I am fascinated by diaper services. The history of the Diaper Service is long, however their prevalence took a dip when disposable diapers became the norm. Now- there are many more diaper services popping up. I wanted to talk to someone who opened a service recently that had no prior experience, in order to learn more about their motives and what it is like. I chose Emily of The Diaper Fairy. She is young, beautiful, ands happens to have a “shitty” job. I love that you would NEVER guess her line of work when meeting her. She is also a doula and does great things in her local community of Louisville, KY. I used her service for 5 days while I was out of town and had a great experience. Learn more about Emily, The Diaper Fairy, and life as a diaper service owner and operator.
Q: Tell me about why you started a diaper service? I’m fascinated by the fact that you are young and run a service. Many services I know are run by families who have been in the business for a long time.
A: Well, I didn’t exactly see this coming either. Basically, I decided to fill a void in the town I love. I’m from Louisville, KY but at the time my daughter was born, we were living in St. Louis, MO. We decided a diaper service was the best choice for our family and were satisfied customers of the St. Louis service (Baby Care Diaper Service) the entire time our daughter was in diapers. By the time we moved back to Louisville, my daughter had been out of diapers for quite a while but like many moms who choose cloth diapers, I was still passionate about the benefits. Through conversations with parents who wouldn’t or didn’t choose cloth mostly because of the aversion to taking on the washing, I learned there hadn’t been a service for several years. I took more than six months to think through how I could make it work- both personally and professionally. Starting a new business is a lot of work and responsibility. (When people tell you it takes twice as long and costs twice as much…believe them!) I think it works to my benefit that I’m a young business owner. I’m an outgoing mom around the same age as many of my clients and I have used or am familiar with modern cloth diapering systems. My own daughter is now in Kindergarten and my husband is supportive. Therefore, I have the appropriate amount of time on my hands to dedicate my days (and sometimes nights) to running a business. I love being a part of a growing group of younger business owners that are on the wave of a reemerging market. It’s kinda cool getting to set the pace and structure our businesses to meet the needs of today’s young green families.
Q: What made you start a service and not a diaper store?
A: I did consider doing both but most of the decision of focusing solely on a service came from not wanting to take on too much at once. I was just getting my feet wet with learning the ins and outs of running a delivery service and I wanted to do it well. Additionally, two locally owned brick and mortar retailers were already successfully selling cloth diapers so the local retail option was already being met. In the past year and a half, I have built great relationships with both of those brick and mortar retailers which have benefited each of us. My customers receive discounts on the cloth diaper accessories at their stores; I teach Cloth Diaper 101 class at both locations; and my name is passed along if a customer likes the idea of cloth diapers but doesn’t want to wash their own. I have dipped my toes in just a bit these days. I hand-dye and sell my second-cycle (used) diapers that have come out rotation in the service. But I plan to leave the retail end to my two fellow business owners.
Q. What kind of knowledge did you have to obtain to perfect washing the diapers on a commercial level?
A: During the planning stage, I investigated my options for washing on several different levels. I reached out to other diaper services, I spoke with chemists, I joined an industry group (The Real Diaper Industry Association) to connect with others with experience in this arena and I talked with owners of commercial laundry facilities. Here in the beginning, it has made the most sense for me to out-source the washing to a medical laundering center/commercial linen service. I’m fortunate that my washing partner has been very receptive in creating a formula that is gentle enough for babies’ sensitive skin but still reaches the standard for clean diapers. Using commercial machines has allowed my service to use fewer natural resources than home washing by washing larger loads in very efficient machines. It gives me the opportunity to have unlimited growth because I’m not worried about having more diapers than I can wash at one time.
We wash diapers collectively to reduce the amount of resources used. However, a very clean product has to be top priority so I send off a sample diaper each month to a lab to check for pH balance and the removal of bacteria. Because we are a bleach free service, I handle stain removal (through sun-bleaching) in the multiple laundry lines in my backyard.
I would love to own the washing process from start to finish and as my business continues to grow, that will be an option. I’m making the decision now between investing in an industrial space with my own machines or the purchase of a Laundromat (which would provide additional income through coin service).
