Oscha Slings: Slinging into action


Tuesday 20 Oct 2015 07:09

Oscha Slings: Slinging into action

After raising a baby girl and two twin boys, Zoe Masters realised just how pivotal baby slings were to parental life. After pondering on an idea, Zoe and her father Mike spotted a niche in the market and decided to design their own products with an authentic British twist. They told BQ how they made it happen.

Zoe Masters, Oscha Slings - interview BQ Live 2015

Zoe Masters, Oscha Slings

Edinburgh-based Oscha Slings design and manufacture artisan baby carriers which are sold both online and in stores across the globe ranging from Singapore to Switzerland.

Zoe first became interested in slings after living in China. She noticed how snug and happy the carried babies seemed, rarely crying, and how the women could carry on their daily work and routines with minimum fuss.

When Zoe became pregnant with her first child she knew that she would carry her. Since then she has had twins and the use of slings proved invaluable in caring for 3 children under 2; one child can be comforted, another held, and work can be done.

She told BQ: “I had three children under two – a little girl and twin boys. Obviously we were delighted, but it was incredibly hard work!

“We found baby slings were a life saver – enabling work to be done, everyone to be cared for and also helping with bonding and being able to get out and about more easily.

“There were few ergonomic options available at that time and I realised that there was a gap in the market for beautiful, design-led baby carriers.”

She pitched her business idea to her father Mike, who having originally trained as an engineer and worked for McLaren F1, is a self-taught artist and graphic designer. He brings an incredible eye for style, line and detail to the Oscha designs.

Zoe is also a fine artist who originally graduated in anthropology and enjoys bringing social and cultural elements into the wrap designs and collection themes.

She added: “Initially we didn’t receive any advice when setting up. Once we had established premises and taken on some staff however, we found that Business Gateway/Scottish Enterprise and Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce offered various programmes.

“We are now on the ‘Growth Pipeline’ and have received support such as funding for new machines, training, management and marketing help.”

As with any start-up business, the duo encountered a number of challenges along the way. One of which, was ensuring they were making the most of the ecommerce market place.

Zoe said: “Our website was our biggest challenge – the business took off quite quickly and we couldn’t handle the level of visits we were getting – the site would crash and oversell products.

“We struggled to find someone who could set up a site for a small business but also be able to manage the level of visits we would get when we listed new stock.

“We tried outsourcing the work and got advice from Business Gateway, but eventually we realised that we need a dedicated and skilled web master doing the work and, as our main shop front, this is an area we have to invest in.”

The father and daughter duo are now set to launch a new range of products as demand for their products continues to grow.

She continued: “We have been developing new types of baby carriers for the last two years and have just begun to launch them – this has involved the development of a creative marketing strategy, hiring new staff to make them and managing the process from start to finish.

“We were the first company in the UK to make jacquard woven slings. Everything is made in the UK and we aim to produce everything ethically from organic yarns where possible.

“Our artistic focus makes our designs beautiful and unique, with a focus on the style of the parent rather than making the focus of the design on the baby. This means the slings are also a style choice for parents and carers.”

Going forward, the Oscha team are hoping to make babywearing become the norm in the UK as it is in the Far East.

“Having launched all our products that are in the pipe line just now, we’d love to see babywearing become the norm and the Oscha name readily associated with it.”


Wraps in ethical consumerism

Oscha Rei Victoria

Oscha Rei Victoria

Relevant selection from the article. Link to the full article at the bottom.


I have decided to ask Zoe Masters, the Oscha founder how “caring” wrap manufacturers live and what they can tell about their principles and aspirations.

Oscha offers and promotes 100% linen slings as ones having a low environmental impact. How popular are they now? Do you believe that a linen wrap can be a substitute to cotton blends, or is it just a good change for summer?

The 100% linens are still popular with more interest over the summer. I guess cotton will probably always be more favoured since it is softer and has a bit more cush, but you really can’t beat 100% linen for breathability in the heat.

My Mum has taken over the job of doing all the dye work, so it’s all her creation now and she is busy investigating new dye techniques for us to develop. We’ve also spent a lot of the last 2 years looking at developing suitable silk screen options, which would allow us to be more creative with the 100% linen, so we hope to bring that to fruition at some point!

Linen is a hardier plant than cotton, so it requires less pesticides etc, plus all parts of the plant can be used. We are also looking at a totally organic linen to use for our cotton/linen blend wraps.


Vicki or ‘Nana Oscha’ getting ready to hand dye a batch of linen baby wraps

Oscha Dyed Grad Jade Spring

Jade Spring wraps being created in the dye tank

And speaking of cotton – you use different types of it, including organic Pima-cotton. What makes it organic? Is it more Eco-friendly than the other types?

