A 17 year old starts a cloth diaper line and launches on Kickstarter

Some of us at 17 years old dream up big ideas… like inventing a real working hoverboard or imagining becoming the next big fashion designer.  Most of us never act on our business ideas at such a young age, but then there are the ones who do.  Sierra Levanto is one of those people and her cloth diapers are seeking funding on Kickstarter.

I just learned about this new Kickstarter for a line of cloth diapers called PandaBaby. While this may seem ordinary enough that a cloth diaper brand crowd funds this is far from ordinary.  The entrpreneur is 17 years old and the diapering experience she has is from babysitting.  We all know people can be (or become) experts on a topic without living them.  Take TheBabyGuyNYC who is a parenting product expert but has no children, though he does have lots of kid experience thanks to his many nieces and nephews.  Diapering isn’t rocket science, but cloth diapers can be.  That’s why it’s so intriguing to see a girl, yet to graduate high school, take a leap into this industry.

Kickstarter diapers created by 17 year old- Pandababy

Kickstarter, for anyone not familiar with the website, is a platform that allows virtually anyone to get “investors” that will launch a new product or entire business.  Rewards, usually in the form of the product being funded or swag, are unlocked based on the level given.  PandaBaby isn’t the first diaper brand to seek funding through Kickstarter. GroVia O.N.E. launched and succeeded in their cloth diaper kickstarter raising an astonishing $66,000 and reaching their stretch goal. Another brand EcoMax from the folks at Boingo did not succeed and raised $527 of their $10,000 goal.  It’s clear based on these two examples that you can either win big or fail spectacularly…

So who is this 17 year old?

Sierra Levanto is a motivated student who is already more successful than I ever was at 17! She won the Business Achievement Award from her school and was nominated to attend Harvard Summer Business Academy where she won most innovative pitch. After using disposables while babysitting she wondered why more families weren’t cloth diapering. Her guess, based on research, was the cost factor. So she decided to create a diaper with a lower price.

Her solution was a sized diaper with velcro closures (similar in style to Happy Heiny) with soaker petals attached at each end like a bumGenius Freetime.  Watch the video above or visit the Kickstarter to see more on the diaper itself.

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 7.18.02 PM

Her costs aim to be $35-40 for a 6 pack of diapers. This would bring each diaper to less than $7 each.

Are the costs realistic?

I am truly in awe of Sierra for her business initiative and believe she has an amazing future ahead. I do have many concerns over her ideas. To manufacture a diaper that costs just $7 for the consumer is going to be extremely hard. There is no way these diapers could be manufactured in the US for that retail price, and even manufacturing overseas I don’t see that Sierra will be able to make much money after selling at this low price. If her aim is solely to get cloth diapers in the hands of families who want to use them, without making a profit, that might be possible (with overseas labor.)  According to an article about Ms. Sierra she has already been selling her diapers in small quantities and has secured a manufacturing partner but needs the funds from Kickstarter to begin production.

What’s incredible about this idea is more about the research Sierra has put into it- she has tallied the savings of cloth diapers to disposables and she is certainly working to #makeclothmainstream with her Kickstarter. Starting a business for anyone is difficult, starting a full fledged business in an industry as competitive as the cloth diaper industry is going to be even harder.  It’s also heartening to see that younger generations are already considering their diapering methods.  DDL certainly hopes Sierra can convince her peers that cloth isn’t so bad, and that it’s the best choice for baby and the planet.  Her company’s motto is “Clean Cozy Cloth” and it’s not a bad one.

Q+A With Sierra

After publishing this story yesterday evening there were many questions raised from readers that I messaged Sierra through her Kickstarter page.  She was gracious enough to answer them and they have been added below.

Q. With such a low price point where do you plan to manufacture the diapers and is this initiative designed to be a business where you turn a profit or is it more of a public service to offer low priced diapers?

A. We are partnered with a manufacturer in China and assemble in the United States. For the first couple of years in the business we expect to be more of a public service to offer low priced diapers, then later on turn a profit after investing more and more into the company.

Q. Can you tell us more about the memory foam inserts? This isn’t a material used in cloth diapers before. Did you test to see how absorbent it is and how long it holds up to repeated washing? Have there been any cases of compression leaks?

A. The inserts are actually made up of bamboo fiber which is four times more absorbent than cotton. The insert holds up quite well in the washing machine, as of now after 18 washes a group of diapers are holding up in great condition. There have not been any cases of compression leaks thus far.

Q.  The diapers shown- were they handmade by your design or are these prototypes from the manufacturing partner you mentioned?

A. These are prototypes from the manufacturing partner.

Q. If successful in funding do you plan to work with retailers who will sell your products or sell on your website only? Will you ever add snaps to the diapers for parents who prefer those?

A. I plan to work with retailers in the distant future if all goes well but not immediately. Diapers will be sold on our website and amazon soon. For now we do not plan on adding snaps, yet depending on what the future hold it may be something to consider.

Q. In your financial analysis it seems that you are only factoring in the purchase of a set of 1 size of your diapers but babies will grow and need larger sizes until potty training? Does that change how you feel about the costs to the parents?

A. Not necessarily but I understand it works in two ways: from the way I see it a baby could enter the 12 months at 17 pounds and end the 12 months at, lets say, 25 pounds. Within that full year the baby stayed a medium. Yet within the first year of life a baby’s weight can vary 15 pounds so then, yes, that would affect cost and size.

Q. If the diapers aren’t funded will you keep going with this business venture through other avenues? Also, is the baby industry something you have considered as a future career?

A. Of course. If the Kickstarter is not successful I plan to continue my venture. Though this may mean giving up some freedoms I have in the business and that of other value, I am willing to fight on because I believe this is something the environment as well as the industry needs to be accessible. I want to be a part of the business world in my future careers, yet not limited to the baby industry. However if I continue my career into the baby industry I would be quite satisfied. This industry is full of innovation and is definitely going places therefore I would be happy to be a continued part of it.

Q. How did you come up with your sizing? Did you test each diaper to come up with a sizing range or did you base off similar cloth diapers and their ranges?

A. We tested the approximate weights of babies and aligned them with a proper size then created four specified sizes based on four weight ranges.

If you’re interested in backing her Kickstarter you can click this link and do so. The pledge levels cost significantly more than the planned retail price of the diapers but you can feel good about supporting a young woman’s dreams.  The goal is $46,000 to be completely funded.  

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