It’s not a stroller, it’s a status symbol

Twenty years ago, the founder of Bugaboo struggled to get his grand idea off the ground. ELISA CHIA met him in Tokyo to find out how it became one of the most coveted baby gear brands in the world.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Twenty years ago, the founder of Bugaboo struggled to get his grand idea off the ground. ELISA CHIA met him in Tokyo to find out how it became one of the most coveted baby gear brands in the world. 

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You change your bag every day to match your outfit and the occasion. So why wouldn’t you update your stroller to complement your look, too? 

That’s exactly what Bugaboo’s chief design officer and co-founder, Max Barenbrug (pictured, opposite), wants you to do. 

The Dutch brand has been the pram of choice for many style-conscious parents around the world, including 

A-list celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Victoria Beckham, and recent new mum Angelababy. 

Speaking to Young Parents in Tokyo recently, he shares four facts you may not know about Bugaboo. 

You’re looking at a pioneer 

Back at its headquarters in Amsterdam, the team doesn’t just design strollers that take babies from home to daycare centres; they aim to make statement pieces that parents are proud to push. 

With a Bugaboo, you have the option to mix and match the stroller frame, seat, sun shade and more. You can remove the existing canopy and seat and refresh them with an on-trend look. 

But aren’t there other brands that do the same, too? 

“We are actually the first worldwide,” Max replies without missing a beat. 

In 2004, he led his team in what he termed, a “personalisation project”. Three years later, he unveiled Bee, the company’s first compact model. 

“Bee is our first ultimate attempt to show parents how you can mix and match, and make your stroller really yours and a little bit different from the neighbours’,” he says. “We’re growing and getting better,” he adds, referring to the latest reincarnation, Bee5 (pictured, opposite). 

More colours and materials have been added to the range, and these options now extend to the handlebar grips and wheel caps. What you can get is a mind-boggling 792 mix-and-match possibilities. 

The brand also constantly comes up with special editions featuring the works of in uential artists – think Andy Warhol, Van Gogh, Missoni and, most recently, French artist and illustrator Niark1. 

It has good resale value

Max is the first to admit that a Bugaboo stroller doesn’t come cheap – its Bee5 retails from S$1,149. But it has good resale value down the road, he adds. 

When your child has outgrown the stroller, you wouldn’t want to throw it away. “The second-hand market of Bugaboo is huge,” he says with a hint of pride. 

It’s a testament to the quality of his strollers, which are also known for offering a smooth, stable ride. In fact, he has given his design team “clear instructions” to develop each piece to last 10 years. 

But no, he’s not worried that it will hurt the company’s bottom line if parents aren’t buying brand-new strollers. 

“I could earn money by selling parts,” the go-getter says, like a sharp businessman. 

For example, the handlebar might need replacing due to constant use. “People touch it all the time, so it’s nice to refresh it,” he adds. He then stands up to demonstrate how easy it is to replace the seat fabric, as well. And the shoulder straps. And the wheels.  

It’s a way of extending the lifespan of the product. As he puts it: “It’s good for our business; it’s good for the environment.” 

The brand almost didn’t get off the ground 

By his own confession, Max couldn’t predict the brand’s success 20 years ago. What he had then was the prototype of his graduation project at a design academy: A stroller that could be attached to a bicycle. “In the Netherlands, we all have bicycles,” he explains. 

“I spent five years after I graduated trying to bring this product to the market. I didn’t earn any money, so I had to go on welfare. Can you imagine?” he asks. “There were people who said: ‘What are you doing, Max? Why don’t you just get a job?’” 

He stood firm, improvised and came up with the next prototype. By then, he received various offers from big manufacturers, but he decided to form his own company instead. 

“It was very clear and convincing that there’s a market for Bugaboo,” he says. “There was this huge relief: ‘Okay, we’re there. Now it’s going to happen.’” 

Those were difficult years driven by belief and enthusiasm, he recalls. He was not yet a father then, but now has two kids aged 15 and 13. Naturally, they fuelled his passion to improve and innovate. 

He ignores the competition and copycats, but keeps his ears close to the ground, monitoring customers’ feedback. “Don’t follow the trend. Follow your gut,” he says. 

The brand is branching into suitcases 

Max is fully aware of millennial parents’ love of travelling. While other manufacturers have come up with strollers that can be folded to fit an overhead compartment, he branched into designing suitcases instead. 

He wants to tap into over 20 years of mobility expertise to design a luggage system that’s going to change the way people move again. 

“Everyone has been doing the same. It’s always about four wheels with a retractable handle and there’s no real differentiation at all,” he says. “I realised that suitcases share so many similarities with strollers. It’s about hardware, technique and fashion.” 

And so the Bugaboo Boxer was launched last year in some countries to rave reviews on its light push steering and ergonomic design. 

It’s likely to be available in South-east Asia only next year. But that should give you time to save up for it – a “fully loaded” set is estimated to cost from US$1,490 (S$2,059).