DDQ&A: David Sopp

David Sopp is the head designer- and illustrator-in-charge at Wry Baby, one of my all-time favorite baby product-making companies. David is also co-owner with copywriter wife Kelly, where they have birthed such awesome creations as The Drooly Bib, Punkifier Pacifier Case and Eeek! It’s a Monster Hooded Bath Towel, all of which Designer Daddy JJ owns and loves.

Q&A with designer dad David Sopp

How long have you been a dad? How many kids?
I’ve been a Dad to one amazing boy for 11 years.

How did you get started in design?
My first paid job was illustrating a hose-handling guide for the Orange County Fire Department. I was in Junior High and it sounded as hilariously dirty then as it does now.

Designer Daddy's rendering. Not from actual guide.

I spent 15 years as an advertising art director in San Francisco. I worked on pretty much everything from Dell and Nortel to Star Olive Oil and an IHL hockey team called the Spiders. That’s what I like most about advertising, getting really smart about all kinds of businesses in really short time frames and nailing their problems.

Tell me about how Wry Baby got started.
Our son came with a free t-shirt at the hospital. It said the hospital name and the wrong month and we thought, “How lame! Why didn’t they just put NEW! In a red starburst and call it a day?” So we made that shirt and it was the first Wry Baby product.

How has fatherhood affected or influenced your work?
If you told me when I was a student at Art Center that I would someday quit my advertising career to make baby clothes, I would have shot Budweiser out of my nose before laughing myself to death.

Fatherhood changed everything. I wanted to spend more time doing this dad thing and advertising didn’t really want that to happen. My wife, Kelly, and I were always dreaming up extra curricular business stuff we could do on the side. We thought it’d be fun (and easy) to design some cheeky baby shirts that lampooned the parenting/being-a-helpless-baby experience (of which we were all knee-deep in).

After the Snapsuits(we actually coined that term, knowing that Gerber would eventually come after us with teeth bared if we called them Onesies*), we took our parenting experiences and made the Wheel of Responsibility. Mom and Dad can spin the arrow to determine who takes the late night feeding or runs out for more formula. It’s a pretty funny little gift that’s hugely useful. It still sells like hotcakes.

Oops...guess I need this book.

Our “Instructions line” of Snapsuits and the subsequent book, Safe Baby Handling Tips, best sums up how our parenting experience influences our work. Reading all the books about what you’re supposed to and not supposed to do with your new baby made us pretty edgy in the days leading up to our son’s birth and after, so we used that fear to inspire the visual gags for a sort of instruction manual. We made the gags so ridiculously dangerous that you could look at it and go, “You know what? I think I’m going to do just fine.”

Our Super Snapsuits came from my habit of zooming my boy around the house. The Attack of the 50ft. Baby Stacking Blocks were designed from the knowledge that baby doesn’t want to BUILD the tower, baby wants to DESTROY the tower.

Even our Zippit Pacifier Cases were designed with…wait for it…a vent to let the pacifier dry off while it’s being stored in there. Parenthood influences and everything we do.

Is Wry Baby the only thing you do now?
Wry Baby is the only thing we do now. Sort of. We do private label projects for various clients (past projects have been for World Market and Barneys NY ) and we recently launched a plush brand called Stuf. And when we aren’t doing all that we’re busy branding our historic Downtown area here in Mooresville, NC. We have all kinds of crazy stuff going on.

How has being a designer informed or influenced your role as a father?
I love designing for the Boy. I love designing with him. His birthday party is always a fun project. He wanted a giant piñata one year and we designed this giant robot what was supposed to be attacking his party. The kids would take turns having at it with a baseball bat and it was a hoot. I made it really strong so it took forever to break down, but when they got inside, they found it full of paper-mache bombs filled with candy. Now every year has to beat the last. We’ve made a giant dragon and last year it was a whole alien army. (Click on photos below to read more about these awesome birthday creations. -DD)

How do you and Kelly balance your professional and personal relationship?
We don’t. It’s a big smashed-up mess and we love it.

Does your son ever get involved in the process?
YES. He’s a part of all the new product meetings. His critiques are rough! But he’s usually right, which is funny and also super scary.

Do you do all of the Wry Baby design/illustration?
I do all the design and all the illustration for Wry Baby and Stuf (including all the books). Mostly because the majority of our ideas come at the last minute and me illustrating is the fastest way to get things into production. But I’m really looking forward to having guest artists take a run at a Stuf theme sometime soon.

What I (and I would assume most of your customers/fans) love about Wry Baby is your sense of humor and irreverence about childhood/parenthood. It’s very refreshing! Do you and Kelly have the same sense of humor, or does this come from one of you more than the other?
First off, thank you. That’s very kind. Kelly and I have really different humor styles which is, I think, what makes some of the stuff so quirky. It’s often a mix of our two styles. I’d say I’m about 80% funnier than Kelly and I only say that because I’m sitting here typing out these answers and she’s far, far away at our warehouse. You know, why not make that 100% funnier.

Have you ever gotten any complaints for your irreverence? (I see you have a new Snapsuit, “Crying Gets You Shit.”)
Yes, Crying Gets You Shit was pretty out there. We’re always trying to push the envelope just to see what can be tolerated. We were terrified to bring that to market last August and when we showed it in NY it did great. Someone even stole our sample from our booth! We still think it’s too far and we’re killing it ourselves in favor of “Crying Gets You Things.” Like I always tell our boy, “Sometimes the most inappropriate thing to say isn’t the funniest thing to say.”

That’s the other thing about how we work. We’re never content with anything. We always revisit products and refine them. We just refreshed our entire Snaspuit line-up this January. Stores expect a level of freshness from us and we’re happy to supply it.

Is there any particular child product (other than your own) that you really like?
OXO Tot’s Hilo kids chair (in Raspberry). So simple. So pretty. So sad I don’t currently own anyone small enough to buy it.

What have been some of your favorite Wry Baby products? Which have been bestsellers?
I’m partial to the Super Snapsuits. When we launched them a few years ago people were, like, “Is this for Halloween?” I fully intended people to dress their kids in this for a day in the real world ANYTIME. Why not!? How funny to see this little helpless person, who can barely support their own head’s weight, dressed in this super hero outfit at the grocery store. The thought of it just cracks me up.

The best-sellingest thing we make is Mysterio Predicts. Mysterio will predict your child’s future on a t-shirt. There are 12 possible futures, each in a SEALED muslin bag. So you don’t know the future you get until you get home. Super fun.

Safe Baby Handling Tips continues to rock, as does the “I Might Barf” Snapsuit, which was one of the original 5 styles we started with 11 years ago.

My son is now too big for your Snapsuits. Any plans to expand the clothing products to toddler sizes/designs?
The #1 question we get. We bumped our Super Snapsuits up to 2yrs. and there are, as always, ideas** in the pipeline. 🙂

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*Onesies is a registered trademark of Gerber… who knew?
**Might I suggest some products for children with 2 daddies or 2 mommies? -DD

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