring sling” and the “stretchy wrap.” She was finally sold on the very basic, woven baby wrap, quite commonly used in Africa and gaining popularity in Europe. It’s shaped like a long rectangle, with ends that are cut on the bias — like a parallelogram. The wrap is manipulated to securely fix the baby to the side, back or front of the wearer.
“I tried one, and I was hooked,” Sunderland said.
The woven fabric produces fibers that go in a perpendicular angle — and that’s key, according to Sunderland.
“It will not stretch or give up and down,” she said of the woven baby wrap. “You are able to get a custom, molded fit (to the baby) each time. It supports the baby’s weight and distributes it evenly.”
Sunderland was so enthused about the product that she decided to make her own line of woven baby wraps. She took classes at the Women’s Small Business Center and wrote up her own business plan for Poésie Tissée — French words that translate to “woven poetry.”
“I figured I had the business background and 13-and-a-half years of baby experience, so I said, ‘Let’s do this,’” Sunderland recalled.
She launched Poésie Tissée last summer, designing the baby wraps that are woven from yarns spun of natural fibers such as cotton. The wraps are machine-woven on computerized jacquard and dobby looms at family-owned textile mills in North Carolina, according to Sunderland’s website, poesietissee.com. The wraps are then completed by one of the company’s three finishers, two of which are based in Vermont (Annmarie and Vermont Bosna Cutting), the website states.
Customers receive with their wrap such Vermont products as maple sugar candy and handmade and locally embroidered tote bags.
Designs are inspired by the rolling acres of Addison County, American culture and heritage, land and cityscapes, the city lights of Paris, and the fields of Provence, according to Sunderland.
After recently bringing Jessica Young into the operation as graphic designer, the two partners have decided to re-brand the business as Poe Wovens. Their hope is to have their wraps carried in area stores in addition to being available online. And Sunderland is eager to make use of one of the Rolling Acres barns so that the wraps can be produced 100-percent on-site in Bridport.
She is hopeful the business will soon take off in a big way.
“The long nights, the early mornings, business trips and setbacks, determination and the unwavering belief in your dream that what you are embarking on is truly worthwhile — that is what keeps you going,” she said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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