What’s A Girl To Do?

I have been up thinking about this post since last night when I received the email announcement about Bravado and Medela- and I have been working on writing it all day today. I’m not sure what I have written is even relevant to anyone besides me…but I need to get it out – so here it goes….bear with me – it’s a doozy!

By now, you have all heard the news….Goliath strikes again. The giant breastpump manufacturer, Medela purchased Bravado Designs. I have worked with Bravado for a LONG time. I love their bras, I love the way that they help moms. I love their passion! I always thought that they had integrity – something that is so vital to being a business whose passion is helping moms. But now, I’m not so sure…

Why? Because they allowed their company to be purchased by Medela. Ultimately, they have choices – they didn’t have to sell their company and if they wanted to sell it – they have choices about who they are willing to sell it to. I’m sure the money was tempting. Who wouldn’t be tempted by it?? But in this industry, businesses are founded by moms because they want to HELP other moms. Amy from Just West of Crunchy (blog no longer active) wrote it more candidly than I could ever hope to. It all comes down to money – because no matter how you look at it – you can’t see past the flaws of all of the other arguments.

When I first started my company, I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know that Medela was a WHO Code Violator and I didn’t know why that was important either. They were the pump that was the most well-known – so when I got started, I contacted them. They were not very friendly. They didn’t want to know about me or my business or why I started it. They had me fill out an application, told me that if my application was accepted, I would have to make a VERY LARGE minimum order of products, on-the-spot and then told me that I would hear back in approximately three weeks. About a month later, I received a letter in the mail telling me that my application was declined. I called them to ask why. They told me that because I was (at the time) a home-based business, they were not interested in selling their products through my store. They said if I were an IBCLC, they might reconsider.

I was crushed. I didn’t even know what other breast pump options there were. Now, I see that it was a blessing in disguise. I did my homework and I found Ameda. Ameda is a GREAT company to work with. Yes, I had to fill out paperwork with them too – but they were THRILLED to work with me. They set me up with a sales rep who helped me get started, even sent me tips on how to increase my sales and checked in on me on a regular basis. They cared about my success! Even through their own internal turmoil of being sold and integrated into a new company – they never lost sight of helping moms and they never lost sight of helping their retailers either. Through Ameda and the resources that they have provided to me – I have become more knowledgeable and I have been able to help moms better. Oh yeah – one other thing – AMEDA IS WHO CODE COMPLIANT.

About two or three years later, I was now running a successful business and blog and I was contacted by Medela. Someone from their PR department contacted me because they wanted me to review one of their sleep bras on my blog. I emailed them and told them how ironic I thought it was that they were approaching me considering that a few years before they had refused to sell to me. I told them that I was no longer interested in working with them unless they became compliant with the WHO code and that they could feel free to contact me if they did. They sent back some generic response about removing me from their email list – but didn’t address my concerns at all.

Then last year, Medela purchased Easy Expression Products – the original hands-free pumping bustier. Another company that I love! I have worked with Easy Expression from the very early days of my business. They were wonderful to work with and they were run by a bunch of moms – who took time out to pick up their kids from school and all the other things that moms do. They were a REAL company – really successful - and they were moms and they cared about helping other moms. They were the best-known hands-free pumping bra at the time. I was equally devastated. Now in order to keep selling Easy Expression – a product that my customers (moms) loved, and a product that I sold a TON of, I would have to make a deal with the devil. So I did – I felt it was important to provide moms with access to this pumping bra, so I again went through the application process with Medela and was accepted this time. I had to place my huge minimum order – which they allowed me to order only Easy Expression Products. It wasn’t a big deal – because as I said, I sold a TON of them. Then Medela removed my name from the list of resellers on the Easy Expression website. A good majority of moms who were looking for the Easy Expression bustier found me through their website – so as soon as I got my enormous shipment of inventory, my sales took a hit. I asked and asked to get added back to the Easy Expression website, but they told me that they were dismantling the Easy Expression website and that they had listed me on the Medela website instead. And sure enough – 2 months later, the Easy Expression website went away. Now, nearly a year later – I STILL have a TON of easy expression bustiers in my inventory – because ever since Medela purchased them, I hardly sell them at all. I’m not sure what they did to kill the sales of the product (other than removing all of the brand recognition of the name and website so that it is much harder for moms to find them) – but whatever else they did – my sales of this great item have died. I still sell lots of other hands-free pumping bras from La Leche League and from PumpEase – but I hardly ever sell the Easy Expression ones anymore…

