Swaddle-maker swamped after UK prince's photo-op

DANICA KIRKA
FILE - This is a Tuesday July 23, 2013 file photo Prince George of Cambridge lays in a car seat as his parents, Britain's Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge leave St. Mary's Hospital exclusive Lindo Wing, in London where the Duchess gave birth on Monday July 22. Be patient everyone: Your order will be processed, but like little Prince George, you will have to get in line. It took perhaps 45 seconds for the heir to the throne to be carried from St. Mary’s Hospital in his car seat to be settled in the black royal Land Rover last week. But it was long enough for the world’s photographers to capture his tiny hands emerging from a cotton swaddle printed with little birds. Distinctive little birds. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, file)

LONDON (AP) — It took 45 seconds, but it was enough.

Newborn Prince George, carried from the hospital to the royal car, appeared in a cotton swaddle with the tiny birds on it. Mums-to-be around the world wanted to know: Who are you wearing?

The answer shows what it is like when a small company gets swept into the maelstrom of attention that comes from touching the golden hem of the House of Windsor.

Once the photos of the swaddle hit the Internet, style bloggers and fashion writers identified the would-be king's new clothes as being from New York-based aden + anais. Within four hours of George's appearance, the website crashed. The next day, the site crashed again. In nine days, the company had 7,000 orders — a 600 percent increase in sales on that item.

The company never even issued a press release. Anyone who wanted to know the manufacturer simply had to type "royal swaddle" into Google, and up it came.

Raegan Moya-Jones, the chief executive of aden + anais, was about to start a meeting when a colleague brought in the picture. She couldn't believe it.

"I thought it was photo-shopped," she said.

The company is still digging out from under a pile of orders for the swaddle, part of the Jungle Jam pack of four that in Britain costs 44.95 pounds ($68).

The average daily visits to its site were off the charts: In Britain, they were up 1,960 percent; in Australia, up 892 percent; in Japan 791 percent and in the U.S., up 458 percent.

So just be prepared to wait if you want to similarly swaddle your little prince or princess. Jungle Jam is sold out for now in Britain and the United States. Desperate swaddle searchers can find them on the company's Australian site if they hurry. Shipping fees are extra.

And there's a factory run from China of 10,000. So hold on.

People just want to be a part of things says Cele Otnes, a professor of marketing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and co-author of the upcoming book "Royal Fever: The British Monarchy in Consumer Culture." She said the rush to buy whatever the royals wear gives admirers a chance to participate in a big, happy event.

"This is history," she said. "If you can't be there, if you can't have a royal baby yourself, you can buy the swaddle."

The royals do grant warrants — a mark of recognition of those who supply goods or services to the Royal Household. Fortnum & Mason has one for example, for being a "Grocer & Provision Merchant" to the monarch. But there are no royal adverts.

Nonetheless the royals remain marketing gold.

They have always been trendsetters. Even Queen Victoria once promoted a ball to help the Spitalfields silk industry, Otnes said. More recently, Princess Diana's every ruffled collar or bow-lined stocking could set off the cash registers.

But Prince George is the first heir to the throne born in the Internet age. New mums and dads can see what Kate and Wills and — now baby George — are wearing and buy it instantly.

This goes way beyond commemorative china, tea towels and other trinkets — the traditional sort of souvenir that shoppers can pick up at the Buckingham Palace gift store.

There's even a name for it: the Kate Effect. It started with the sapphire blue wrap dress designed by Daniella Helayel that the then-Kate Middleton wore to announce her engagement — and just kept going. Take the white dress Kate wore in the couple's engagement photo — sold by UK retailer Reiss — or Topshop's black dress with a Peter Pan collar that she wore for a video appeal.

Fashionistas follow Kate's every move. Every blouse, shoe, and bag the future queen of England wears is fodder for style bloggers and a money-spinner for retailers.

She's been democratic about it — choosing stuff that is accessible to the average person and supporting British products in a big way.

And now there's George, who isn't even wearing clothes yet but has managed to get blankets out the door. And it isn't just the ones from aden + anais. Little George first appeared in a white crocheted blanket from G.H. Hurt & Son of Nottingham, England. They are swamped with orders, too, after photographers zeroed in on the firm's label, blew it up and posted it on the net.

And yet, this is just the start. Otnes said that the trend will just continue as George gets older. Get ready for the booties, the scooter, the sun hat. Firms can get overwhelmed by the attention, which comes fast, hot and for a limited time only.

"You had better hold on," Otnes advised companies in the limelight. "And put on another shift."

Moya-Jones, a native of Australia who started in the swaddle business because she couldn't find what she wanted in stores, didn't anticipate the royal wave. Even though aden + anais have wrapped the babies of celebs like Beyonce, the spotlight that turned on her company with Prince George was altogether different.

After all, her privately held company isn't huge — founded seven years ago, it has 65 full-time employees and about as many part-time staff. In addition to swaddles, aden + anais makes sleeping bags, bibs, blankets and sheets, and Moya-Jones doesn't want to put so much emphasis on Jungle Jam swaddles that customers who want other products feel they are being ignored.

And then there's the shock factor — even if it was a happy shock. The company didn't send the royals their product and expect them to use it. That's just not done.

Moya-Jones only learned after she saw pictures that Kate reportedly picked out the muslin swaddle personally at a London store.

"That's the nicest thing," she said. "At the end of the day, the duchess is a first-time mum, like all of us once were."

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