Spring Quilt Market will be in Minneapolis in just a few months. Thousands of people will attend this international fabric industry trade show to exhibit, buy, teach, and network. Most of these people will be women, many of them mothers.
Although the average age of dedicated quilters in America today is 64, there’s a new generation of designers and shop owners who are in their late 20’s through early 40’s who will be at the show and in many ways the future of the industry is dependent upon their enthusiasm and success. For many of these younger industry professionals figuring out how to balance raising a family and running a business is a tricky equation, especially if they’re nursing mothers of young babies.
Trade shows generally have regulations that prohibit children from being on the show floor out of both concern for their safety and to keep the focus of the show on conducting business rather than playing with young kids. Often these rules prohibit infants and babies from attending the shows as well, even nursing babies. Last spring, for instance, a nursing mom was escorted from the National Restaurant Association trade show for carrying her 10-day-old nursing infant in a sling.
Quilt Market’s rules are in keeping with most national trade shows. Children under 14 are not allowed to attend the show and, until a few years ago, this included nursing infants as well.
In August of 2012, however, Quilts, Inc., revised their regulations to allow babies under age one at the show if they are in a carrier such as a sling or Baby Bjorn. No strollers are allowed.
In May of 2012, before the new rule was in place, quilt designer and author Cheryl Arkison attended spring Quilt Market with her two-month-old son. “We were physically accosted when my husband tried to bring my son in to feed,” Cheryl says. “The baby was in a baby carrier, not a stroller, yet a security guard physically restrained my husband from going up the escalators while he had the baby. I was insulted by Quilts, Inc. staff for even considering [nursing at the show]. And the whole time I was there to promote my book. I nearly missed my book signing.”
This year, Rae Hokstra attended fall Quilt Market under the new ruling, but still found the situation to be challenging. “Quilt Market has got to be the hardest place to bring a nursing infant, due to their no stroller policy,” Rae says. “It’s completely ridiculous given that strollers are allowed at the Quilt Show the next week, so it’s not a fire hazard or some sort of physical issue, and the aisles are certainly not crowded enough that it would create a traffic hazard.”
Rae also felt that Quilts, Inc.’s new policy allowing nursing moms wasn’t being fully implemented. “Their posted nursing policy is also completely different from their practice. For instance, on their brochure it says that nursing babies are allowed, but when I first called to double-check if I could bring a stroller and check it somewhere, the person who I spoke to on the phone told me no children at all were allowed. I told her that could not possibly be true because I had seen babies the previous year and she said she had to check with her manager and call me back. There was a brief 24 hour period where I was completely freaked out that I had just wasted money on a plane ticket to Houston that I wouldn’t be able to use. Finally they called back and left a message that it was fine, but clearly they aren’t communicating this policy to their employees.”
A call to Quilts, Inc., on Monday confirmed that infants are allowed at Quilt Market as long as they’re in a carrier. A woman named Ann in customer service explained to me that there would be a room “off to the side” for moms to nurse. Rae didn’t find this to be true at fall Market. “There was noise on the website or in a brochure about there being an area for nursing mothers to nurse. But when I asked multiple staff members on the floor where this area was, no one knew. I ended up nursing on the sly in the food court, and on the couches outside the hall. It was really stressful.”
The Craft and Hobby Association (CHA) sponsors major craft industry trade shows as well so I reached out to CHA to see what their rules are for nursing moms on the show floor. Tina Lynn Mercardo, Director of Events and Expositions, explained, “We allow children two years old and under provided they are carried, or fastened to the adult at all times. For nursing mothers we have a few options: on the show floor our Member Lounge has private offices with rooms that are able to be closed and locked to allow for the mother’s privacy, off the show floor we have private offices in the lobby and Show Office, and during classes there is an Education team office on the 2nd floor and should a mother need privacy during classes, this is available to them. We do not allow strollers. We allow mothers to store these in our Show Office or Bag Check at no charge.”
Lisa Ver Burg owns the scrapbooking shop, A Walk Down Memory Lane, in Rock Valley Iowa. She attended the CHA Mega show in Anaheim, CA last week as a retailer and has her own perspective on nursing moms and babies on the show floor. “I go to the show to meet people, network, and buy from the manufacturers,” Lisa explains. “The buying aspect is probably my most important thing I do at that show because it’s so hard to buy paper off a catalog or a website. On a few different occasions I was in vendor booths and the ‘designer’ had their baby with them. It was so unprofessional that they’re playing/talking/taking pictures with their baby at a business show. I understand they’re moms. I’m a working mom too, but I honestly don’t think a baby belongs on a show like this. As a working mom (and not a work at home mom), do you take your baby to the office, to the store you work at, etc? If your baby is nursing, you either freeze breast milk to feed the baby at home, or keep the baby in the hotel and go back to feed them. I really don’t think the show is an appropriate place for a baby. If you can’t or won’t do those things, maybe this year is the year you skip out of CHA to take care of the baby. I’m trying to conduct business there.”
The National Needlearts Association (TNNA) is the yarn industry trade show and I wondered if their policies were similar to those of Quilt Market or CHA. A phone call confirmed that babes in arms were allowed and that they, too, had a no stroller policy. I asked if there was a designated space available at the show for moms to nurse and was told there wasn’t (although the restroom was suggested as a possibility).
Knitwear designer Kate Oates attended TNNA two years in a row with two different nursing infants. She confirmed that there isn’t a dedicated area for nursing. “I just nursed wherever,” Kate says. She was careful to keep her baby in the carrier when not nursing because she says, “you get yelled at by TNNA staff or representatives if your baby is out of the carrier.” Kate felt this was fine, though. “I am thankful that I was allowed to bring my baby with me to a trade show/business event and I don’t need special accommodations.”
Jessica Anderson is a knitwear designers and mother of five. She attended TNNA this year with her seven-month-old nursing son, Sheldon. “It’s a lot of walking, and a lot to carry, day after day (he’s well over 15 lbs at this point, and even with a good wrap, that gets heavy!). I started to wonder why I was not allowed to have a stroller for him, yet there were women with rolling suitcases? Surely if they could have those, nursing moms could have a small stroller? Even if my little one wouldn’t go in the stroller, it would have been nice to have a place to put the diaper bag and all the baby gear! I also found myself wondering several times why there couldn’t be a nursing place- or at least a spot with comfy chairs, better changing area, and easy access to water (because I could tell I was getting dehydrated frequently). There were spots for just about everything else, it really wouldn’t be that hard to have a nursing area, just for the rare occasion when baby was too overstimulated, yet starving and starting to become a handful.”
Attending an industry trade show as a nursing mom brings to light the work so many of us do as both mothers and business people. Figuring out how to do both well is certainly a challenge. Cheryl put it this way, “Being a quilter goes hand in hand with being a mother for me. In that I am not alone. The industry is changing as more and more younger women take up the craft and develop careers and businesses from their love of this textile world.” This world has shifted to a degree already to accommodate them. Should it shift more?