The inspiration for Buddha Babe—a baby and children’s boutique located at the corner of Emlen Street and Mt. Pleasant Avenue in West Mount Airy that sells sells luxury baby products ranging from bibs, to children’s clothing, to blankets and nursing essentials—came from founder Tina Dixon-Spence’s son.
“When my son was 4-months-old, he had a huge drooling problem and I didn’t like any of the bibs that were on the market,” she said. “I did the research and created my own design, and also did the textile research to find the most absorbent, but stylish, fabric patterns. I taught myself how to sew the materials.”
Dixon-Spence has always had all of her products designed and crafted in Philadelphia, which has been key to the shop’s appeal, she said.
“I started this company at my dining room table,” she said. “There’s a niche that I developed where people love the thought of handcrafted items being designed right here in Philly.”
As her products have increased in popularity, though, Dixon-Spence has needed to find ways to meet an increasing demand. Now, she is wondering how best to increase production while keeping her products’ Philly-made appeal.
“I’m at a point with my growth scale that I can’t sustain in-house production,” she said. “We can’t make enough fast enough, so I definitely have to think about outsourcing production and I have such high restrictions and restraints to that.”
Dixon-Spence knows that she does not want to outsource production overseas. She wants to have immediate and direct access to the factory so that she can be sure the workers making Buddha Babe products have proper working conditions and wages.
Finding an external supplier, though, is a big step for Dixon-Spence, both personally and financially.
“It’s like handing over your baby to daycare for the first time,” she said.
Buddha Babe first opened as a retail store in 2020, the first summer of the pandemic. Dixon-Spence had run Buddha Babe as an online store since 2014.
“Since the pandemic there hasn’t been a lot of new business in Mount Airy,” said Brad Maule, communications manager for the Mt. Airy Community Development Corporation.
Dixon-Spence was focused on getting a brick-and-mortar store off the ground. There was no way she would let the pandemic stop her from chasing her dream.
“It was exciting,” she said. “We’re still riding on that wave of excitement a year later.”
Maule said that Mount Airy as a neighborhood is very proud of its history of being a welcoming and inclusive place. The area is home to a lot of local businesses, and the CDC is looking for ways to support more destination retail, including Buddha Babe.
“Buddha Babe has made a positive impact in a short amount of time,” he said. “It was very impressive that Tina was able to turn her passion that she had been doing exclusively online into a brick and mortar operation.”
Aside from selling clothes and baby supplies, Buddha Babe also offers camps, clubs, and parties for kids to participate in. There is an after school sewing club and a no school sewing club, which meets on the days students have off from school. Both programs allow families to sign up ahead of time, and then spend their day at the boutique, where they are given step-by-step lessons creating a fun project.
“The workshops and camps that Buddha Babe offers is a really interesting model,” Maule said. “It can get people from all over interested and invested to send their kids to her shop, allowing the kids to leave the shop with a new skill and new friends.”
Melissa Clouser-Missett is the sewing teacher at the boutique and helped pitch the idea for the sewing clubs.
“The kids get very involved in the whole process,” Clouser-Missett said. “They thread the machine, load their bobbins, sew everything, press everything, and finish everything themselves.”
The clubs are a great way to get involved, help kids focus, and make new friends, she said. Those who enjoy the clubs and classes can even sign up for summer sewing camps.
“I have seen a lot of the same kids come back for multiple sessions and workshops,” Clouser-Missett said. “They have even brought a few of their friends after using their projects at school.”
Not only do the kids take a lot of joy from the classes, but so does Clouser-Missett.
“The classes can be hectic and I have to multitask since the kids work at difference paces,” she said. “Watching a kid go from not knowing anything about sewing or a sewing machine, to completing a project themselves and seeing their faces light up with pride is the best feeling as a teacher.”
For adults interested in learning to sew Buddha Babe also hosts is sip and sew events.
“It’s like a paint with a twist, but it’s sewing instead,” Dixon-Spence said. “Products like beach totes, cosmetic totes, wine totes, all kinds of different projects that are meant to be completed in three hours.”
Sip and sewers can buy a kit on the Buddha Babe website and then attend the event at the boutique on the specific date. It is a BYOB and bring your own snacks event, and, for Maule, exemplifies the spirit of community that makes for a successful business in the neighborhood.
“Nothing like this exists in Mount Airy,” Maule said. “Tina was able to give Mount Airy a go-to place for baby and children’s items and accessories. And let me add that she has done it well.”
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