So now I have another difficult decision to make. Do I go with integrity and my gut instinct and avoid dealing with the company that violates the WHO code, is being reviewed for poor manufacturing practices by the FDA and has customer service that leaves much to be desired? And in doing so, miss out on being able to give moms some really great bras? Bras that I recommend ALL the time. I feel OK selling that ones that I have in stock, because they were purchased and manufactured pre-merger…but what about when I run low and need to restock? Then what? Is it worth it to jump on that band-wagon?

And now I come full-circle to the title of this blog post – What’s A Girl To Do? When she runs a small business and is IN IT to help moms. Do you stick with the great product – despite the not-so-great company behind it? Or do you stick with integrity and find alternatives which will enable you to KEEP HELPING MOMS without compromising YOUR INTEGRITY. Because now it comes down to just that – MY integrity.

The thing is – I always thought Bravado had integrity – as a company – as an organization – as a support center for moms. Now I have to wonder….

39 comments to What’s A Girl To Do?

  • On a much smaller level, I understand the conflict you’re facing right now. Last night when I saw your tweet about the merger, my heart absolutely sank. I just accepted a job writing for Bravado a WEEK ago, and was thrilled to be one of their new featured bloggers. When I saw your tweet, I screamed “No! Please don’t be true!!!” in my head, and then immediately clicked over to see the Medela logo on the Bravado site. My course of action was clear to me immediately; I had to resign. My family could have paid several bills with the money I would have made working for them each month, and I was getting some great bras and a nursing tank out of the deal too. However, I knew instantly that my loyal readers would hold me over the coals if I wrote for a company owned by Medela. I didn’t want to quit a job I just started, but my personal integrity allowed me no other choice. I have proudly announced on many occasions that I work ONLY with responsible companies, and I manage to pay many of my family’s bills by never, EVER going to the dark side. I couldn’t start now. It broke my heart, but I had to tell my editor I was done. It makes me so sad to miss out on working with Bravado, but I cannot take a paycheck from Medela. I hope you find something you’re comfortable with because I know this sucks all around, and neither decision is easy.

  • Acrophile

    Well, when I’m ready to buy a hands-free pumping bra (which I wanted but didn’t buy last time around, and now I’m expecting again!), I will come to you, and if you have my size I’ll buy an Easy Expressions one to help you out with that sales hit you took. :)

  • Acrophile

    And… I wish I’d known this about Medela way-back-when. But I didn’t, and now I have a big (for me!) investment in their pumps. Ah well. I just won’t recommend them anymore. Does Ameda make hospital-grade or exclusive-pumper-grade pumps (with the higher suction power to keep supply up)?

  • Thanks Acrophile! But to be honest – I’d rather you bought the LLL or Pumpease ones – from two companies that I still respect! As far as the hospital grade pumps go – yes Ameda has two of them and they are both fantastic. Here is a link: http://www.mothersboutique.com/hogrrepu.html

    And here is a review on the Ameda Platinum Pump that you can read too: http://blog.mothersboutique.com/ameda-platinum-hospital-grade-breastpump-review/

    And one on Ameda pumps in General: http://mommymelee.com/2009/07/one-hundred-and-fifty-ounces-of/ and http://mommymelee.com/2009/08/ameda-im-purely-yours/
    –Judy

  • Thanks so much for sharing your feedback, Gina. I am leaning in the same direction as you. I can’t bring myself to work with them but I am sad at the loss of resources and bras for moms. It truly a sad, sad day. I am on the hunt for new bras – so if you know of any – please let me know. — Judy

  • Jen

    I am really surprised too! And disappointed. I’ve been working hard to keep Medela out of our NICU. It is clear from interactions with their reps how mother-unfriendly and uninterested they really are in supporting breast-feeding relationships for medically fragile and small babies. Unbelievable! Ameda reps are the exact opposite – the ethos really trickles down in both cases. Don’t despair, I believe that integrity will always win out – and a huge dose of patience!

