Categorized | Cloth Diapers

FuzziBunz on Shark Tank: A look at their History, Innovation and Trials over the years

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Shark Tank, the popular Primetime show where business owners look for investments in their companies from self-made millionaires and entrepeneurs, featured a familiar company last weekend.  Fuzzibunz, a company started in 2000 by Tereson Dupuy, went on the show to ask for $500,000 from the sharks and in return they would receive 15% stake in the company’s equity.  According to Tereson FuzziBunz sold 2.4 million dollars worth of product last year but the company’s proft was only $20,000.

The Drama of FuzziBunz Cloth Diapers: Pocket Patent Wars, IP Squatters, One Size Patent

Tereson’s appearance on the show stirred up a lot of conversation in the cloth diaper community.  Reactions were all over the map.  Overall it seemed people were thrilled to have cloth diapers (any brand) be seen on such a public platform.  You may recall that Applecheeks has also braved the sharks in the Canadian Dragon’s Den, of the same premise.  Then there were those who took the complete opposite stance and argued that being on television is bad for cloth diapers and might make them too “mainstream.”  I suppose those people are cloth diaper hipsters.

The controversy came down to the impassioned words of Tereson over the struggles FuzziBunz has faced.  Manufacturer issues and multiple moves to many countries in an attempt to keep up with demand, improve quality, and protect intellectual property have harmed their business.  The pocket diaper design with the leading edge all the way to the back (and other proprietary features) are the intellectual property of Tereson and she has a patent on these features.  When she told the sharks how many diapers are infringing on her design and that she is losing out on a lot of profit she spoke harshly.

On the show she uses the term “IP” Squatters.  Firstly, “IP” refers to “Intellectual Property” and that means- the patent on the pocket diaper.  Due to the fact that FuzziBunz holds the patent to a certain version of pocket (not all pocket diapers fall under her patent.  Several big brands have pockets dissimilar enough that they are not infringing on the patent.) cloth diaper manufacturers have to either a. use the same design and pay a yearly fee to FuzziBunz for that right.  b. Go around the patent by changing the pocket style.  c. ignore the patent and sell diapers anyways hoping not to be sued.  Note:  After this was posted Tereson updated her blog with a Q&A on patents.  My understanding of her patent was incorrect about the location of the pocket being part of the patent.  Read more here.

Tereson seems to be pointing the finger less at WAHM’s and brands who are following the legal channels and either pay the licensing fee or have their own pocket design that doesn’t infringe on her patent and more at the cloth diapers made in China that have either cloned her design illegally or are otherwise using her design.  I wrote an article about these generic relabeled cloth diapers found on Ebay and other websites that are virtually all the same but get a new label for resale to those who want clarification on this subject.  In addition there was an issue where a former employee created a new line of cloth diapers and used the same manufacturer as FuzziBunz.  The design was very similar and this caused a lot of drama between the companies and involved some retailers.  Things seem to have settled down now.  Another issue floating around has been about the “One Size Slotted Leg Elastic.”  While FuzziBunz has claimed to be the first with this innovation there were other brands to use the leg elastic sizing, and in particiular, slotted leg elastic.  The first has filed for and been granted a patent.  FuzziBunz stated, when asked, that they are seeking the patent on the “not sewn in” aspect of the slotted leg elastic, not the leg elastic sizing itself.

Of course there is still the question over whether or not Tereson Dupuy really invented the pocket diaper or if she merely was the first to patent it.  I do not have the answer to this question but the topic is still being debated (and causing drama) 12 years later.

The History of the Invention and Innovations of FuzziBunz Cloth Diapers

Let’s step back for a moment and visit some cloth diaper history.  I think it is easy to pass judgement from a 3 minute clip that has been edited for the best TV viewing but perhaps spelling out the long history of FuzziBunz, their manufacturing dilemmas, and the innovations they have brought to the market will help the average consumer.  FuzziBunz get a lot of credit for helping build the cloth diaper industry.

1999-Tereson files a provisional patent before even releasing their cloth diaper to the public.
2000-Tereson files formal patent application.
2000- FuzziBunz releases a cloth diaper with a pocket opening in the back.  The lining is fleece and so is the outside of the pocket.  Later on the fleece outer is replaced with waterproof PUL.  The original PUL FuzziBunz have pointy tabs.
2001- A patent is filed for a reusable cloth diaper with a pocket opening in the back by Tereson Dupuy.
2003- The pocket diaper patent for the “Stay Dry Pocket” is granted to Tereson.
2007- Fuzzibunz receive a facelift and come with larger, square tabs.  Diapers released in January 2008.
2009- The FuzziBunz One Size is released.  The rise adjustments are made using slotted leg elastic.  {video of the original One Size FuzziBunz}  Their original sized pocket diaper then became known as “Perfect Size.”
2010- FuzziBunz adds a hemp diaper to their line-up tha includes a hemp insert and comes in one color- vanilla.  Also introduces cloth diaper detergent.
2011- FuzziBunz unveils a new version of their One Size, now called FuzziBunz Elite, with improved leg elastic sizing anf minky inserts instead of microfiber inserts.  {video of the Fuzzibunz Elite}

For a little perspective keep in mind that before 1999 the biggest brand of cloth diapers was probably Mother-ease, which began selling in 1995 through mail order.  The biggest competing brand with Fuzzibunz today is bunGenius which was released in 2006.  Fuzzibunz had the pocket diaper market for a solid 6 years. 

