Charm City Babies

Charm City Babies pledges to give away a onesie for each one that is sold. (Charm City Babies Photo, Baltimore Sun / August 19, 2012)

Why are cool-looking baby clothes so hard to find?

That's the question that led two local fathers of young children to launch Charm City Babies in July. The company makes and sells onesies with clever messages and vintage sensibilities, and donates one to a good cause for every one that is sold.

The concept began just over a year ago, shortly after Scott Smith's son, Leyton, was born. Richie Frieman, who is married to Smith's first cousin Jamie, stopped by to see the new addition to the family, and was smitten not only with the baby, but with his onesie, which had been custom-designed by Smith.

"I've always been a fan of vintage T-shirts and graphic tees," said Smith, 33, of Owings Mills. His wife, Lindsey, suggested he make some clothes for the baby, so he added an iron-on in the shape of sunglasses.

"I left and the whole ride home I was just silent, I had this idea in my mind," recalled Frieman, who is also 33 and lives in Hunt Valley. "I called him (Smith) the next night and we started running with it," he said.

Frieman, father of two-month-old Cole and four-year-old Madilyn, said he found buying clothing for his children "pretty repetitive" because of the lack of stylish options. "We've always loved that rock and roll and vintage look that's pretty popular with adult apparel," said Frieman.

So Scott and Frieman designed their own, and established an online store at charmcitybabies.com. They recently began selling the clothes at Charm City Kids Club in Sparks, and hope to add other retailers.

The onesies carry whimsical messages like "Believe the Hype," "Baltimore Crew," and "#cutestbabyever." So far, Charm City Babies offers four sizes and 15 design options, but Frieman said the owners plan to triple the choices by the end of the year.

From the start, Frieman knew he wanted a Buy One Give One Program to be central to the company. Smith immediately agreed. "I thought it was a great idea," he said.

"We thought the Buy One Give One concept, even for a start-up company like us, if we were going to do it, it had to be full-force," said Frieman. "We decided we didn't want to just do a charity every quarter or year, we would do one every month."

At the end of each month, the sales will be tallied, and that number of onesies will be given to a charity. The first recipient of the company's onesie giveaway will be the Center for Neonatal Transitional Care at Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital in Baltimore, which will receive onesies in a variety of sizes after sales are tallied for August. Babies in the unit typically arrive weighing two or three pounds, and might stay three or four weeks, said Tom Paullin, the hospital's vice president for development and external affairs.

"We like to be able to provide some clothing and this helps," Paullin said.

The September recipient will be Malaika For Life, which fights malaria in Africa, Frieman said.

The founders have similar entrepreneurial and creative streaks. Smith is a musician who also works for a gift and novelty firm. Frieman helms an internet music magazine and writes and illustrates children's books.

Frieman's books include a series about Terple, a cartoon turtle with outsized ambitions. Recently, he read, signed and sold books at Mount Washington Hospital, and donated a portion of proceeds.

"That was certainly a positive experience for us and it must have been for him too," said Paullin. "He's very smart and enthusiastic.... he's just really a very creative guy and really has a good entrepreneurial spirit and wants to do good."