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No one wants to use ugly baby gear. Ever notice that pricey baby stuff has much nicer design, fabric, and materials than what you buy in the discount big box stores? It has to. Because no one's going to pay $500 for a homely stroller.
That being said, value brands often bite the style of more expensive competitors. Take muslin blankets for example. In 2006, Aden + Anais was the only muslin blanket-maker in the U.S. If you wanted a muslin blanket, you were going to pay $20-$30 for it in a specialty baby store. Fast-forward a decade, and muslin blankets are going for as little as $5 in discount stores.
One-handed strap-in-the-seat stroller folding systems are another good example. Baby Jogger was the first to come out with what it called Quick-Fold Technology in 2004, and for years it was only available in the highest-end Baby Jogger strollers. But now you can easily find similar systems on strollers in the $100-$200 range: 4 of the strollers in our story "7 strollers that fold up so easily it’s like the whole world smiles" have them.
In fact, there are a ton of value-priced products that look enough like more expensive competitors to fool the eye. Here are some of our favorites. Oh, and if you're wondering why everything's a shade of aqua: Along with gray, it's just the current "it" baby hue.
1. The Skip Hop Tuo, left, and the Micuna Ovo Max: Skip Hop muscled into the baby gear market by providing high style and thoughtful details at a mid-range price point; the company's diaper bags and Zoo Pack kid's bags became category-killers using this strategy. Surely they must have used Micuna's luxe highchairs as design inspiration for the sleek brand new Tuo. Like its competitor, it also has beechwood legs, a detachable tray and harness, and converts into a toddler chair. But unlike the Ovo Max, the Tuo can be used for a child of up to 60 pounds and/or 5 years -- the Ovo Max tops out at 40 pounds, 3 years -- and it's less than half the price. (Tuo, $160; Ovo Max, $459.99)
2. Bumbo Changing Pad, left, and Keekaroo Peanut Changer: Keekaroo started a whole new parent craze for soft, wipeable foam that made traditional padding-and-covers changing pads seem fussy and old-school. Now you'll find squishy material creeping into all sorts of other products: highchairs, baby chairs, bibs, though some cushy products are made of silicone instead of polyurethane like these two very similar changing pads. Regardless, both have nonslip bottoms, a strap to hold unruly babes, and wipe clean -- no covers required. (Bumbo Changing Pad, $69.99; Keekaroo Peanut Changer, $129.99)
3. BabyBjorn Bouncer Balance Soft, left, and Chicco Pocket Relax Baby Bouncer: The Bouncer Balance Soft has been the king of bouncer chairs for a few years now, due to its understated style, ability to fold flat for easy storage, and the delightful bounciness of the design, which rewards even minimal movement with a fusillade of bouncing. The Chicco Pocket isn't quite as bouncy, but with its nice, neat look and flat storage fold, it could do you fine for a lot less money. (BabyBjorn Bouncer Balance Soft, $199.99; Chicco Pocket Relax Baby Bouncer, $47.99)
4. BabyBjorn Soft Bib, left, and Summer Infant Bibbity: Both are soft, dishwasher-safe, easily wipe clean, and have a pocket at the bottom that neatly catches face-drips. They even come in similar colors, like these twin aqua shades, lime green, and rose pink, though the BabyBjorn bib is made of (PVC-free) plastic and the Summer Infant of (BPA-free) rubber. But the Summer Infant Bibbity sells for a fraction of the BabyBjorn bib's price. (BabyBjorn Soft Bib, $13.99; Summer Infant Bibbity, $3.79.)
5. Skip Hop Forma, left, and Petunia Picklebottom Boxy Backpack: Petunia Picklebottom makes luxurious bags with a high-end style matched by few bargain bag-makers. But Skip Hop comes mighty close with its new Forma Diaper Backpack. Both have lots of pockets, sleek neutral looks, and smart details like a zip-out changing station (the Boxy Backpack) or pull-out storage cubes for clothes and bottles (the Forma). One costs a lot less. (Skip Hop Forma, $70; Petunia Picklebottom Boxy Backpack, $189).
6. Boon Naked, left, and Summer Infant Splash N' Store: Baby baths are a must-have but storing them is a major drag. Thus baths like these, which fold flat to go wherever you want more easily. Both of these baths are designed to take babies from birth through toddlerhood. The Splash N' Store comes with a fabric infant sling made to securely hold newborns that converts into toddler padding; the Naked just has to be popped open halfway or fully to convert from stage to stage -- it also has a built-in hook to make it easier to hang on a bathroom wall. (Boon Naked, $69.99; Summer Infant Splash N' Store, $49.99)
7. Svan Signet, left, and Stokke Tripp Trapp: "Waitaminit!" I can practically hear you saying. "These chairs don't look just like each other! And they're the same price!" True, and true. But the Svan Signet has emerged as the competitor to the Scandinavian superstar of highchairs, because like the Tripp Trapp it boasts simple Euro style and durability. Both chairs convert from baby to toddler to youth/adult seating, holding up to 250 pounds in the Signet's case, 300 in the Tripp Trapp. But for the same price, the Signet Complete includes a guard, crotch bar, tray, and a plastic cover to put over it. The $250 Tripp Trapp just has straps; getting the Baby Set seat is another $69, a tray $49. (Svan Signet Complete, $249.99; Stokke Tripp Trapp, $249.99)
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.