For the next few months, we’re doing Questions and Answers from our Live Podcast! This is our second in the series and Amy is our special guest for this month’s Q+A. Amy is an environmental scientist, mother of two little boys and owner of Clean Cloth Nappy Hire. She asks about Vashti and Vicki about being mums and business owners, how you design and produce a nappy from scratch and what Vicki’s favourite goodies are to send out with nappies!
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: Questions and Answers Live March
Andrew: Welcome to Nappy Leaks with Vicki Simpson and Vashti Wadwell.
Andrew: How you doing, Vicki?
Vicki: Oh, me (chuckles). Hi. Good.
Andrew: Well you may be wondering why I’m always asking you first, and it’s because I’ve decided that odd numbered podcasts I’m going to ask you first, even numbered podcasts I’m going to ask Vashti first. So these are all going to be odd numbered podcasts.
Vashti: Well there you go.
Vicki: Oh, OK.
Andrew: So you’re going to get asked first each time. How you doing, Vashti?
Vashti: I’m good, but feeling a little bit left out (chuckles).
Andrew: (Chuckles). You’ll catch up in the all the other podcasts.
Andrew: Like so much so that Vicki will complain each time.
Andrew: Or maybe every second time. And we also have a guest. Amy, how are you?
Amy: I’m very well, thanks. Thanks for having me on the show.
Andrew: That’s OK.
Vashti: Thanks for coming.
Vicki: (Indistinct words – over talking – 0:52).
Andrew: Now you’re a mum of two, and this is one of them. Which one’s this?
Amy: Yeah, this is Thomas.
Amy: Thomas. And I’ve got Aidan as well.
Andrew: Thomas is playing with a red ball, just in case everybody’s curious at home. And you’re also an Environmental Scientist.
Amy: That’s right. Yeah, yeah. So that’s my, I guess one of my day jobs. But I’m doing my PhD at the moment, so…
Andrew: And is that why you chose cloth nappies, and?
Amy: I guess I mean that’s part of it, you know, sort of all of this environmentally focused things become a part of your life, so I guess it’s just an extension.
Andrew: How much longer have you got to be a student for?
Amy: Until it’s done basically.
Andrew: Which is?
Amy: I keep having babies.
Vicki: Isn’t that the ultimate student question is like when is it ever?
Amy: That is the ultimate PhD student question is it’s done once it’s handed in, so…
Vicki: Yeah. Yeah.
Amy: … I think I’m coming up to eight years actually, which is a very long time, but…
Vashti: Professional student.
Vicki: Yeah, it’s a good profession.
Amy: It will get done one day. It’s not easy.
Andrew: And you’re also in the nappy, the cloth nappy business.
Amy: I am. So I run a nappy hire business called Clean Cloth Nappy Hire. I started that…
Andrew: Excellent. And the website?
Andrew: Excellent. Excellent.
Amy: And we hire packages for newborns, infants and toddlers.
Vicki: And Jenna will put a note in the…
Jenna: I’ve already tagged it.
Vicki: Oh, see (laughs). (Group laughter)
Jenna: I’ve already tagged it.
Amy: Yeah, she’s good.
Andrew: So and how long have you been doing that for?
Amy: So we started 2018, July 2018, so quite a new business.
Andrew: Nice. Nice.
Amy: Yeah, but…
Andrew: OK. So you haven’t done a whole financial year yet.
Amy: No. No.
Amy: So but, yeah, I’m really enjoying it so far. It’s been, you know, a huge upskilling process in the business world.
Andrew: Well it’s kind of… it’s probably because you’re meeting people that are exactly like you, mums with babies, hey?
Amy: Mums with babies, lots of mums with babies. And fortunately that’s something I’m understand, so (chuckles).
Andrew: (Chuckles). You’re a garden lover?
Amy: I am.
Andrew: Get out in the garden all the time?
Amy: I really enjoy getting outside. Yeah, getting outside is…
Andrew: Yeah, cool. We have a garden, too.
Amy: How’s that going for you?
Andrew: The weeds are doing fantastic.
Amy: Are you the… yeah.
Vashti: Didn’t you rip up half your garden to put in a pool?
Vicki: Yeah. Not half. All. The whole front yard (chuckles).
Andrew: That’s right, we don’t grow veggies anymore.
Vashti: I used to grow veggies. My bush turkeys killed them. And I say my bush turkeys because I back onto the forest, so you know they think my yard’s theirs.
Amy: I’ve just started planting shade actually. I wish I’d done it ten years ago when we bought the house, but I didn’t realise how much shade I’d actually need to be able to go outside with kids during the day. And now I’m lamenting the fact that they’re going to be in high school before it’s actually grown big enough to provide them anything useful, but…
Andrew: And here’s my favourite part, you’re training currently for a 50 kilometre marathon.
Amy: Yes. I like to take on exciting projects, and I…
Andrew: Shouldn’t you be running now?