FuzziBunz cloth diapers have a large following of brand loyal individuals; they have also seen their fair share of critics.  Over the years there have been many documented cases of manufacturing issues that have left customers with faulty snaps, delaminating PUL, leg elastic that has stretched out long before it should, and various other problems that all go directly back to the factory that made the diapers. These customers haven’t been shy about the issues on cloth diaper and mommy messageboards either.

Manufacturing History: The Global Travels and Troubles of FuzziBunz Cloth Diapers

FuzziBunz have been made in various plants including facilities in the US (their original source for years) until they couldn’t keep up with the demand.  They started outsourcing to 3rd party manufacturers in 2006 including a NAFTA approved company in Mexico.   Lots of the diapers from Mexico had faults.

In 2007 production was moved again to Arkansas. This is when the square tab was introduced.  The quality was still an issue and that facility couldn’t keep up with demand.

Production was once again moved, this time to China, in 2008.  The quality improved overall however there were some known delamination issues (appears to have been one large batch) that were resolved.  They brought back the accessory line at this point.  They stayed in China until the end of 2010.

In 2011 FuzziBunz bagan manufacturing in Turkey.  This time they left not because of quality issues but because the plant began manufacturing a competing line of cloth diapers.  The move was to ensure no other new products or innovations henceforth would be exposed.  Reportedly production is planning to move back to the US.

To combat the past manufacturing problems FuzziBunz has recently instituted a “Lifetime Warranty” that protects the life of snaps and PUL.

As you can see, the life of a business has many ups and downs. Along with the manufacturing issues and patent wars Tereson went through a divorce during this time which caused issues as well since her former husband was involved in the business.  There is something to be said for a product that has lasted this long and still has a strong fan base.

Would you like to know my personal opinion of the Shark Tank episode?  I think the introduction was extremely strong and anyone watching would learn a great deal about the benefits of cloth diapers as a whole.  Tereson handled herself extremely well even when faced with harsh criticism of her business.  She also survived several bad “poo” puns by all the sharks.  I was, like many people, a bit put off by the criticisms of other pocket diapers and her claim that she is losing out on a giant chunk of the cloth diaper market.  Like others I am hoping she is not out to put others out of business but that she is just trying to protect her intellectual property.  I could feel the passion in her words and can relate.  I myself have been fired up a time or two when learning of other websites or blogs infringing on my ideas or posts.  When you love something it usually shows, even the ugly sides of it.  And what some people tend to forget is that cloth diapers are not just a movement: they are a business for thousands of people.  To the consumer and advocate it only matters that cloth diapers are being used.  They forget that there are real wages being earned that rely on the success of that brand.

My final thoughts: TV is edited for good TV.  Drama=Good TV.  Tereson was in front of the sharks way longer than shown.  They chose the sensational clips to air.  

My final final thought: When women, who are also businesswomen, are shown doing just that and they speak on money matters, competition, and the like, other people call them names when their passion also leans towards aggression and competitiveness.  If a man does the same no one calls him names.

Please Note:  This article is not meant to defend or denounce FuzziBunz.  I am simply putting out the information available to me so that it can be in one place.  Everyone knows little bits and pieces but to my knowledge no one has documented the manufacturing issues and traced them back to their facilities.  I received information to help in this matter from Tereson to be completely accurate.  I feel she provided fair feedback on the timeline I produced by my own research.  

More reading:

Q&A On Patents Part 1 with Tereson

Tereson Dupuy: Mother on Invention CNN Money

Tereson’s Blog post about Shark Tank

About cloth diaper patents and how they play a role in diaper design: Are Cloth Diapers Too Advanced?  Dirty Diaper Laundry

The History of Fuzzibunz Cloth Diapers

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Kim Rosas began Dirty Diaper Laundry in 2009 out of a desire to help more parents understand modern cloth diapers. She lives in Florida with her husband of 5 years and her two boys. Even though none of her boys wear diapers anymore she is still just as committed to promoting them. In her spare time Kim enjoys video editing, photography, and coffee.
  • http://twitter.com/FeministBreeder TheFeministBreeder

    Thanks for this! I was happy to see Tereson. Not happy to hear about her troubles and patent problems. I know she got criticized for what she said at the end, but, maybe I’m just as curt as she is, but I didn’t see anything wrong with it. People are ripping her off. I’d have a very hard time holding my tongue as well as she did.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=637802963 Shannon Green

    I filed for a provisional patent, moving to the next step is HARD and expensive, without any guarantees! And knowing that, unless you already have a ton of money, going after anyone that would infringe upon your patent is next to impossible. I feel for her, I really do.

