Growing up in Utah, Leah Kirk was surrounded by women who sewed.
Her grandmother kept her sewing machine on the dining room table, and her single mother, after working all day in a clothing factory, would come home and sew anything from pajamas to prom gowns.
At age 12, living in east Mesa, Kirk took sewing lessons, not knowing the skill would evolve into her career.
Now, Ahwatukee residents Kirk and her husband, Derrick Carlo, own an online clothing company, KissingBlake.com, named after their youngest son, Blake, 4. The couple has five children up to age 12.
Kissing Blake started as a cloth diaper business but has branched out to children’s clothing.
Most recently, the couple started a line of school activewear imprinted with Kyrene School’s elementary and middle school names and mascots.
The activewear line includes casual leggings and sports fitness models that contain spandex. Sports leggings are available in sizes for boys, girls, men and women.
The couple also is at work designing logo activewear for Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe high schools.
A prototype diaper created more than three years ago launched Kissing Blake.
It was also what convinced Carlo he should throw his hat into the ring, and now he works full time with his wife in various roles, including IT, his forte.
“It wasn’t until I designed and made the first diaper that my husband could see the potential,” said Kirk. “He saw that and said, ‘Hey, I think you might have something here.’ That’s when he really got involved.”
The quality cloth diapers are what launched the business, though currently Kissing Blake is only doing custom diapers, shipping worldwide.
“We used to do a lot of ready-made, but now we’re doing mostly custom. People like choosing their own snaps and fabrics,” said Kirk. “We have buyers from all over the world – Italy, Israel, Spain, Australia, the Philippines, Canada.”
Even with these custom orders that often add $24 shipping to the two-diaper orders, what Kirk finds frustrating is the lack of local response.
“We probably have more orders from Israel and Florida than we do from Arizona,” she sighed, shaking her head.
Her custom diapers have received rave reviews from online bloggers who have tried them – praising their absorbency since most can be folded for a 10-deep absorption – as well as the quality and the selection of fabrics available.
“The quality is really good, and I’m not just saying that,” laughed Kirk. “We almost always have repeat customers.”
They’re not inexpensive diapers. The One Size starts at around $34 and up, depending on fabrics, whether it is custom embroidered and the number of liners and size.
It’s the multiple layers of soakers she includes that allow for high absorbency.
The three sizes available are NuBee, for 6 to 15-plus pounds; Tweeny, for 6 to 25-plus pounds; and One Size for 8 to 35 pounds.
The One Size has proved popular for older children that may require help with bed wetting or are experiencing certain ailments.
“A lot of kids wear diapers who have medical conditions, and there are older children who may still have issues with wetting their bed,” said Leah, adding:
“I get a lot of feedback from customers who have older children, and they love these diapers. In fact, after getting a message from a mom overseas, I’m working on pull-ups.”
She also offers a one-size toddler diaper that can accommodate up to 60 pounds.
The vast selection of fabrics helps make the diaper experience more fun for older users. “I have hundreds of different prints, even more than are listed,” she said.
She said once she started realizing there was a demand for her diapers, she chose to stay with click rather than brick so she might spend quality time at home with her family.
“I pretty much work all day, sewing, cutting and responding to customers. I try and work around my kids’ schedule,” she said, speaking of her children, three of whom attend Kyrene Monte Vista and the oldest at Kyrene Altadena Middle School.
It was that involvement with Kyrene Schools that helped her branch into the school activewear with the names, colors and logos of every Kyrene elementary and middle school.
“We’re trying to get involved with the schools, partnering with the PTOs to help them make money,” she said.
Another popular category on her website involves baby carriers including sports carriers with Major League Baseball and NFL teams’ logos.
Baby carriers are available ready-to-ship or made-to-order, and come in two sizes - KB Littles and KB Tots.
Kirk said all carriers are U.S.Consumer Product Safety Commission-certified, and they start at $109.
Other items available for purchase from KissingBlake.com include harem pants, newborn sets, dresses (newborn through toddler) and baby blankets.
All these items are made in her home studio, which is stocked with materials. She has three sewing machines at the ready.
“I strive to have excellent customer service, and that has been a very important to keeping us succeeding in our business,” she said.