Amy: I run most days.
Andrew: Oh, do you?
Amy: Up in the forest behind Vashti’s house. (Group laughter). She probably sees me go past and what’s Amy doing again, six in the morning she’s out running. But, yeah, a 50K marathon in July, so I’m really looking forward to it.
Vicki: I just… so I just… fun run.
Amy: They rhyme.
Vicki: Just the only thing they do together is rhyme, that’s it. I just…
Amy: Once you overcome the pain it’s all right. (Group laughter)
Vicki: Do I look like I run?
Andrew: Got to push through the pain. OK, I’ll let you ask your first question.
Amy: Thanks, Andrew. All right, so I’d like to ask both Vicki and Vashti about being business owners and mothers, so whether your kids take an interest in what you’re doing, and how you share your business expertise and your experience with your kids? And also about balancing business and family with your kids, once when they’re little, and also as they get older.
Vicki: You better, because I seriously just teared up, given what I’ve gone through this morning. Wow.
Vashti: It’s hard. It is really, really hard. I bought Nest just before Kailan(?) turned one, so I also had a nearly eight year old and a nearly ten year old at the time. And then a month after I bought Nest, Mr Nest went overseas for six months. So it was a huge learning curve for me because I’d never ever been in business before, I’d always worked for somebody else, I had no idea about payroll, or BAS, or GST, or super, or anything like that, I just handed in my forms and somebody else took care of all of that.
Thankfully Elizabeth and Wally, who I bought the business off, were really, really great and provided me lots of guidance and support leading up to the sale, and then they were overseas so it was, you know, 3 a.m. phone calls to try and catch each other if we needed to talk. But most of their stuff was done by email.
Kailan(?) came to work with me each day until he was 14 months old, which was interesting to say the least (chuckles).
Vicki: I can imagine (chuckles).
Vashti: The kids, the bigger kids have taken an interest at times. Michaela’s 11 now, she’s about to go 12 in a couple of months, and she is actually starting to show an interest in the business and the monetary side of things, and asking questions about how we work out profit and how much money we’re making, and how we sell and do all of the financials and stuff. Braith(?), who is thirteen and a half, is more keen on the fact that we’ve discussed some of our targets this year and there’s some pie in the sky ideas that if we can reach certain levels throughout the year things might be happening next year.
Vicki: Like pools.
Vashti: (Chuckles) Like pools. Maybe not pools. We’ve got some business pie in the sky things, so which we won’t let the cat out of the bag yet.
Vicki: Oh! Oh, I know. (Group laughter). That’s right.
Vashti: (Laughs). And so he’s sort of… he’s more focused on that. But we’re six weeks into the year and he’s like, “So does that mean we get to do this now, Mumma?” And I’m like, “No, we have to do it every month for the rest of this year, sweetie (chuckles), so it’s a long, long way.”
It takes a lot of time away from my kids. I do spend, like I was up until after one o’clock this morning doing paperwork, like just doing all the bookwork and everything like that. That’s because I didn’t get to start it until like nine-thirty because Mr Nest is overseas again and I’ve got a house to manage and all that sort of stuff. So, yes, I sometimes am more grumpy than I would like to be with my kids because I’m surviving on three or four hours sleep (chuckles), but it’s fun as well. I do include the kids as much as possible, and I do try and explain it.
My kids have a very broad understanding of environmental reasons to do cloth, and they know why we promote cloth, and also about sustainability and stuff. Kailan(?), who’s nearly five, or will be in July, he’s now started to call nappies diapers, so don’t ask me why, he’s like, “I need the diaper, Mumma.” And I’m like…
Vicki: It’s TV. It is. No, no honestly it is the cartoons, because my kids do it, too.
Vashti: (Chuckles) Yeah. So we’re having a bit of a chat about the fact that diapers are American, and nappies are Australian (chuckles). But he does understand that, you know, a nappy is a cloth, it’s not plastic, and you know when he has seen a plastic nappy or a disposable nappy he’s sort of like, “What is that?” (Chuckles).
Amy: Right. Yeah.
Vashti: So, yeah, so I have high hopes that my children will be very much involved.
Amy: It sounds like they’re very interested actually.
Vashti: They are. They are.
Amy: So that’s good. You know, and all at different levels, so that’s really fantastic.
Vashti: Yeah. Yeah, it’s good. I enjoy it, so yeah.
Andrew: Did you want to answer that question, Vicki?
Vicki: (Sighing) It is really hard, that balance is… I actually, sadly, and this is probably why I’m getting a bit choked up, you don’t realise what you miss until it’s gone.
Jenna(?): Vicki’s lovely every day, all the time. (Group laughter). OK, well that’s not true, but (chuckles), but the thing is working for someone who does spend their entire life trying to have a work/life balance with their kids means that as far as my work/life balance goes it’s really good because when I need to – I was stressing about coming into work one day, Ryan had thrown up, I couldn’t send him to day care, I’m working all this out, and I was like OK, I’ve worked it out, I can come in, and Vicki’s response was, “But does Ryan need you?”
