If you are a childless woman with a TikTok account, you may have stumbled across something called Kyte Baby the past few days. The company, whose bamboo baby apparel has been a momfluencer fixture for a while, is currently under fire for denying an employee time off to take care of her adopted baby.
Here’s what’s happened so far.
Wait, what is Kyte Baby?
Surprisingly not founded by a Kardashian, Kyte is a woman-owned company that makes bamboo baby clothes. (One co-worker told me she owns more than a few of its sleep sacks and frequently gifts them to expectant parents.) On the brand’s website, founder and mother-of-five Ying Liu recalls searching for breathable fabrics to help soothe her youngest daughter’s eczema, which ultimately led her to launch a sustainable bamboo-clothing line with her aunt. The website also boasts a “diverse group of parents and sustainability advocates hailing from around the globe” who work on the Kyte Baby staff, churning out onesies, bedding, pajamas, and other infant essentials in a wide range of soothing pastels and minimalist prints.
Kyte Baby Controversy Explained: Popular Bamboo Clothing brand Kyte Baby is being canceled after letting employee Marissa go, who recently adopted a NICU Baby. #truecrimetiktoker #tiktoktea #tiktoknews #kytebaby #bamboobabyclothes #babyclothes #momsoftiktok♬ original sound - ConspiraTea
This all sounds normal. What happened?
Earlier this week, moms all over TikTok started circulating the story of Marissa Hughes, a studio coordinator for the brand who was allegedly almost fired for asking to work remotely while her adopted baby was in the NICU. According to a GoFundMe page originally launched to raise adoption funds, Hughes and her husband, Rawley, struggled with infertility and miscarriages for years. In December, they got a call from their adoption agency informing them that a baby boy in need of placement had been born prematurely in El Paso, Texas. They drove nine hours from Dallas to the hospital, where, according to the GoFundMe (which is now going toward the baby’s medical costs), they were told Judah would need to stay in the NICU until the end of March.
According to a since-deleted video posted by Hughes’s sister Kailee Moeller, the new mother got on a call with three of her superiors, including Liu, who all knew she was expecting to adopt, and asked for time off work to stay with her baby in the hospital. Over the course of two separate phone conversations, Hughes was apparently told that she could work remotely for two weeks from El Paso and then needed to be back to work in person. The details of these talks are not entirely clear, but Moeller suggests Hughes was told she wasn’t entitled to maternity leave because she didn’t give birth. When Hughes asked for more time, Moeller says she was offered a carefully worded ultimatum that she summarizes as: “If you’re not here in two weeks, you’re not fired, but you’re giving up your job.”
Kyte Baby fired Marissa (former employee) due to not being able to physically be at her employer’s warehouse. Marissa recently adopted a micro (22 weeks). The NICU is already strenuous enough. No parent should have to worry about losing their job. Please share. 🤍 #micropreemie #adoptionmatters #kytebaby #kytebabydrama #kyte #kytebabyclothing #micropreemiemom♬ original sound - JD | Life After NICU 💙
Aren’t there laws to prevent this kind of thing?
Certain U.S. employers are required by the Family and Medical Leave Act to give new parents up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid parental leave, but not everyone qualifies. FMLA does include adoptive parents, but employees are only eligible if they’ve worked for their company for at least 1,250 hours in the past 12 months. Hughes’s sister said she’s been at Kyte for just under a year, disqualifying her from FMLA benefits. Another possible factor: Employees are only entitled to FMLA-mandated leave if they work for a company that has at least 50 workers. Kyte doesn’t list its company size online, but Indeed indicates it’s smaller than 50 employees. So while it doesn’t seem like Kyte is technically breaking the law, it’s certainly not a great look for an ethically minded baby company to not accommodate the needs of a new parent with a hospitalized child.
So everyone is mad at Kyte?
Since Moeller posted her video, TikTok has been flooded with moms tossing their beloved Kyte onesies into the snow, calling to boycott the brand, and demanding statements from its biggest influencers.
One of Kyte’s major competitors in the bamboo-baby-clothing field, Kate Quinn, donated $2,000 to Hughes’s GoFundMe, earning her widespread praise, and other baby brands seem pretty eager to show their support for Hughes.
What does Kyte have to say about all this?
Kyte’s social-media accounts disabled comments shortly after the controversy blew up, and its site was briefly locked, allegedly to prepare for a big sale, until Friday morning. But Liu has posted two apology videos. In the first one, which was posted to the Kyte Baby TikTok account on Thursday, Liu said, “I want to hop on here to sincerely apologize to Marissa for how her parental leave was communicated and handled.” She added: “Kyte Baby prides itself in being a family-oriented company. I have the utmost respect for babies, families, and the adoption community. However, such respect and good intentions were not fully communicated to Marissa in the discussion of her parental leave. It was my oversight that she didn’t feel supported.” Liu also said that the company will find a role for Hughes whenever she’d like to return to work, “as offered to her originally.”
After critics accused Liu’s video of being overly formal and insincere, Liu posted a second one, this time looking a little less dressed up. “I just posted an official apology on TikTok,” she said, “and the comments were right, it was scripted. I memorized it, it wasn’t sincere, and I’ve decided to go off script and tell you exactly what happened.” Liu acknowledged it was her call to “veto” Hughes’s remote-work request, which she describes in retrospect as “a terrible decision. I was insensitive, selfish, and only focused on the fact that her job had always been done on-site. I did not see the possibility of doing it remotely.”
The founder also promised to review her brand’s family-leave policy — which she did not share the specifics of — to be more accommodating. Admitting that she didn’t reach out to Hughes “until today” (Thursday) to try to talk about what happened, she then addressed her employee directly: “I understand if you don’t want to come back to work anymore, but we will continue to pay you as if you were working remotely for us for those hours that you proposed until you’re ready to come back. And your original position is always open for you.”
It’s not entirely clear what Hughes’s job status is at the moment, or if she plans to return to Kyte, and she hasn’t commented publicly on the controversy. According to her sister’s video, her son is still in the NICU and isn’t expected to come home until March or April.
Kyte’s sale, however, has gone live. I wonder how that will go?