The Disana Story- Oldest Surviving Cloth Diaper Brand

nappy brochure-wm

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 child of Imma and Dietrich who founded Disana.  I’ve reworked the story using her words and include quotes from her original correspondence.  

historyofdisana

Knittednappystep4Disana’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 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”

Imma and Dieter Sauttertext

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 in 1980s-textdisana in 1980s 2-text

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.

nappy brochure-wmnappy brochure 2-wm

“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.

from a Japanese Newspaper in 1990-wm

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.

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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 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.

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  • Love reading the history behind cloth and the companies who are passionate about it. Great post!

  • Alexandra Hunt

    Thanks so much for sharing the history of this great company. I, for one, love reading your historical posts. I’ve always been a fan of social-history, and combining this with my passion for cloth diapering means that this series of posts is a WIN in my books! 🙂

  • Etta

    I enjoyed reading this post. It causes me to have a deeper appreciation for the cloth diapers my son has. I have been back and forth about ordering some of the disana tie nappies. I am going to give them a try.

  • Vanessa

    I love Disana and used the tie on Nappy with wool covers for my kids. I also adore their woolies long pants and sweaters. Wool is the perfect material for babies, soft, absorbent and breathable.

  • Guest

    I am amazed at how unknown this brand and approach is among cloth nappy users in Australia. This method is far superior to PUL covered MCNs. MCNs are hard to fit well, and leak. I bought disana buy choice but trialled a few others I was given. The PUL covered nappies were too loose around the legs and leaked and the PUL could not contain a heavy soak. I was glad I chose disana as my main nappy stash.
    The disana nappy is great. It is breathable, it is adjustable to fit through all ages of baby. It also opens out which makes washing and drying better. The MCNs are hard to dry with all the absorbent layers. Disana can even be tumble dried if the weather is against you. The combination of cotton and wool covers is the best option for “heavy wetters” also and overnight sleeping. Wool is very absorbent! The tie-on design makes for a great comfy flexible fit without press studs or pins digging in as the baby sleeps. The disana covers are quite flexible size wise so i only needed one size. I leave them a little roomy for a new born and then they fit all the way till toilet training. the Long pants are even more roomy. Wool, contrary to what you might first think, is also cooler in the summer than any PUL covered nappy as it breaths better. In hot weather my babies just wear their disana nappy and cover and a singlet. My only word of caution is that the hemming stitch on the tie one nappy can fray after 4-5 years of use and need redoing, and you need to tie up the long straps before washing to prevent them tangling and pulling at the ribbed fabric. They will last longer that way.
    The big unspoken about wool covers is that although individually they are more expensive, in the long run they are very economical. You only need a few to meet your needs. 3 is enough. 1 to dry, one to wear and one to spare. The magic is in lanolizing the wool which makes them “self cleaning”. You don’t wash wool covers every day! You maybe wash them once a month. You just need to be able to swap them over and air them in the sun. The lanolin actually reacts with the urine and self cleans. Learning about lanolized wool has even led me to use lanolize and use old wool blankets as mattress protectors. They are perfect! They absorb every accident, they can just be aired out and put back on the bed and washed once a month and they are soft and comfy to sleep on. No crinkly loud plastic under your little one.