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Originally published Friday, February 29, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Retail Report

Nicole Donnelly expanding company that sells BabyLegs leg warmers

Not since Olivia Newton-John's 1982 hit "Let's Get Physical" have leg warmers been so trendy — at least for the diaper-and-bib set...

Seattle Times business reporters

Not since Olivia Newton-John's 1982 hit "Let's Get Physical" have leg warmers been so trendy — at least for the diaper-and-bib set.

Credit Nicole Donnelly, the 30-year-old "mompreneur" behind BabyLegs, a fast-growing Seattle company that sells leg warmers for infants and toddlers under the headings "modish," "earth," "funky," "fresh" and "retro." They can be found in some Nordstrom stores and thousands of clothing boutiques worldwide.It all started in 2005 when Donnelly cut the bottoms off old socks and slid them over her infant daughter's legs during what she calls "nakedy butt time," her solution to frequent diaper rashes.

Other moms complimented the leg warmers, so she stuffed extra pairs into her diaper bag to sell at coffee shops and parks.

After selling more than 100 pairs in two weeks, Donnelly got serious.

"I wouldn't recommend this, but I found a manufacturer in China on the Internet," she said. "It only took a couple of revisions, and we were good to go."

Fast forward to 2008: Her daughter, Sara, is 3, and BabyLegs employs 23 at a warehouse in South Seattle.

It had 2007 sales of $3.8 million in 50 countries, including the U.S., Japan, Israel, Iceland and South Korea.

Next month, Donnelly heads to Uganda to talk with factory owners about the possibility of producing a line of BabyLegs T-shirts. (Donnelly raises money on BabyLegs' Web site for an orphanage in Uganda.)

Donnelly introduced leg warmers made of organic wool and cotton last fall, but sales fell short of expectations. Priced between $15 and $28, they're more expensive than the standard $12 pairs.

Donnelly, who describes herself as a vegan and diligent recycler, said she remains confident that consumers will pay extra for the organic certification.

She blames the lackluster sales on "design issues," noting that the colors she chose were probably too "adult." Organic offerings include "Ivy League," a plum-and-olive-striped pattern, and "Scandia," a curious mix of red, purple, green and brown.

"It probably wasn't the best choice for a mass market. That was my mistake," she said.

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Former snowboarder

Donnelly graduated from Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, with a bachelor's of integrated studies in history, German and photography, then traveled the country performing in snowboarding contests until a couple of scary falls convinced her to quit.

She met her future husband, Joel, while working at Camano Island State Park and three months later moved with him to West Seattle.

Donnelly launched the company out of their tiny apartment on Alki, "where five boxes of BabyLegs took up our entire hallway."

"My mom had this credit card with a $12,000 limit, and I think I used that for a year," she recalled.

A new line of leg warmers called "Not Socks," featuring such whimsical designs as butterflies and robots, is expected to help BabyLegs double or triple its sales this year to between $8 million and $12 million. Not Socks are sold at more than 500 big-box stores nationwide.

"Diaper-bag essential"

Donnelly promotes BabyLegs as a "diaper-bag essential," though she hopes they'll also catch on with teens and adults. If Donnelly has her way, soccer players of all ages will cover their shin guards with leg warmers rather than socks.

"I think David Beckham is going to end up wearing them," she said, smiling. "The soccer thing is going to be huge."

— Amy Martinez

Tidbits

As of Thursday morning, 60 people had joined a Web site dedicated to saving Starbucks' warmed breakfast sandwiches, which the company plans to phase out this year.

One member of the newly launched www.savethebreakfastsandwich.com wrote "My homage to the Breakfast Sadwich (sic): Don't push me cuz I'm close to the edge, I'm tryin' not to lose my head, but it (sic) you take my sandwich away uh huh uh huh... " — MA

Kent Station recently signed six new retail tenants, making the South King County shopping center 93 percent leased, developer Tarragon said.

The tenants "are about as diverse as retailers can get, providing computer and electronics merchandise, portrait photography services, make-your-own candle opportunities, apparel and specialty gifts," Tarragon said.

They are Links Golf Café, Mac Store, Waxen Art, Portrait Innovations, Marie Haggin Accessories and Peridot Boutique. — AM

When people talk about "the book on Starbucks," they might be talking about at least 10 tomes, half of which came out last year, according to AbeBooks.com in Victoria, B.C.

Its top-selling Starbucks book is last year's barista memoir, "How Starbucks Saved My Life," which is being made into a movie starring Tom Hanks. MA

DavidBartonGym, a New York company with the motto "Look Better Naked," plans a 37,000-square-foot fitness center at the Bravern project in downtown Bellevue.

It's scheduled to open in November as about 2,300 Microsoft employees take over two office towers being built at the site along 405.

The company has five locations in New York City, Miami and Chicago. — AM

The AMC movie theater at Redmond Town Center has closed.

Christina Henning, marketing manager at the 10-year-old shopping center, said another entertainment venue will replace the eight-screen movie theater by next fall, with details to come in the next few weeks.

Earlier this year, seven retail tenants, including Limited Too, Nine West and Abercrombie & Fitch, left Redmond Town Center after their leases ran out. — AM

Seattle-based Bartell Drugs opens a 13,024-square-foot store Monday at a new mixed-use development on Queen Anne. The store will be Bartell's 56th. AM

Calidora Skin Clinic will open three new locations in Southern California this spring. It has four clinics in the Seattle area and one in Manhattan Beach, Calif. — AM

Retail Report appears Fridays. Melissa Allison covers the food and beverage industry. She can be reached at 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com. Amy Martinez covers goods, services and online retail. She can be reached at 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Retail Report
Retail Report is a look at the trends, issues and people who makeup the dynamic and versatile retail sector throughout the Puget Sound region. Every Friday with Melissa Allison and Amy Martinez. Send tips or comments to mallison@seattletimes.com or amartinez@seattletimes.com.

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