  • I can’t help but think ‘sell out’ every time I read something else about this ‘merger’. I spent years as an LLL suggesting Medela pumps to moms because they were the ‘best’ and I am SO frustrated that I was so blinded by this supposedly amazing company.

    Now that I know better and I see the damage that has been done, I am really picky on the code and I will not sell products by a code violator.

    I know the Bravado Bras are much loved in the breastfeeding world, but something else will appear. The Simple Wishes and PumpEase are proving that point with the pumping bra. I knew about both of them before I had heard about the Easy Expressions. What does that say?

  • Andi

    I am so disappointed to hear about the merger! I was a HUGE fan of Bravado. In fact, that is the only brand of bra that I own (other than the few off brand that sit in the bottom of my drawer that I never wear!), and my office just got a huge shipment in to give out to moms in need. We will obviously continue giving out the ones that we purchased pre-merger, but I do not think that we will be ordering anymore. We also have loaner pumps and used to carry mostly Medela. We have since phased those out and began carrying Hygeia (LOVE them!) and some Ameda, though we are phasing those out as well simply because we get a better price on the Hygeia pumps. Anyways, I am rambling here, you ultimately have to do what you feel is right in your heart. Good luck with your decision!

  • kelly @kellynaturally

    I’d be less inclined to say stop selling their products based solely on the WHO code violations of their new parent company. However, in light of your information of their handling of a previous small company buyout & how they’ve left their distributors high & dry,I’m not getting that warm fuzzy that’s you’ll come out on the positive side of this deal. Will you take a big financial hit by stopping selling Bravado? Would Bravado buy back your current stock if you stop selling their product? I don’t think your conscience should suffer if you choose to keep Bravado. I am far more concerned that Medela may change your purchasing requirements, require you sell at a higher price, may drop/limit your support (local reps are expensive), and get rid of your marketing links. Do you know how they intend to sell the product? If Medela sells online already as a retailer, I’d be very wary of buying from them as a distributor – the two goals don’t mesh well, and their smaller distributors would be left to hang in the breeze.

  • Thanks Kelly. It is a difficult decision, but I think I will be having a sale to unload my current inventory and will need to move on. I’m sure it will cost me some sales – because moms love the Bravado bras, but I think I need to go with my gut on this and move on. There are many other great bras to be found – now I just need to go out and find them. And I have a ton of others that I can recommend. Based on how Medela treated Easy Expression, I am concerned that the same will happen here….Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts – it means a lot to me. — Judy

  • Thanks Andi – I hear you! This is a major blow to our industry! — Judy

  • Thanks for the feedback Katy – I agree. — Judy

  • Thanks Jen – it is so frustrating. But I think I know what I have to do….I love Ameda too!! — Judy

  • Of course I was wondering what you would be doing. What a tough call. I do not admire your position. I had been in talks with Bravado PR to do a giveaway with them in April but now I will not be. Their PR person was leaving as well. I wish I knew if it was part of the merger that she leave or if she quit on her own accord.

    I have worked with them so many times and I seriously love their bras. It really broke my heart to hear the news. I hop you find another amazing bra out there. I’m sure you will too. Maybe it will just take a little more digging.

    You are so wonderful for considering it and I just know you will come out on top as Kelly said.

    Kim

  • Thanks Kim – I really appreciate your feedback –Judy

  • Sarah Hunt

    How can I buy a bra from you ? Also why not just try selling them on ebay ? It is easy,cheap,and efficiant.

    Als start your own website…go High Tech and I can’t imagine anything going wrong. If you need help contact someone who already has an ebay account or website and start with them first.

    Many moms need that bra !! Distribute them to hopsitals sell them @ mom stores ,donate a few and write them off on your taxes etc..