It is organic, and more eco-friendly because chemical pesticides and fertilizers are not used, therefore growth of the crops doesn’t have the same impact on the surrounding environment or the workers.

We have finally found a good source of organic combed cotton in the same weight as our regular cottons, it has always been our intention to switch to organic as soon as we were able so I’m really pleased we’ll be making that shift very soon.

The organic Pima is the best quality cotton out there really, as well as being environmentally friendly, but it was a slightly lighter weight yarn, so perfect for summer wraps.

I admire Oscha for the refusal to use Mulberry and Bourette (unethical ones) silk. You found an alternative in Tussah and other wild kinds of silk. And your silk blends seem to be loved and popular! Are you often asked to make Mulberry-silk slings? Do you think you lose money on this refusal – or, maybe, on the contrary, gain customers and reputation on being unique in this way?

To be honest I wasn’t aware that customers had noticed we haven’t used mulberry silk! In some ways I guess we may lose some custom as we can’t make that super shiny silk wraps that the long mulberry threads can create, it also means that our silk has more grip. Having said that it has meant that we’ve experimented with other silks more and thankfully found the wild silk blend (like SN Nebula), which I think makes one of the nicest wrapping fabrics around. We are still on the lookout for more wild silk yarns to create different fabric types.

Do you consider wool manufacturing ethical? What can you tell about production of wool in your fabrics?

Our wool all comes from suppliers in Great Britain who source the yarns from British & Australian sheep farmers where certain criteria must be met for the ethical treatment of the animals. We have consulted with all of our wool suppliers on this and are satisfied that the animals are treated well.

You believe in working with local suppliers and craftsmen. What material can’t be found nearby and still need a far shipping? Are there possibilities of improving it in future?

Most of our yarns come from Britain, Ireland and Italy, cotton is probably the main one that is hard to source locally.

We have used American combed cotton many times (it’s the thicker combed cotton used in the original Roses Eros and Aphrodite for instance), but otherwise it has come from India, and more recently from Egypt & Turkey. It isn’t really possible for us to do much about this as its too cold to grow cotton in the UK. However, we are about to move onto using only organic combed cotton, so although it doesn’t solve the local issue, at least it addresses other major environmental concerns.

As far as I know, Oscha is the only (or one of the very few) sling manufacturer with such principles. Is it difficult? Do you have customers, who stay loyal to the brand due to its ethics? (Well, I guess you do, it’s me for a start :))

Awww, that’s nice to hear! To be honest we haven’t really received much feedback that customers stick with us for any ethical reasons. However it isn’t hard for us to operate in this way and to continue to try and improve our supply line as it simply feels like the only path for Oscha.

One thing we’ve had a lot of pressure about, especially when looking at making new products that require a lot of manufacturing time, is making things in the UK, and paying a good living wage to everyone concerned. It has been suggested to us many times that we should move production to the Far East or Eastern Europe in order to cut our costs and produce more. Whilst there is obviously value in employing people anywhere, we feel that taking advantage of cheap labour and materials would be exploitative. We want to support our own economy and local community. Also, we could not keep such a close eye on production and quality if we didn’t do it all in-house.

I know that most people (myself included) are used to being able to buy fabrics & clothes very cheaply, the idea of ‘throw away fashion’ is predominant. So it can be difficult to understand why our slings are the price they are, and the price point probably does lose us some custom.  The fact is that producing quality items from the finest yarns around and having it all manufactured in the UK is just a lot more expensive. This limits us in some ways, but in order to feel happy with our business and its impact on the wider world and community we feel this is the only way Oscha can operate.

Thank you!

Loanhead firm breaks into overseas market

Midlothian councillor Jamie Bryant with Zoe Emma Masters, owner of Loanhead firm Oscha Slings. Photo: Rob Gray


Oscha Okinami Noosa

Oscha Okinami Noosa

Oscha Rive Milford Sound

Oscha Rive Milford Sound

Oscha Liberty Jig of Joy

Oscha Liberty Jig of Joy

Author of text and a few photos: Lida Pavlova.
Photo: oschaslings.commidlothianadvertiser.co.uk
Translation: Svetlana Skakun.



Loanhead firm breaks into overseas market

Loanhead firm breaks into overseas market

A Loanhead-based business is going from strength to strength with overseas sales of its product rocketing .

Oscha Slings, based at Bilston Glen Industrial Estate, is the brain child of Zoe Emma Masters.

The company makes designer slings and wraps in a variety of high quality fabrics for parents to carry their babies. The firm now employs eight staff with a turnover of around £1.5m.

The slings are sold globally including Russia, US, Canada, Australia and Europe. Over the last two years, international sales have soared by 70 per cent.

