For the next few months, we’re doing Questions and Answers from our Live Podcast! First up is Anne who has been using cloth nappies for 3 months (since baby James was born). She asks about the history of modern cloth nappies in Australia, how to make and design a cloth nappy and what would be in Vashti and Vicki’s dream nappy stashes… the answer might surprise you!
Vicki Simpson is the current President of the Australian Nappy Association and has been advocating for and selling cloth nappies in Australia for over a decade. She is the owner, creator and Chief Nappy Nerd here at Bubblebubs. Vashti Wadwell is the outgoing Member Secretary of the Australian Nappy Association and is the owner of Australia’s first bricks and mortar nappy store, Nest Nappies, in Brisbane, Australia. Both Vicki and Vashti have used cloth nappies for more than a decade each over three children and turned their passion into a business.
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Transcript: Live Nappy Leaks Podcast.
Andrew: How you doing, Vicki?
Vicki: I’m good. How are you?
Andrew: Excellent. How you doing, Vashti?
Vashti: I’m good thanks, Andrew. How are you?
Andrew: Good. Good. And as you can probably hear from the babies in the background, this is the live podcast where we actually have a special guest, Anne. How are you, Anne?
Anne: I’m very well, thank you. I’m very pleased to be here. Thank you for inviting me.
Andrew: That’s OK. Now you’ve been doing it for three months now, cloth nappies from the start?
Vashti: Doing what, exactly?
Anne: Cloth napping. So we started just before we left the hospital, and James has always been in cloth nappies…
Anne: … besides the ones they forced on him at the beginning.
Andrew: (Chuckles). They always do that.
Vashti: How are you enjoying it?
Anne: I really like it. I’m yet to convince too many people in, but I keep trying. I keep gifting, and hopefully we’ll convert a few, because I don’t know why you would use disposables.
Vashti: And the rest of your family is onboard, and they’re happy, and?
Vashti: Yeah. Awesome. I love that.
Anne: My other half just says, “I’ll do what I’m told, put it out and I’ll use it.”
Vashti: Oh, fantastic (chuckles).
Andrew: OK, well let’s get to your first question, shall we?
Anne: OK. So I understand you’ve both been in business for a long very time, you’re very experience, so I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about the history of cloth nappies in Australia?
Vicki: Oh, I guess that’s me, isn’t it (laughs), I’m the oldie. You can start.
Vashti: Well, no, I actually did a little bit of research on this before I bought Nest. I was working at Nest Nappies for Elizabeth, and somebody asked us how long cloth nappies had been around for. Cloth nappies have been around forever, but modern cloth nappies in their current form were first commercially sold in the ’80s by Ipmsy Bimpsy, so they were the first commercially available ones.
Here in Australia commercially available was around about the 2003/2004 mark, with companies like Bubblebubs and Baby Beehinds, with Itti Bitti close on their heels as well. I think Itti Bitti was the first commercially manufactured overseas. No, Baby Beehinds was, sorry. So that was Davina. She was an RAAF mum, and so her partner was in the RAAF up in Townsville, and Davina started Baby Beehinds, and her partner actually left the RAAF because Baby Beehinds was doing so well. And so, so yeah, and then Bubblebubs was close on Itty’s heels overseas…
Vicki: Oh, overseas, yes.
Vashti: Yeah, overseas. Yeah.
Vicki: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Vashti: So Sue started Itti.
Vicki: Yeah. Actually, no, it took me a long time to produce overseas because I’m quite a perfectionist, and I tried to do it here first, and it’s just not commercially viable. Actually Davina did, too.
Vicki: And I ended up going to, there was a factory in Brisbane that was actually making clothing, and she put me on to them. But even before that, the cooler part before that, actually getting the fabric in was (sigh) – oh, Gab, what was her business, her dad took it over?
Vashti: Oh. No idea. (Chuckles).
Vicki: I can… I can picture the logo.
Vashti: It annoys me. Yeah.
Vicki: But anyway, I remember that was kind of my first introduction to like finding the fabrics here in Australia. And it’s actually really funny, I went to like a mothers group, and she had like maybe, oh, 18 month old, and she breastfed him and I’m like, my God! And Abbi was six months old at the time, but anyway, long story short, she was the first bringing in hemp. So back then it was all hemp cotton blend stuff, and so all of… the industry was like so super tiny and so super tight, and we all just co-oped stuff together. And I remember buying my first couple of bales from Gab – oh God – Bubba Earth, Bubba Earth, that’s it.
