CEO of Popular Maternity Brand Committed to Sustainability
Ingrid Carney, founder of Ingrid+Isabel, sees too much waste in the apparel industry. She wants her business to be different — good for moms and good for Mother Earth.
While pregnancy is nine months, Ingrid Carney believes maternity wear can and should last much longer. She’s on a mission to educate consumers and evolve their buying habits — creating comfortable, quality clothing that can be worn longer, “with or without a bump.”
Ingrid is the founder of Ingrid+Isabel, a company that sells maternity and postpartum apparel and accessories, with its origins rooted in sustainability.
“We design, produce, and sell ‘things,’ but we’re aware of our output,” says Ingrid, who founded the company in 2003. As Ingrid+Isabel has grown — the popular brand is in Target and other department stores — Ingrid has strived to limit her business’s impact on the environment. “Americans dispose of about 12.8 million tons of textiles annually,” says Ingrid, who wants to help women keep more clothing in their closets … and out of landfills.
“The biggest problem with maternity wear is that it’s viewed as temporary,” Ingrid explains. She refers to clothing that is made to only fit a pregnant belly, made cheaply so it doesn’t last long enough to pass along, and is overproduced at low cost, often with little regard for the environment. Her company focuses on quality over quantity, and it guides mothers on working with clothes they already have, before buying a whole new wardrobe.
“First, we tell mom to shop her closet, then to buy what she needs,” Ingrid says. “For what she needs, we design for versatility and work with conscious factories that share our values by manufacturing responsibly.
This can be anything from limiting use of or recycling water, thoughtful waste management, and energy practices to using recycled materials in production.” Manufacturers must also show social compliance certification, ensuring they’re committed to fair pay, safe working conditions, regular hours, and zero forced or child labor.
Since most of a product’s footprint is determined at the concept phase, sustainability is designed into the brand’s maternity staples and fashion pieces, which offer flexible fits and easy care so moms can wear the clothes longer. Several fabrics use recycled or plant-based fibers. Even their small garment tags are made from recycled materials, while their shipping practices aim to reduce carbon emissions and minimize waste.
“Honestly, not a single company can do this on their own,” Ingrid says. “We need the commitment within the industry as a whole. Until transportation, inventory management, warehousing, distribution, and even personal habits catch up, we are all still on the path toward true sustainability.”
And still, the company devotes significant resources to educate customers on how to “buy with intention,” encouraging them to rewear their clothing — then sell it, donate it, or share it. The company website offers guidelines on “How to build a sustainable maternity wardrobe,” along with advice on pregnancy, postpartum life, and motherhood. “We want to help mothers prioritize themselves so they can in turn take care of the next generation,” she says.
Building a Brand on Innovation
Ingrid is the inventor of the original and much-loved Bellaband, which wraps around the waist to help pregnant women keep their pants in place. “I invented it in about 15 minutes,” recalls Ingrid, who used a tube top to keep her own pants up when pregnant with daughter Isabel. Within a year of patenting the Bellaband, Ingrid launched Ingrid+Isabel, headquartered in San Francisco.
A Texas native, Ingrid credits her father with passing on the knack for innovation. “He grew up very poor on a farm and had to work with what they had,” she says. “He was a tinkerer who later became an engineer. I learned to problem solve at every turn from growing up around his inventiveness and mathematical mind.”
More than 20 years in business, Ingrid is still growing as a market leader. In 2023, she attended the Finance and Accounting for the Nonfinancial Executive program at Stanford, which helps executives make better financial management decisions to increase the value of their companies. “The program gave me a greater understanding of financial operations,” says Ingrid, who hails from a marketing and advertising background. “I was captivated the entire time.” She says the program gave her the tools and confidence to lead her business into the future — which includes plans to grow and potentially purchase another company.
As her business flourishes, Ingrid is committed to supporting moms in need. Through partnerships with several nonprofits, the company has donated over $2 million in maternity and nursing essentials to moms with children in neonatal intensive care, victims of domestic violence, and homeless mothers working to get back on their feet.
“I have two daughters who have their whole lives ahead of them,” Ingrid reflects. “And I serve women who are carrying and bringing new life into this world. We all want the same thing for our children, so we need to champion other women and do it together. Our children are the most important reason we do what we do.”