    My husband is a CPA but we live in Michigan, if you need ANY financial advice free of charge, feel free to email me and I will pass it on to my husband.

    Good Luck !! :)

  • Although I understand your plight, you, must, MUST go with your gut. It will never lead you astray Judy. There ARE other great nursing bras out there – YOU! Lingerie, Nummies to name just two off the top of my head (I’m not nursing anymore, so don’t have first-hand experience with them, but they are definitely worth a look as I’ve met both owners and they are GREAT!)

    And I have a feeling that this acquisition will spur some new companies to sprout up as well – as they will recognize that there is a need in the marketplace…

    xo
    Wendy

  • Stephanie

    The thing is, you have built your company and your blog (and your brand) around your integrity and your commitment to helping moms. That is what sets you apart and, I think, if you compromise that, you compromise not only your own beliefs, but the whole reason your customers come to you. What a shame about Bravado, but I think your gut is telling you something important… and true.

  • Thanks Stephanie! I appreciate your feedback. — Judy

  • Thanks Wendy – I know you are right…and I know of a ton of other bras that i can bring in…there is only one that I can’t replace – but even that one – I am working on alternate solution…. — Judy

  • Hi Sarah, thank you for your thoughtful comments. I do have a store and website -that is a big part of the dilemna. You are more than welcome to buy one of the Bravado bras that I have in stock – you can see them here: http://www.mothersboutique.com/bravado.html – all were purchased pre-acquisition – so they are “untainted” in my opinion. — Judy

  • Lorien

    Glamourmom!

    I’m kind of with Kelly here. I’ve read what Medela have done in breaking the WHO code from anti-Medela sources, and I’ve read their own statements and I cannot 100% say that there shouldn’t be some small wiggle room in the code for breastfeeding support apparatus that nudges the current regulations. Medela, regardless of their critics and their violations (or even their apparently crappy distributor service) are just NOT on the same level as a Similac or Nestle or Nuk or any other company I can think of that are CLEARLY in violation of every spirit and regulation of the code. There IS perspective to be had here. It seems like activists of every stripe are quickest to condemn the minor transgressors of their codes (WHO or otherwise) as it seems like there is a feeling of gut-reaction personal betrayal from the minor transgressors, whereas they didn’t expect anything from the major transgressors, so it’s business as usual there.

    I have a Medela pump which I bought before I was aware of the furor around them in breastfeeding circles. Would I buy it again? Maybe — it was a good pump, and I liked the bottles that fit it exactly (even though my small fry never took a bottle) and it was all very convenient. Are there better/cheaper/more compliant pumps? Definitely. Should a mama who buys a Medela pump or a Bravado bra (or a retailer who sells them) be made to feel like they are KILLING BABIES for doing so? For the love of little apples, no. Save that vitriol for formula companies that actually kill babies.

    If Bravado is a big part of your business, and mamas like them, and you can continue to do business with their suppliers, then stock them, sell them, recommend them. If having a Medela pump or a Bravado bra helps even one mama continue pumping/nursing and keeping that important (dare I save life-saving?) relationship intact, then it is a win as far as I’m concerned.

    For what it’s worth, however, I prefer the Glamourmom nursing tanks to Bravado — more comfy, better support and better tummy-coverage.

    Good luck with your decision :)

  • Hi Lorien, thanks for your comment. It is a difficult decision, but I think that Medela’s violations are more egregious than that. They have faulty manufacturing processes as evidenced by the recent FDA letter to them and they could easily be code compliant but they choose NOT TO BE. They actually have commercials that tell moms that pumping is BETTER FOR THEM than breastfeeding. And ongoing studies are showing mold building up in their personal use pumps too. Those violations are not to be taken lightly. As the biggest brand in the market – they should be leading and showing others how it should be done – not using their size to thumb their nose at it and show others that if you are big enough – you don’t have to play by the rules. In my opinion, they do not support breastfeeding mothers the way that they should. And since major organizations like La Leche League and ILCA both have banned them from their events and sponsorships, I think the breastfeeding community as a whole would agree with that. And from a retailer perspective, they are very difficult to deal with. There is only one bra that I don’t currently have a replacement for – everything else can or will be replaced very shortly. And that one in question – I am working on replacing with another company – and I hope to have something in the next year….so stay tuned for more info on this. I think this acquisition has just opened up a very big whole in the nursing bra manufacturing market and I hope some of the other great companies out there (La Leche League, Melinda G, Cake, etc) will take advantage of it and fill the hole. If I thought their violations were trivial, I would be in such a dilemma…I do wish there was an easier way.