Vashti: Oh, Bubba Earth.
Vicki: Yeah, Bubba Earth. And I mean, like without getting into some of the nasty history, I remember, because Davina was buying from Bubba Earth, and then you know Gab had, you know, some of these contacts overseas, and kind of Davina went off on her own way and it was a little bit shifty, but yeah, long story short, that’s kind of how the industry grew.
But we all worked together. It was… and we still do now to a fairly big degree, but my call to fame I suppose is I was the first work at home mum making an all-in-one in Australia, so the all-in-one style. Everybody else was doing fitteds or pockets, that sort of thing.
Anne: That leads very nicely on to the next question (chuckles).
Vicki: Oh, does it? (Laughs).
Anne: Yeah. How do you actually make a nappy? And then how does it scale up to bulk production, which is what you do when you go overseas?
Vashti: Oh, that’s definitely Vicki. (Group laughter).
Vicki: Well where I started was, now it’s funny that you say… I suppose it’s the definition of a modern cloth nappy, because shaped nappies have been made since the ’60s. And I remember my sister, she’s six years older than me and she had kids young, so you know the difference, my niece was… I was 12 when my niece was born, so there’s quite a big age gap between our kids, and she gave me these terry towelling kind of shaped nappies with little press studs on them, and that’s where I started. And I remember I made some out of towels and flannelette, and oh my God, they were huge. They were absolutely huge. I ended up gifting them to someone.
And then from there just started, you know, kind of playing with patterns. It wasn’t until I had Abbi that I could really start to really play. But one of the big things back then was Malden Mills fleece, so it was…
Vashti: Oh, I miss Malden Mills fleece.
Vicki: (Chuckles) Well what I did, when I started, was I thought, oh, fleece, it’s polyester, you know. I’d been sewing since I was eight, so fabrics are like kind of natural to me. So I started with this nappy that had fleece on the outside, and then it had two pieces of flannel on the inside, and then it had like a flannelette booster, because the hemps and you know the more absorbent fabrics were really hard to get. So you can imagine how that went. And Andrew stopped using it. Like he refused to use them, but that’s what I made before Abbi was here. And eventually I put a layer of PeeWell in them and you know kind of scaled up from that.
And then a lot of the changes and what have you really comes from customer feedback. So it’s why even now I still take it onboard. You know, like with our swim nappies we’re finding that if bubbies have got chunky legs that they’re having to size up and stuff like that. I don’t think it’s actually an issue I’ll be able to fix, but as an example that’s kind of how your product improves. So that’s really the difference between a product that is built from the bottom up, than something that is copied, because you miss a whole heap of that learning process, you know. So if you asked me anything about any of my nappies I could tell you why. Even if somebody doesn’t like it, I can tell you why we did it.
And an example was the bamboo delights. Just recently somebody didn’t like the way the boosters were sewn.
Anne: (Indistinct words – over talking – 7:24).
Vicki: And there’s a reason for that though, you know. And you’ve got to remember they’re a one-size nappy, and that’s why we say that not every nappy is going to suit every baby. So, yeah, but that’s kind of the progression.
Anne: It’s one of so many.
Vicki: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And one of the things I dread the most is seeing on the forums, “What nappy do you recommend?” And it’s like, oh God (chuckles), you’re going to get…
Anne: “What’s your favourite nappy?” “What nappy should I buy?”
Vicki: … you’re going to get 30 different answers and it’s confusing.
Anne: Yeah, I always tell them (indistinct words – over talking – 7:54) nappy leaks first.
Vicki: Oh nice.
Anne: And then a more specific question, so like what is the best thing, fitted nappy for heavy wetters with thick like fat legs, and I live in Melbourne, then you can sort of give a better recommendation.
Vicki: Exactly. Exactly. And that’s what we really focus on at expos, too…
Vashti: Yeah, definitely.
Vicki: … is it’s about finding out what’s right, what’s your situation, you know, because if you’re in Tasmania I’m going to recommend something completely different to here in Brisbane, or you know Perth, and quantities as well.
Andrew: They don’t buy cloth nappies in Tasmania.
Vashti: Yeah, they do. (Group laughter)
Vicki: Well this is a story from yesterday (chuckles).
Andrew: Well if they do, they’re not searching for it online.
Vashti: I have lots of customers from Tasmania. I’m constantly sending down there.