  • Mindy

    Thanks for these details and sharing your personal thoughts. I personally thought she represented a very real side of cloth diapering that we like to pretend isn’t there: It’s a business and manufacturers, retailers, Social Media experts, bloggers, even non profits want a piece of it. I think Tereson did a smart thing by patenting her design and I appreciate how she is eager to stand up for her intellectual property. I will say that I wish it had been Jenn Labit on Shark Tank, simply because she seems to have found a great balance between entrepreneurship and advocacy that I wholeheartedly admire. That being said, I am reading Tereson blog post and interested in hearing more of the story directly from her.

  • http://www.facebook.com/katie.lamb.7568 Katie Lamb

    Good reminder why not to by diaper knock offs. It’s just dishonest, and we all want to be treated fairly.

    • Nichole

      I hate to do this to her but we all want what is best as our own finances are important as well. That being said the quote quote knock offs are better diapers. I was attempting yo be nice about it before but Im purchasing more and more of the Alva diapers for FIVE DOLLARS that are holding up when hers are falling apart. It is what it is :(

  • http://twitter.com/Greek_Momma Laura

    I just watched the Shark Tank episode. I admire Tereson for keeping her cool. I don’t know if I could have done as well in the same position. I was in shock when she said how little the profit is. Absolutely shocking to me. I am sad for her and her employees when I think of all of the hard work they put in.

    Part of me is angry and wants to know what diaper companies have ripped her off so I can avoid them, but I don’t like pocket diapers, so that won’t be an issue!

    Overall, I am glad to see cloth diapers in mainstream media. I think it will lead to a much better understanding of what modern cloth diapers are and how beneficial they can be.

  • Linda

    Great article, if you send me an email to lbyerline@gmail.com I will send you an accurate diaper history. The FIRST patented TRUE pocket STAY DRY diaper is a Kanga Wrap, there were ads in Mothering Magazine, it was sold in Canada for over 20 yrs, sold in the USA in the 1990′s. But that was before the USPTO had the internet to do their searches for prior art……
    It is very important to understand that the Kanga, is a Stay dry pocket diaper, when looking at the ad for a Kanga pocket diaper you may as well be looking at a fuzzi bunz pocket diaper or a HH pocket diaper or any other pocket diaper from today’s new style….It used a fancy insert, it was a true stay dry system..
    Right after FB came out Happy Heinys came out but in order to try to maintain a little peace I didn’t do any solid colors, only prints and since our diaper was so different than theirs was, a bikini vs boy cut I figured there was room for 2 very different diapers in the market for 2 very differently shaped babies…….

    During Shark tank I loved watching the innocence of Ms Dupuy and how she spoke of taking the high road. Ironically I believe Ms Dupuy just learned she could no longer sue me in a court of law.
    Although I am sure that I will receive a nasty letter from her attorney for posting about the Kanga diaper, they will call it, and I will quote from the last letter “disparaging remarks in regards to the fizzi bunz products” and they will demand that I remove the mention of the Kanga Baby Wrap.

    During Shark tank Ms Dupuy alluded to the woman who worked with her from an Asian company who stole her diaper design, Charlie Banana, Ironically, this is Charlie Banana, search online for the apology letter she had to post online a couple yrs ago for doing the same exact thing online.

    I’m sorry but she didn’t create the Cloth diaper market. There were a bunch of hard working WAHMS who deserve a HECK of a lot more credit. WAHMS who paved the way for people like MS DUPUY and for me. As well as every other larger cloth diaper manufacturer out there.
    There are many more people who deserve your RESPECT who have not followed and claimed to do anything but have truly with their heart and soul poured every aspect of their beings into this business.
    You want to know who paved the way look to people like: Full Moon Baby Gear, bummis, bumkins, gerber (who ironically had a pocket diaper), momfactured, Oy I’m drawing a blank here but there are so many that truly paved the way for us, they found the PUL, they found the fleece, they did the work. They found the products. They deserve the credit, they truly do.

    And, I Have proof to back up the timelines, I have proof to back up everything. Anyone can get a back copy of mothering magazine to get an ad for the Kanga Wrap.
    The whole Shark Tank episode was a laugh and a half and anyone who has been around the whole time knows it, especially anyone who has been sued ME ME ME, as well as anyone who has received multiple cease and desist letters ME ME ME as a certain company does not want certain information public…

    • kimrosas

      I did recently learn of the Kanga Wrap and another pocket diaper that were on the market prior to FuzziBunz. Let’s just say that I am very glad not to be in the diaper busniess and have this to deal with. Also, I forgot about Bummis which should have been mentioned. Thank you.

  • Nichole

    These are my fav diaper and have been for a while. However are about to be left behind do to quality and design. I keep having them fall apart and wish there were more prints like the Alvas. I actually like the smaller pockets on the Alvas too. The fb are just soooo soft and the closest to a regular diaper



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