Q: What has been the response in your area?
A: Louisville is a great small city with a strong spirit that supports independent businesses. My growth in clients has been steady and sustainable- and that’s perfect. But even with that in mind, I joke that about 60% of my job is education. Most of the general population still thinks cloth diapering means pins, plastic pants and swishing in the toilet- even when it comes to a service. I try to be a resource to all Louisville families by providing a high level of knowledge and customer service for my entire parenting community. I teach free classes twice a month and many parents know that they can reach out with questions even if they don’t use my service. And when I’m not out on deliveries, I’m showing up at farmer’s markets and baby fairs in a “Diaper Fairy” costume giving demonstrations with diapers and baby dolls. It feels so awesome when people ask what I do and when they find out I’m The Diaper Fairy, they say, “Oh! I know who you are! I’ve seen your van/been to a baby shower for one of your clients/seen you with wings and a tiara on.” It’s actually working!
Q: Diaper services don’t get a lot of attention in the online cloth diaper world. What would you tell someone thinking of using cloth who is deciding between a service and washing their own diapers?
A: I will be the first to admit that home-washing isn’t difficult- I will even teach you how to do it. But if the whole washing issue is what’s holding your family back from making a parenting choice that has environmental, health, financial and potty-training benefits, choose a service! Services can be especially helpful for a hectic household with multiple or older kids or where both parents will work outside the home. Know that many services are flexible with families who may want help in the beginning during the newborn period or with those families who own their own diaper stash but want help with occasional washing while the family is sick or maybe are just overwhelmed.
Q: What did you do B.D. (before diapers) and did this help you start your business?
A: Before diapers, I worked in medical sales with pediatricians for close to nine years. There are some aspects that are similar. I would say my experience in finding my own new customers, time management skills and face to face customer interactions are the biggest transfers from my old job. I had flexibility in my old job but now I truly set my own schedule. As a business owner, you have to have self-discipline because if you think turning in expense reports is awful, try paying taxes! Even though parts of my job are less than glamorous, (Let’s face it, I drive around a stinky van with the windows down…even in the winter) the trade-off has been worth it. The day my daughter told me she liked me being The Diaper Fairy better because she could play in my home office while I worked and I was able to come have lunch at school with her more often, I knew I’d made the right choice.
Q: You collect diapers for charity, can you tell us more about that?
A: Now THAT was a neat opportunity. I have a friend from college who contacted me looking for information on cloth diapers after she was matched with her adopted son in Ethiopia. Her son’s orphanage had a desperate need for cloth diapers and she wanted to help. I knew our local families were sometimes looking for places for their used diapers to get even more use. I offered to help collect second-hand diapers for donation. We set up a collection basket at Mama’s Hip (one of the local brick and mortar stores that retail cloth diapers) and I also offered pick-ups for donations that were near my normal delivery routes. The response was heart-warming and as of last month, our Louisville area diapers are in use half-way around the globe. More donation projects are now in the works with an emphasis on helping local families in need.
Q: Is there anything else you want us to know about diaper services or anything else?
A: Most services are still smaller operations and we hope to grow and be around to pad the percentage of families who cloth-diaper for years to come. People love to tell me stories about their memories of the trucks that delivered diapers to their house when they were a kid or how they were cloth diapered as babies. It seems everybody remembers the traditional services, right? What’s old is new again…but with the advances in materials and systems, people not already familiar with modern diapers are usually amazed at how easy they are now. Some of my biggest supporters are grandparents and I love that! Every baby in cloth diapers promotes this choice as modern, feasible and mainstream. So, even if you home-wash, please suggest the option of a service to friends who look at you like you are crazy when you start talking about sun-bleaching and detergent choices. We promise to take good care of them.
Thank you Emily for agreeing to answer all of my questions! I hope this will further convince families that a Diaper Service is a valid choice when considering cloth diapers, and you help support a local business in your town. To find a service near you visit the RDIA Diaper Service Locator.