Full story in this week’s Advertiser. On sale now.
Read more: http://www.midlothianadvertiser.co.uk/news/local-news/loanhead-firm-breaks-into-overseas-market-1-3565489#ixzz45qCys99C


Oscha Slings: guesswork and experimentation

Oscha Okinami Waikiki

Co-owner of the Оscha slings Zoe Masters responds to our questions for Wrap collection.

The Oceania collection amazed everyone! How did you get the idea to make grades on patterns? Was it technically hard to produce? How do you see this idea evolving in the future?

Its something we’ve wanted to do for a while. We made an attempt with the ‘Fade’ wraps, but obviously that involved using the weft to make the grad and so it didn’t allow us to put patterns through it and we couldn’t attain the same depth of colour. It is quite costly to do and requires a certain warp length as there’s so many colours to dye, so it was very nerve wracking waiting to see how they would turn out. I suppose seeing the wonderful things that hand-weavers have been coming up with; the way they play with colour is beautiful, but in many cases its not really something you can do on a jacquard loom, also a hand-weaver can make small test samples, which we are unable to do for dyed warps, which have to be made in bulk. However, we thought that we have a small advantage in that we can be more creative with patterns over the gradated warp colours. Also, because we have such a high thread count, the colours can be really vibrant and the grad very soft. We can see areas for improvement and we have lots of ideas about how to take it forward. You’ll see some of these ideas come to life around October this year.

Oscha Slings 3

Do you ever plan to use mulberry silk in your wraps?

Not at the moment and its not been something that customers have asked us for. We’d be interested to hear feedback on this though, if there is demand for it. Although I’m not terribly keen as its nice to stick to the more ethically produced silks.

Oscha Japanese Knot Ooki Jinn - Interview wrapcollection.com 18 June 2014

Oscha Japanese Knot Ooki Jinn

Regarding the names of the wraps in the Narnia-collection — why were most of the wraps named after minor or negative characters? The Jinn wrap — who did you mean? Will there be a sequel to this collection, named after the main characters?
It was really to do with the colours, there were so many muted, wintery tones that they just didn’t seem to suit e.g. Aslan or other more lively characters. The focus became ‘The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe’ and that book is mostly about Jadis, the White Witch. So ‘the White Witch Set’ was made up of wraps with the same colour warp with an ecru weft in different fibres. Charn is the city the White Witch came from, Jadis was her name and she was part Giant and part Jinn! We quite liked the wintery theme and the more abstract characters. We do hope to come back and use some of the other characters at a later date.
Regarding the names of the wraps in the Narnia-collection — why were most of the wraps named after minor or negative characters? The Jinn wrap — who did you mean? Will there be a sequel to this collection, named after the main characters?

Will there be a Lord of the rings collection?

Definitely, I think a lot of our patterns would really suit this and I’d love to come up with patterns specifically for it. When we did our competition to come up with a Collection theme LOTRs was the most popular entry (and then Game of Thrones, although Dr Who was up there too, but I think we’ll leave that to someone else!). I have a design that I’ve been holding on to almost since the beginning of Oscha, and would love to bring this out as part of a LOTRs Collection, perhaps early next year we will do this.

Drawings for Eire design by Zoe - Interview wrapcollection.com 18 June 2014

Drawings for Eire design by Zoe.

We would love to know more about such patterns as Eire and Aria — who they were designed by, what the inspiration for them was, where the names come from?

I designed Eire, the outline was largely taken from a bronze age scabbard found in Ireland, which I adapted and added new pattern in-fills to. Babywearing Ireland wanted an exclusive but weren’t able to design their own wrap so I offered to do the design and they could have the first colourway as their Exclusive. This is one of my favourite patterns, I think it is timeless, elegant and it looks quite Elven to me!

Mike's doodles - inspiration for the Aria and Lyra patterns - Interview wrapcollection.com 18 June 2014

Mike’s doodles – inspiration for the Aria and Lyra patterns

Aria was developed from a design Mike and I did very early on which we shelved for ages. We came back to it, and I created Lyra whilst Mike created Aria, I think he did better! He named Aria because he thought it looked lyrical. I guess the original design came from my general love of spirals, waves and dots, its a bit of a doodle-pattern really and a bit different from some of our ‘normal’ stuff, but its kind of fun and bit more light-hearted, which is nice for a change.

Will there be any more bi-colored wraps? Why were they not as popular, do you think?

