Trading in unicorns: The role of exchange etiquette in managing the online second-hand sale of sentimental babywearing wraps

  • Natalie Djohari
  • Journal of Material Culture, August 2016, SAGE Publications
  • DOI: 10.1177/1359183515619455

Second-hand trade in babywearing wrap fabrics

What is it about?

Since the 1970s, an international market has grown in the production and sale of fabric specifically woven for ‘babywearing’. These ‘wraps’, a simple piece of cloth for baby carrying, have a long tradition throughout the world but are increasingly marketed to ‘high-end’ collectors as well as ‘modern’ young parents. New releases of limited edition and boutique ranges create competition over highly desirable and often quite unattainable wraps that must be tempted out or awaited in the second-hand forums. The community describes the search for these desperately desired goods as the search for ‘unicorns’. But obtaining one’s unicorn requires others to part with material objects made incommensurable through the intimate, inter-embodied ‘skinship’ practice of wrapping and carrying a child. This article explores how the emotional entanglement of these second-hand goods is negotiated through an emerging exchange etiquette that attempts to protect the illusion that one is trading in incommensurable goods.

Why is it important?

Exploring the online sale of babywearing wraps demonstrates how people commodify and trade in sentimental objects without seeming to devalue the personal histories and incommensurable value associated with intimate caring practices.

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The following have contributed to this page: Dr Natalie Djohari