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Published on June 9th, 2011 | by Jennifer Labit

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Why shouldn’t I buy cheap cloth diapers?

A retailer wrote me an email today asking why our cloth diaper brands weren't selling for $10, like the Chinese-made knock-offs sold on eBay. I drafted a response to her question, but after I re-read what I'd written, I decided to go ahead and share my answer with you here on our blog because it contains valuable information that you, as the consumer, deserve to know. Keep in mind that this was written to a retailer with my "manufacturer hat" solidly in place. Onward....
Dear Retailer:
 
Thank you for your question. While most companies move to off-shore manufacturing to increase profitability, our goal in opening an international facility was to bring our brands to the rest of the world (like Europe, India, China and Africa) in an affordable way. Due to the high cost of domestic labor, duty and international shipping, this is nearly impossible to do this using domestic manufacturing. Knowing that our customers valued products made in the United States and wanting to preserve all of our U.S. based jobs, we took the step into limited off-shore manufacturing while also maintaining a full-time manufacturing facility in North America that still produces most of the products we sell in the United States. This resulted in overall higher costs as compared to brands made exclusively off-shore.
 
The factory is clean, large, well-lit, safe, equipped with plenty of restrooms, safe drinking water, a cafe, and a place away from the sewing floor where workers can take their breaks. They are provided with positive leadership, on-the-job training and transportation to and from work. The management cares about each individual and ensures that they are trained with their future in mind. The factory operates based on 5-day, 40 hour work-weeks and workers are paid over-time if it becomes necessary. We meet or exceed all of the requirements of international law. I have been in other garment factories all over the world and can honestly say that our factory is the only place that I have ever seen like it. It is a place that I would like to work.
 
In spite of higher costs, we maintain very fair price points relative to competing brands while also being recognized by consumers as offering the best customer service in the industry. Our products are tested heavily and made with quality materials primarily sourced in the United States. Each brand is backed by a one-year warranty and maintains it's value nicely, supporting eventual resale by the purchaser. We spend a great deal on advertising and promoting the concept of cloth diapers - a project we're in the process of expanding with the goal of increasing the visibility of the product category. We invest heavily in product development and industry growth. We care about the less-fortunate and are deeply involved in giving-oriented projects to help low-income families cloth diaper their babies. We make decisions knowing that we are affecting people and businesses all over the world... while the bottom-line plays a role in our business decisions, it isn't the most important consideration.
 
We've reflected our values as we've grown our brand portfolio. Knowing that bumGenius was an option that wasn't reachable for many low-income families, we also created Flip & Econobum two years ago with the goal of bringing more affordable, quality diapering solutions to the marketplace. We felt like low and middle-income families deserved options that were consistently well-made, backed by a recognizable company, a warranty and good customer service. I wasn't willing to accomplish that goal by compromising quality or customer service.... so we created a concept and a product set to meet that consumer segment's needs while being consistent in our commitments to all consumers. We were successful in our efforts. Using data from a recent LCA study conducted in Europe, we recently made some interesting calculations. If a family has a stash of 24 total bumGenius Stay-Dry one-size diapers and assuming use from birth, each cloth diaper is likely to be used approximately 138 times putting the cost per use before laundry at approximately $0.12. With a stash of 24 Flip Stay-Dry Cloth Diapers, the cost per use before laundry is approximately $0.06. With a stash of 24 Econobum Cloth Diapers, the cost per use before laundry is approximately $0.03.
 
As frustrating as off-brands can be to retailers, it is important to recognize that, they do serve a purpose within the expanding cloth diaper market. Unlike other product categories where off-brands are typically consumed and disposed of, consumers are investing in cloth diapers as a way of saving money and because they want to provide better care for their baby. Unlike most other garments, cloth diapers are subjected to rigorous, continual use and cleaning practices. Off-brands are usually poor quality and can fail quickly with little follow-up support available from the retailer or the importer of record (IOR). Even though U.S. law requires the IOR to have proof of component testing at the batch level, these diapers are being imported and sold primarily by very small, home-based businesses who may be unaware of or simply unable to complete the required testing. The IOR is likely to have a very limited understanding of component ingredients and manufacturing practices. While this may seem of little initial relevance, it can become extremely important when a child develops a latex allergy and the consumer discovers that their off-brand diapers were made using elastomeric components containing natural rubber (our products are latex-free) or when low-volume consolidated international shipments are fumigated during import (we only ship full containers to avoid fumigation). Additionally, off-brand cloth diapers are unlikely to have a resale value beyond "free for shipping". We've repeatedly seen that consumers who learn this the "hard way" are more likely to make a second investment later in a good quality cloth diapering product with maintainable resale value knowing that this will save their family additional money. Additionally, parents have expressed their desire to purchase good quality, safe, baby-care products that meet the requirements of US and international product safety laws.
 
As the economy has taken steps towards improvement over the last six months, we've seen an overall corresponding trend up both in sales growth and consumer reports of satisfaction with their purchases. Our customers are clearly demonstrating their commitment to their baby's overall well-being and a clear understanding of how their investment in cloth diapers will affect their family's bottom line, both now and when their baby potty trains.
 
I hope this information is informative and helps you educate your customers towards better product choices.
 
Kindest regards,
 
 
Jenn

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About the Author

Jenn is the founder of Cotton Babies & creator of bumGenius, Flip, and Econobum, worldwide leading cloth diaper brands. She has four children (Andrew, Oscar, Elsie and Louis) and holds an MBA from Washington University. When she's not working full time, she enjoys teaching business leaders how to implement sustainable economic & social change.



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