Posted on 27 June 2014.
This post is part of a new series I hope to bring to Dirty Diaper Laundry that focuses on the history of manufacturers and brands. Even companies that began in recent memory still have a valuable story to tell and I’d like to tell it. If you have any suggestions on who you’d like to see documented please get in touch. Our first story is about Disana, a German based company that has been a mainstay in the world of wool, but that also brought the tie-on nappy to the market. This article will use the words nappy and diaper/cloth diaper interchangeably. The story was written out by Elma, the daughter of Imma and Dietrich who founded Disana. I’ve reworked the story using her words and include quotes from her original correspondence.
Disana’s story begins in 1967 when two families traveled to Italy for a summer holiday. It was there that they came across an intriguing diapering item, and by their account, perhaps the first tie-on nappy! This particular nappy was handmade but the family was in the textile industry and they saw promise in the item. At that time, even though in America disposables were present, in Europe they weren’t yet available in the marketplace. The family saw an opportunity to create their own tie-on diaper back in Germany and were confident it would be a success.
As it turns out, this idea gave them trouble at first. It was difficult to knit the tie-on nappy on the machines they had. It took two long years before they were able to track down a specialist who could knit their prototype on a knitting machine. According to Elmar, my contact who so kindly wrote the Disana history for me:
“My father was this specialist.
My parents [Imma and Dietrich Sautter] ran several knitting tests till they have been able to produce this type of nappy on machines. It was very helpful for them to have their own baby at this time so they could test it on their child. This is my part of the story. In 1969 I was the very first test baby for the disana tie on nappy”
Elmar’s parents soon learned what many other parents already knew- plastic pants were not breathable. According to most of the literature of the day plastic pants were always left off except for long car rides. In general, until more breathable nylon covers came into fashion, babies either went without a cover completely and just wore their flats, or they wore homemade knitted wool soakers. With plastic covers the heat builds with nowhere for it to escape. Add a wet diaper and baby is sure to get a diaper rash.
It was kismet. Imma and Dietrich Sautter were looking to find a more breathable solution for diaper covers and found wool pants to be the answer and were also looking to begin a home-based textile business. They had purchased knitting machines in the 1960′s hoping to build a foundation for their future family. Just a few miles from their hometown a colleague was producing wool pants. Once that tie-on nappy was partnered with the waterproof, breathable wool pants, it was a perfect match.
Elmar’s father worked for the family who discovered the tie-on nappy doing their knitting and the products were distributed under that family’s label. It was a successful company and product for a few short years. Just like other cloth diaper (nappy) companies experienced in America, the tie-on nappy company faltered in the early 1970′s when Pampers came to Germany. They lost interest in the company, presumably understanding the difficult road that would lie ahead for them, and stopped distributing the nappy system. Elmar’s parents lost the only customer for the product they were knitting. Now, as Elmar puts it, the typical “garage store story” began.
“It was my mothers idea to create their own label “disana”. It stands for “Dieter and Imma Sautter Naturtextilien.” And it was her idea to use organic cotton and organic wool to produce a skin friendly, pesticide free nappy system. So the nappy got one of the first organic textilies in the world.”
Disana’s nappy system gained in popularity thanks in part to midwives and doctors who were convinced of their breathable properties and spread the word. As time went on the brand added baby blankets, sleeping bags, and other knit items. Their company was growing more and more.
Even with the growth, or in spite of it, Disana’s nappy and the diaper pants have had the same design for more than 45 years.
“I must have done a perfect job in testing the nappies” Elmar wrote.
Today Disana is sold in more than 1,000 shops and mail order/online companies in 48 countries around the world. They only work direct with retailers (skipping wholesalers/distributors). They’ve done so because they want to keep a direct relationship with the stores and companies that sell their products and like to communicate with them in order develop their program further. Most of their products are sold in Europe but they also have customers in New Zealand, Australia, and they have a large base of fans and customers called the “disana community” in Japan.
Beginning in the 1990′s Disana began selling their products in the US and Canada. They had an office in Atlanta but had to close it due to the economic crisis in 2008. They are hopeful about growing again in the US and now have about 50 retail customers in US/Canada. You can find Disana at Green Mountain Diapers, Amazon (aff), Abby’s Lane, and Nicki’s Diapers.
Today Disana is still based in Germany, and employs more than 20 people. They are still focused on finding organic, pesticide free, natural raw materials. At their facility workers enjoy flexible, family friendly hours (no rigid 40 hour requirement). The company is being run by Elmar and Aiga, children of Imma and Dieter.
Disana is the inspiration for this series. Elmar sent such a fabulous and thorough history of her family’s company that it deserved a dedicated post. I initially contacted her asking for more about their history when I was writing my “History of Wool” article. Her response came after it was published, and while I considered editing in what would fit, she sent a wealth of information that deserved to be published in full. I want to thank Elmar for sharing so much with me. For more about Disana there is a wonderful article with photos of Disana’s facility: http://www.domrebenok.ru/blog/v-gostyakh-u-disana/ (In Russian, use Google Translate for the gist of it).
For more articles on the history of cloth diapers click over to the History of Cloth Diapers and vist my Pinterest Board Historical Cloth Diapers.