Home from the hospital after giving birth to her son, Reisman, a former schoolteacher, was reading a pamphlet that included a list of baby items available in Japan. One of them was socks with a thin rubber layer on the soles. "It was like a light bulb lit up over my head," she says of that moment six years ago. Vivian remembered that when her little girl, Sari, was learning to walk, "Our house had all wooden floors, and Sari's feet kept flying out from under her. I had gone to department stores and asked if they had socks with gripper soles. All the salesladies said, 'What a great idea!' but there wasn't anything available." So when Reisman spotted the Japanese socks she didn't waste any time. "I called Rita and said, 'Come over fast.' "
Lerner, a former secretary, did get over there fast, but finding someone to export the socks from Japan took a little longer. Finally, in 1982, they signed up a supplier. "We took $500 and rented a tiny booth at a wholesale baby-wear show," says Vivian. "We were mobbed. Orders worth $10,000 were placed that first day."
Since then, Baby Steps, at $3 to $5 a pair, have made giant strides. Stocked by 700 stores across the country, the socks, now designed by Vivian and Rita's brother, Abe Gurko, feature flamingos, "Yield" signs or scenes from The Wizard of Oz, and are grossing $2 million a year. Baby Steps have adorned the tootsies of kids belonging to Dustin Hoffman, Farrah Fawcett, Steven Spielberg and Jaclyn Smith. "What really makes us feel proud," says Rita, "is that we changed the children's sock industry. All the other companies have followed." Happily, because of Baby Steps' surefooted head start, nobody has caught up.
The toughest thing about being a toddler—aside from the fact that people are always cooing at you and expecting cuteness on cue—is standing firmly on your own two feet. But now kids whose biggest gripe is not being able to get a grip can relax and walk small with Baby Steps, nonskidding socks purveyed by two New Jersey housewives, Vivian Reisman, 35, and her sister, Rita Lerner, 34.