  • Trish

    Last year I had a wonderful chance meeting with the gentleman who designed the Pump in Style. (well headed the team who designed the pump.) I adore that pump. I used it for 2 years while exclusively breastfeeding my son and ran into zero trouble. I thanked him profusely for his work and asked what would be coming next from Medela. He informed me that he was fired shortly after the product launched and then proceeded to tell me some pretty egregious things about the company. I was devastated. But had heard no other ill will toward the company itself. Admittedly I have not run out to investigate and chalked the talk up to disgruntled former employee blues. I will now have to dig a little deeper.

    On another note. My Medela Pump in Style did serve me well for 2 years and has been in storage for almost 3. I am due with a new baby in June. We are cash strapped and I plan to use my pump again. What would you (internet breastfeeding world) do?

  • Theresa

    Wow! I thought I was connected with all the blogs I read, the traps I’ve had to overcome with 2 babies and extended nursing, the research I’ve done, and the products I have shopped around for. For what it’s worth, I HAD NO IDEA about any of this. And I emphasize it, because from my standpoint I am seeing not only an opportunity for you to stick with your gut, but also to launch a serious campaign. Over the years I’ve learned a lot from you (and your blog & network more recently) and I think that within your network, as Amy has done also, promoting this information for us moms who are shopping around is key. Having overcome the obstacles I have makes me VERY dedicated to advocating any way that I can to help others, whether that is posting in my spare time or making consumer choices. I have recommended the Bravado to so many moms that have learned about the product because of me, and who I also know don’t have the time or ability to learn this stuff. This information has to be more prominent, of course within the allowable framework so you don’t get backlash. I think with discussions like these, there could be some real opportunities to help “shape” business practices and influence consumer activity.
    Good luck Judy, and kudos to you for sticking with your gut. Sounds to me like you’ve pretty much decided. From what I am reading here, you’ve got a lot of support. Count me in :-)

  • Aside from looking at it any other way, I think you need to be informed by your experience with the Easy Expressions bras.

    If you again decide it’s worth it to make a deal with the devil, you may again find yourself left hanging out to dry…

  • So interesting to hear your take on the merger. I was disheartened by the news as well, because I always thought of Bravado as the plucky “little guy” (yeah, the David in your Goliath reference), and it stinks that they’ve allowed this.

    We run a small business, too, selling DVDs, so I understand a little bit of the struggle you’re going through with keeping popular inventory vs. following your integrity. (Just a little bit, though — DVDs are definitely not as personal.) As Kelly said, I’d be wary of Medela’s business practices once more harming your sales if you continued to purchase Bravado.

    Maybe you can look on your declining Bravado inventory as an opportunity to inform customers about the WHO Code and Medela’s violations — maybe, just maybe, Bravado lovers will one day have enough sway to convince Medela to reform. Well, a girl can dream, right?

  • @Tiffany and @Theresa – thank you so much for your support! I think I do know what I need to do. — Judy

  • @Trish – wow – that sounds like an interesting meeting. I wish I could talk to that guy myself. As for using your pump again – I would be very careful – especially since it has been in storage for so long. There is an on-going study happening right now that is showing all kinds of mold inside of the pumps – and I would only think that this might be worse because it has had such a long time to “incubate” while in storage. You may want to open your pump up and make sure the motor is clean before using it. Best of luck in your decision. — Judy

  • I was very disappointed as well to read about Bravado being bought. For me it just means that my personal favorite bra–the essential nursing tank–is now a Medela product. I have a bunch of them already, but I’m not sure what I’ll do when the ones I have all wear out. I’m having a new baby any day now so it’ll happen. I think what I’m going to do for starters is go to my blog and delete a post I wrote a while back singing the praises of that tank. Thanks for the insight–it’s nice to know how Medela treats small, new businesses.

