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During a visit to the headquarter of Bugaboo in Amsterdam, Luna Journal was able to talk to the founder about the philosophy and strategy of the brand, as well as to take a look at the new Bugaboo car seat Turtle and the new stroller Ant.
In 1999, Bugaboo took strollers to a new level of design, functionality and desirability. It all began at the Design Academy in Eindhoven. Max Barenbrug studied there and chose a stroller as the theme for his final project. His aim was to inspire men and – at the time still childless – he took a completely different starting point. The result was a stroller where the large wheels could be either front or rear. The clou was the reversible handlebar. So the stroller was suitable for any surface.
It took another five years for the first Bugaboo stroller to conquer the streets. In 1997 Max Barenbrug presented the first prototype at the Kind + Jugend trade fair in Cologne – a complete success. The starting shot was fired in 1999: The first Bugaboo stroller came onto the market. With it, the stroller became a lifestyle object and status symbol. Luna Journal congratulated Max Barenbrug on the 20th anniversary of Bugaboo and spoke to him about the company’s philosophy and plans.
To what extent have your ideas of a high-quality stroller changed over the years?
Max Barenbrug: Nothing has changed. Bugaboo should still be the brand that does everything differently. We want to make relevant products that are innovative. Nowadays it is perhaps even more important to concentrate on the quality of a product.
What factors are essential for you in the production of your strollers?
Our philosophy is to develop products that last. Our creative process works in such a way that we keep away from what everyone wants and take a completely different perspective. We then bring these insights into a commercial design – only then you can be innovative. It was good that I didn’t have children when I developed the first stroller, because only then one is objective. I don’t think strollers were designed for anyone in the past. They were ugly with cute bear prints in a pink world. You thought that was what the kids liked. But that’s not important! It’s about what the parents like. I chose a more masculine approach to develop more adult products. Our strollers appeal to both men and women. It is an emancipated design.
How many children does a Bugaboo stroller last?
We have heard from families in Berlin that a Bugaboo was used by five families over 15 years.
With the Bugaboo Fox, you have chosen recycled fabrics for the first time. How did this decision come about?
Sustainability has always played an important role for us. But now we are communicating our efforts more explicitly. We make a very conscious choice of materials and make sure they are recyclable. We first had production in Taiwan and deliberately not in China, because Taiwan was a democracy and the conditions in China 20 years ago were miserable. But when China developed, it was logical that we moved our factory to China. The factory is located in a beautiful city by the sea, not where the other producers are. Our workers all live at home, which is not at all self-evident. Our Code of Conduct regarding diversity, working hours and human rights applies not only to the office in Amsterdam but also to our factory. We are in control and know all our suppliers. And they, too, are very interested in sustainability and want to learn from it.
What are your sustainability goals?
As I said before, our most important goal is to develop products that last. And that’s super sustainable. We also care a lot about our second- and thirdhand users. Of course, we also take care to consume as little energy and water as possible.
In cooperation with Nuna you have launched a new car seat. How did the cooperation come about?
Nuna is a world-wide player and best known for their car seats. We have the same philosophy as the company: Make everything as simple as possible. That’s how each of us brought our strengths to the project. Bugaboo is good with fabrics. That’s why we didn’t change the hardware of the Nuna baby car seat, but the software. For example, we chose a merino wool cover and made the buttons white. We have also improved the functions of the canopy. The car seat can be docked onto our strollers Fox, Donkey, Cameleon and Bee. It is approved both with a base and only with a safety belt. Now Bugaboo can accompany a baby home from the clinic during the first drive.
What are your plans for the future? Do you also think in terms of e-strollers?
Sure, we are thinking of it. The problem is that electric strollers are very heavy and therefore not always functional. But I cannot tell you anything about our plans for the future yet.
However, we can already talk about a novelty: There is a new Bugaboo buggy. Like all Bugaboo strollers, the Ant is named after an animal. It will be available in Asia from July, in Europe from September 2019. We can admire the compact buggy in the headquarters even before it is officially presented. The side fairing on the frame is striking. We are lucky to have the Bugaboo Ant shown to us by designer Aernout Dijkstra-Hellinga and ask him a few questions about the new Buggy.
The Ant is the most compact buggy from Bugaboo. What makes it so innovative?