Vicki: He’s got the stats.
Andrew: I’ve got the stats.
Vicki: He’s got the stats. He’s like, “Do you know that people don’t search in”…
Andrew: I’ve got Google analytics show… the Google analytics show… I said to Vicki, I said, “Is there a baby show in Tasmania and Northern Territory?” She says, “No, there’s not.” So people aren’t searching for cloth nappies there.
Vashti: There’s one in Tas, but it’s only a small…
Vicki: It’s not a baby show.
Vashti: Isn’t it?
Vicki: No, no, he was talking about expos.
Andrew: Baby show. Expos. Yeah.
Vashti: Oh like… yeah. Yeah.
Anne: Do they call it something else? Are they searching up diapers, or are you already searching all those terms?
Andrew: No. Yeah, I tried that. Yeah, yeah, cloth nappy, cloth nappies, cloth diapers. Yeah. Yeah, they’re just…
Vicki: Also the fact that there aren’t as many people in Tasmania and Northern Territory probably plays a big part, too.
Andrew: I’m going to check how many people listen in Tasmania now.
Vicki: OK (chuckles).
Andrew: (Chuckles). Let’s see how many people (indistinct words – over talking – 9:17).
Vashti: Come on Tasmania! Hurry up, start listening, just to prove him wrong (chuckles).
Andrew: Let’s move on to the next question.
Anne: OK, so the last one hopefully is a bit more fun. It’s if you had to start again and you were only allowed 24 nappies, and you can’t just choose all your own, but if you had to describe, sort of maybe be more generic, like styles, what would you choose? Would you choose all-in-ones, would you choose fitteds, would you choose a mixture? Like if you only had 24 and had to start again, what would you do?
Vashti: I’d be fitteds. They’re so easy because there’s such… they’re great for everyone in the family. Like my partner flat out refused to touch flats, I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned that before, but he really liked fitteds. I also love the fact with fitteds that you can boost them to turn them into night nappies and things like that, so they’re really, really versatile. And I mean I know I can’t just choose mine, but my B.I.G’s – I’m sorry – they’re just like I’m a bit in love with them, and they’re going to work on a range of babies. We’ve shown that they’ll fit on a brand new bubby, and they worked on Kailan(?) all the way up until he night trained at four years of age. So, yeah, I love my B.I.G’s.
Anne: Very forgiving with shape.
Vashti: Yes (chuckles).
Vicki: I’m actually having conniptions, thinking oh know (laughs). (Group laughter). I’m so done! Yeah, I’d probably go fitteds, too. You know, if you’re talking about just consistency of, yeah, performance, a fitted is just, you know, it’s the one thing that you can rely on a hundred percent of the time. You know, fit doesn’t matter, yeah, you can… yeah, it’s that two layer of protection.
Anne: Well then we’ve got the answer to everyone who asked what’s the best nappy.
Vashti: Fitted (chuckles).
Anne: Yeah (indistinct words – laughter over audio – 11:04).
Vicki: Yeah, absolutely.
Anne: Thank you.
Andrew: OK, Anne, now I’ve got a question for you, Anne. What would you say to somebody who’s just about to have their first baby, just about to take their cloth nappy dive, what advice would you give them?
Anne: So cloth nappy specific?
Anne: Yeah, OK. So first of all I say get Bambams. (Group laughter). And I have said that.
Vicki: (Indistinct words – laughter over audio – 11:25) specifically did not say that, because that’s what I would have said (laughs).
Anne: Well it’s the same advice for the fitteds, you’re sort of guaranteed to fit straightaway and they are actually pretty easy, easy to boost. They’re longest lasting for newborns. And then I would say find a friend who has a variety, and I’ve got a large variety, because more out of research purposes. So I’ve got my brands I use all the time, but then I’ve got a range of other ones, so when people allow me I begin the lesson, and like this one’s for this, this one’s for this, this one’s for this, and I would give it to them and say, “While you’re just moving out of newborns try these eight, ten, work out what works for you while you’re still mainly in newborn sizes, and then only buy the ones you actually want.” So that’s what I’d do.
Andrew: Right, OK. So if you’ve got anything to ask Anne, you can do it through the website and we will forward that on for you. Thank you, Vicki.
Vicki: Thanks, Andrew.
Andrew: Thank you, Vashti.
Vashti: Thanks, Andrew.
Andrew: We’ll see you next time. Bye.