  • After what you said about Easy Expression, I just had another thought. I used to work in a hospital mom-baby boutique where we sold both Bravado and Medela. Bravado was a SERIOUS competitor to Medela’s line of bras. Medela’s bras, while supportive, were ugly. Might Medela just have done this because there is no way they could compete with the aesthetic appeal AND comfort that Bravado offers? I’m interested to see how prevalent Bravado’s products are after this merger has had a while to get settled.

  • Thanks for your comments Jenny. If you are looking for the Bravado tanks to replace the ones that you have, I have a ton in stock and they were all purchased pre-merger – so they have nothing to do with Medela. And they’re on sale! http://www.mothersboutique.com/esnubrata.html — Judy

  • FoxyKate

    I am with everyone else. Go with your gut. This is a huge disappointment, and you are 100% right about medela’s code violations being a choice. I would be down for a little wiggle room, maybe, if medela had not been showing over and over that they are simply choosing to ignore the code bc they feel they simply are above it. The high road isn’t the easy road but it is always the right road.

  • Thanks Kate – I appreciate your feedback! — Judy

  • Thanks Lauren – Judy

  • I’m glad you’re going with your gut mama, and sorry to hear about your experience in the past with Medela.

    I use an Avent pump, which probably also isn’t WHO compliant and I wrote for Bravado Design’s blog during the launch and am just finishing up.

    I just wanted to say that if it wasn’t for my pump (that I actually won in a belly maternity photo contest) and for Bravado Designs, I probably wouldn’t have breastfed for as long as I have. My daughter is 9 months and growing and she hasn’t had a drop of formula since people.

    I know a little about the WHO code, but what I know more about are the companies and people who have supported me during my breastfeeding journey. Bravado bras (and my Pumpease) have been fabulous. Blogging about my breastfeeding journey on Bravado, and having support from breastfeeding supporters on their staff who have been there for me through my questions and confusions… They have helped me through this journey.

    I also use Simplesse products, and breastmilk storage bags (the popular kind were leaking) and I believe they are also under Medela. I love their bags.

    As a first generation breastfeeder, and someone who isn’t as educated (but learning) about the WHO code and whatnot, what’s more important to me is that me and my community are breastfeeding PERIOD. And if it weren’t for my experiences with Bravado, (and my Godsend Avent pump) I honestly can’t say if I would have gotten this far.

  • @BabyMakingMachine I think it is so wonderful that you were able to get such great support – from Bravado, on twitter and elsewhere. You are one lucky mama and you have done a FANTASTIC job!! That is the Bravado that I knew and loved so much! But this will be a new a company, I fear – and that is what I am referring to. While I am disappointed in their choice for an owner, I can see how perhaps they were strapped for cash and this acquisition allowed them to perhaps save their company (perhaps – I don’t know the full story – no one does) but they did make a deal with the devil and unfortunately, I don’t think I can be a part of their future – although I am proud to have been a part of their past.

    I do have a question for you – was your contract with them scheduled to end? You said you were finishing up with your final posts for them. Or was that part of the acquisition? I hope they are able to keep doing all of the great things that they have been doing – but the game has changed…there’s no doubt about that. Thanks again for sharing your views. — Judy

  • Thanks for the follow up mama! Sorry I missed your reply! This was a 6 month blogging deal and my time was up, though I think I’ll still be writing occasionally once I hit the one year mark etc. I wonder how it’ll be different. It’s hard because I feel like I’m on a totally different side of things, not being an advocate exactly but just being a do-what-you’ve-gotta-do-to-breastfeed kinda woman. I’m so sad to hear that so many people don’t like Medela though, they seem so popular!

    I’m thinking of writing a post about this from my side, if so I’ll link to you for sure because I love these other opinions!

  • [...] when Bravado announced they were acquired by Medela, and WHO code supporters got all upset debating whether or not they should still buy/sell Bravado bras, or support Bravado at all, I [...]

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