Aernout Dijkstra-Hellinga: Our goal was to develop a buggy for families who don’t have much space and for parents who travel with their children. The challenge was to keep everything small and compact without compromising comfort. Therefore the height adjustable backrest and the good suspension on all wheels. The Bugaboo Ant is robust and looks like a cool travel companion. With the side panels we are pursuing a completely new strategy. A cover hides the technology behind it. It also makes the buggy look like a suitcase when folded. Because you can change the cover, parents can play with colours. Another highlight is that the luggage can remain in its basket even if the buggy is folded. This container idea with the side panel is a completely new approach.
Tell us a few facts and figures about the Bugaboo Ant.
The seat can hold 22 kilos, which is more than required. We have had extra tests carried out to show that the Ant exceeds the standard. Parents can also drive up to 8 kilos of luggage. The stroller weighs 7.2 kilos. When folded, it measures 55 x 38 x 22 centimetres and can be pulled like a trolley.
What is your favourite feature on the new Bugaboo Ant?
The reversible seat. Parents can decide whether the child looks forward and explores the world or travels backwards looking towards the parents. Developing something like this in this ultra-compact format was a big challenge. The buggy folds up no matter in which position the seat is mounted.
How many designers work in your team?
We are 7 designers, plus 30 to 40 engineers, here and in our Chinese factory.
How long are you working on a new design?
You can expect about four years of development time. After about three years, the concept is ready. But then another 1.5 years of testing, transportation, etc. pass before the stroller rolls over the roads.
What does a sustainable design consist of? What needs to be considered when implementing it?
We have many starting points here. We try to avoid plastic or use plastic that is more biodegradable. At Bugaboo we screw a lot so that individual parts of the stroller can easily be replaced if they break. We think about what will last really long and where there might be weak points, i.e. which parts of a stroller could be replaced. So we design our products in a way that makes it easy. We don’t always want to sell new strollers, we also offer spare parts for second or third users. We have made bags out of fabric left over from production, which were available in our stores. With the Bugaboo Ant, we made sure that as little packaging waste as possible was produced. It comes with only one plastic bag that protects the fabric.
Can consumers have a say in the design? How important is the consumer’s opinion to you?
We listen very carefully to what customers say and let them fill out questionnaires what they like. This tells us how they really use the stroller. This allows us to constantly improve our products.
Where do you get inspiration from?
I get my inspiration for the fabrics at fashion fairs. And there are plenty of ideas on the internet. I then use them to create moodboards.
Last but not least, we meet CMO Madeleen Klaasen at Bugaboo Headquarters, who has been with Bugaboo for 18 years and is responsible for ensuring that the brand’s message and products reach retailers and consumers.
What is your marketing strategy at Bugaboo?
Madeleen Klaasen: We’ve always had a slightly different strategy. We listened to our founder Max and wanted to understand what he had in mind when designing the product. It was about storytelling. We wanted to tell how our products are designed and how we achieve a balance between design and functionality. Classic ads are less our thing. We wanted to tell the story of Bugaboo and how Max designs. That’s what distinguished us from others and that’s how we got articles in design magazines. And word of mouth was an important marketing tool for us from the beginning. So it was important to see as many Bugaboo strollers as possible on the streets. It was great to see a Bugaboo in Sex and the City. Of course it was also important that the stroller kept its promises.
Where is the challenge in communication?
We really have to explain all the functions and advantages well. We also call it “making technology look sexy”. I once forgot to mention one function and Max got really angry. For us it was very obvious, but we have to be careful to communicate all the details. We have to communicate that style and performance go hand in hand. Parents should feel comfortable and confident with our strollers. Parents are under a lot of pressure, the new situation with baby can also be frightening. We want to promote diversity and say: It doesn’t matter which kind of parent you are, we have the best products for you. They don’t have to worry about our strollers.
How important is the father to you as a customer?
Very much! Max actually designed the first stroller for a father. It was about an active life. We do not only address mothers, but were also featured in a men’s magazine. The feedback from the fathers was great! Men like the features and the adjustable suspension. They talked about the stroller, like about a car. That’s why fathers always appear in our campaigns.
Your fame was increased by celebrities like Heidi Klum and Gwyneth Paltrow. How important is a testimonial that presents your brand to you?
That helps us a lot. That’s how we took the stroller from the street to the catwalk. Parents were suddenly proud of their stroller and wanted to be seen with it. The celebrities awakened desires. Before, a stroller was a commodity, a necessary evil. Then it became a statement.
What do you think about working with influencers?
The social media are good word of mouth. We like authenticity. Influencers present our strollers in their personal style. Digitalization is already helping us a lot to increase brand awareness through word of mouth.
Which influencers have you worked with in Germany?
For example with Veronika Heilbrunner, Carina Nova or Jessie von Journelles.
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