I don’t know if we’ll make more. I am totally bemused about why they didn’t go down so well. Its funny at the moment as so many customers are complaining ‘why didn’t you make more Hawai’i wraps? How could you not know they would be popular?’ and I think of Teo Ghanima… for me this is one of the nicest things I’ve ever come up with! I thought it looked on-trend, edgy, yet at the same time traditional and beautiful — the detail of the borders, with the bold central, geometric shapes and the funky colours. I really thought people would enjoy that stuff, same with the JK Ooki’s (Ghanima and Gauis).So its all guess work and experimentation really, we can never be 100% sure if customers will like our creations, but we always try our best.

Oscha Teo Ghanima - Interview wrapcollection.com 18 June 2014

Oscha Teo Ghanima

Are you planning on releasing any more hand-wovens? Would you use the same weaver or someone else?

We’ve been working with another hand-weaver for some time now to develop some traditional, earthy fabric and intricate patterns, which we hope are quite different than other things that are out there. We hope to send out testers for that soon. We will continue to work with Cally Booker and she’ll do us one warp (making about 2-3 wraps) every season with new patterns/colours. She’s lovely to work with and very experienced. Hand-weaving is likely to be a very small side-line for us though. Mike & I enjoy designing and experimenting with pattern and colour too much ourselves!

In your first interview for the Russian babywearing-community, you mentioned that you would like to have a standard collection, that would always be in stock on the website. Now it is possible to buy something on the site at almost any moment, but will there be a specific standard collection, that will be more or less constant?

Things have changed a lot since the last interview! I really like that people can come to our store and have a good range to choose from now, and that has happened organically. We will choose the odd item to re-run, for instance we feel that red Roses (Eros and Aphrodite) seem like good items to have in stock and have re-woven them. We try to think about what someone new to babywearing might like the look of, as opposed to a collector, and keep that in mind when thinking about ‘regular’ stock. So, for instance, Ladybirds is not a ‘collectors’ cup of tea (most likely) but to a new parent its a really sweet pattern that they want to have for their child. It would be interesting to think about a few items that will always appeal to new parents and that the community would also like to see available and consider those for in-stock items. At the end of the day I prefer us having stock available as well as having the odd sell-out line as I feel it makes us a more viable business in the long-term and more able to promote babywearing.

Oscha Slings - Interview wrapcollection.com 18 June 2014 Oscha Slings - Interview wrapcollection.com 18 June 2014

Which wraps did the creators of Oscha keep for themselves (maybe for sentimental reasons)? Or do you have one of every wrap created on your shelf?

We didn’t keep hold of one of everything from the early days but do that now. I still have a wee stash. I liked the wool wraps best (as my boys have just turned 5!) — Strato Nocturnus, Roses Noel, Nouveau cashmere prototype etc and for summer I used Surya Tiree a lot. One of my sons only wanted to be wrapped in Shui Long Emperor though and the other in SN ‘Dragonfruit’! These days, as we don’t really wrap anymore, I like to take the sling fabric to use as shawls or make into things for our home. I was at a wedding the other day and used Sekai Hilo as a shawl, we have Eire Charn curtains in our sitting room and JK Jinn in the bedroom. The kids have SN and Raja curtains!

Will we see more of the Raja pattern in contrast colors? Do you plan to make the pattern smaller?

Do a lot of people want it small again, like with Paravel? Maybe we need to ask on FB what customers would like to see with this pattern! We don’t have it planned for anything at the moment.

Will there be any special offers with reduced prices on any wraps?

Oscha Slings - Interview wrapcollection.com 18 June 2014

Because everything is woven in the UK from the best quality yarns and all our production is done here too, with everyone being paid a good living wage, our prices are what they are for a reason. We prefer that customers accept them rather than wait for a sale to purchase from us, so we don’t plan to have sales too often. Having said that, there will be more at some point!

Do you communicate a lot with your fans? Do you have any special memories of such interactions?

Well, I definitely miss all our Russian fans. I always remember when we first showed the Roses pattern (I believe it was Roses Noel) it was very much picked up on by babywearers from Russia first (good taste obviously ;)).All of a sudden I was having loads of conversations with Russian mamas, many of who went on to become regular and valued customers who I chatted with a lot for the next year or so. So I have very fond memories of many of them and it was always lovely to see the pictures of the wraps being used and little ones growing up.

Please give us a hint about what can be expected from Oscha this summer 😉

We have some lovely summer colours to come, an amazing charity wrap designed by a Filipino tattoo artist (to raise money for those who lost their homes in the Tsunami) and some gorgeous new fabric blends. Just around the corner is another beautiful design from Mike, which takes inspiration from my Okinami pattern, so we’re hoping this will also capture our customer’s imaginations 🙂

Oscha Slings - Interview wrapcollection.com 18 June 2014

Interviewed: Julia Samohvalova, Julia Nurmagambetova.