April 13 2016 11:48 AM

Little Green Branches

Little Green Branches owner Missie Baldwin carries her daughter Nora Lynn in a woven ring sling.
Photo by Magan Konoski Photography

As the rest of nature undergoes its annual spring rebirth this month (we’re done with all the snow, right?) the free 2016 Lansing Baby Fair Saturday at the Lansing Center will just be focusing on the “birth” part. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., about 150 local businesses, health care resources and service-oriented groups will have exhibition tables dedicated to connecting families with free and low-cost goods and services for their babies and small children. This is a big move up for the event, which was previously held in smaller conference rooms with just a few dozen vendors.

“It’s grown exponentially since we began,” said Missie Baldwin, one of the event’s co-organizers. “We’re not just selling baby stuff. There’ll be midwife groups, lactation consultants and baby-wearing trainers giving demonstrations and workshops. Last year’s response was the biggest yet, and I think this year will be even bigger.”

Baldwin is also the owner/operator of Little Green Branches, an East Lansing-based business that recently underwent a growth spurt of its own. Since she bought the 4-year-old business in 2014, Baldwin has expanded the 900-square-foot store’s product line beyond cloth diapers, its initial focus.

“I started working with Willow Tree Family Center, and it’s really opened my eyes to the need for resource centers for local families,” Baldwin said. “So as I’ve grown to include more types of retail goods and offering new services, I decided to rebrand the store with a new logo and new website to make it new and fresh. We want to be a hub for local families.”

Baldwin is a mother of four — ages 10, 9, 5 and 3 — and she said she uses her kids as unwitting testers for product lines she’s considering carrying, including learning toys, games and eating utensils.

“I’ve made a lot of decisions — both what to get and what not to get — based on their feedback,” she said. “And I find out about all kinds of great things. I carry these amazing diaper bags I wish I’d known about when my kids were younger. I recommend them to everyone.”

One of the biggest trends in baby gear right now is baby-wearing apparel. Slings, harnesses and wraps are beginning to the take the place of baby buggies on shower registries. Little Green Branches carries a full range of baby-wearing products, and helps mothers experiment in-store with a variety of styles to see which type works the best.

“We want to make sure you’re educated before you make an investment in something that you’ll be living with every day,” Baldwin said. “When you’re buying online, you have no idea what’s coming or if it will be comfortable for you and your baby. We want mothers to come in and see, touch and try these items before they buy. The great thing about having a variety of carriers to choose from here is that they’re all different. You never know what you or your baby will like.”

This summer, Baldwin is planning to take a course and become registered as a certified baby-wearing educator. She’ll become one of fewer than a dozen such educators in mid-Michigan and will use space inside her store for consultations.

“As (baby-wearing gear) grows in popularity, (manufacturers) keep refining them,” Baldwin said. “Now there are ring slings, which have rings to help you tighten your knots, and slings that were made for going in water, which is very helpful for going to the beach or water park. And the buckle carriers are starting to catch on with dads, too. There are so many new options coming out all the time.”

Baldwin revamped the store’s loyalty program, which she says helps make Little Green Branches more competitive with online and big-box retail outlets. She said it also helps encourage young families to come in to see what other kinds of baby paraphernalia is available.

“My goal is to become a full registry store,” Baldwin said. “I want to eventually add car seats and strollers, but we’re not to that point yet. There’s no room to grow, but I can pack a lot of stuff in this little store. And I’m definitely not planning to move — Whole Foods is about to open across the street, so I’m expecting traffic to this area to explode.”

Little Green Branches 4976 Northwind Drive, East Lansing 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; closed Sunday-Monday (517) 993-5157, littlegreenbranches.com