To work for someone who even at the detriment of their own business will always say, “Put your family first. Don’t come in, don’t do it, if it doesn’t get done nothing will… no one will die, look after your child.” To work for someone who tells you to put your kid first is a privilege so many mothers don’t get. And so while I know that you struggle with it all the time, at least I get a good work/life balance because of you, so you thank you. I want to say something nice.
Vicki: Because I don’t always like my kids. Don’t get me wrong, I actually…
Jenna(?): I love my child all the time. I never thought about throwing him out a window today. What are you talking about?
Vicki: I love, I absolutely love what I do, and that’s actually probably the biggest struggle is when you do love what you do, and you love your kids, it’s like (sighing), you know. But as an example, Sunday night, Gabriel was up cooking cookies with me at eight o’clock at night, and then Monday morning he can’t go to sleep – sorry, he can’t get up, you know. And so trying to find that balance of like I want to…
Amy: Yeah, time together.
Vicki: … I actually want to cook cookies with you, and I really want to work, too, because I really love what I do, and but stupidly he wants to start a YouTube channel, and I’m like, “You bring me a business plan, dude,” like he’s seven, “bring a concept to me and I’ll help you do it.” And I’m really trying to encourage the girls to actually start their own businesses and stuff like that because…
Amy: That’s really fantastic. Yeah.
Vicki: … what I have had is I’ve raised my kids. Do you know what a blessing it is to earn an income – and don’t think for a second that it was an amazing income, I come from an IT background, and it was tough, and it’s been tough for ten years raising my kids, but I’ve had that trickle of an income come in where at least I can pay my bills and still not have to put my kids, you know, in full-time day care and go back to work and stuff like that.
And now I’m finding, it’s stupid, now the kids are at school it’s like, my God, I can grow my business, I go but I miss them. Like well I miss (chuckles), I miss the youngest because the youngest is always the cutest, you know, and it is… look, it’s not…
Jenna(?): (Indistinct words – over talking – 11:25).
Vicki: Yeah, you know, it is not, you know, the whole gender disappointment, and you know all of those sorts of subjects are so taboo, but the baby is always the cutest because there’s no one cuter underneath them doing cute little things, that can’t pronounce their words properly and stuff like that. So I’m actually finding I’m really missing the time with the kids, but I’m loving not having the time away from the kids.
So that pool that we built last year, I know how that looks on the outside, it’s like oh my God, she must be rolling in it, and all of that, and it wasn’t. That pool, and anybody who actually saw it in my VIP group, me getting upset that the pool was green, it’s such a – again, like that story I just shared with you guys, which isn’t on the podcast no doubt, Andrew’s going to cut it (group laughter), but the reason I got so upset about the pool being green is because I wanted a blue pool, anything from crystal blue through to electric blue. I did not like the look of a green pool.
That pool is not about the money that we spent on it, or will be spending on it for, you know, a decade while we pay it off, that pool was the representation of all the time I missed with my kids. See? My God, I’m such a sap. But it was, it was the representation. And so when that pool turned out green (chuckles) I’m like, oh my God! And Andrew didn’t even realise just how much, because he didn’t want a green pool either, and he didn’t realise just the whole… how everything kind of came to a big head over this stupid green pool until he mentioned it, and he said, “Oh, I don’t really like the green pool” (chuckles), and like that nice Vicki, you know (chuckles), she was (expressive noise).
So, yeah, it’s tough. It is an incredibly tough balance. And but the thing that I must admit, when I see other businesses – like don’t get me wrong, I will support and uplift, and my God, if somebody can have what I have, you know, I want for everybody to have that. You know, it’s why we run nine to three here, the hours are super flexible, I’ve got… I need to put someone on in the warehouse, and I’ve got someone who’s not a mum who would be great for the job, and you know just underlying that, I’m like I just don’t think I can give her the job, not because she can’t do it, she’s not a mum, and she doesn’t understand that flexibility of being able to work, that nine to three jobs are really hard to find.
So I want to give back, you know, kind of the opportunities that I have had. I’ve been quite lucky, you know, in the way I’ve grown my business. But what really frustrates me as a business owner is seeing new businesses start up and then look at what I have and go, “Ooh, OK, I want that, and I don’t want to have to do the.” I’ve been doing this for 14 years, I’ve given up so much, and you just want to walk in and take it? And that it’s actually I get that emotional about it sometimes when I think about it.
Vashti: It’s hard.
Vicki: It is.
Vashti: It’s really, really hard. But I think…
Vicki: Because there is a lot, there is a lot of sacrifices that you don’t even realise until you look back.
Vashti: Yeah, you don’t realise when you’re doing it. Yeah. Yeah. Like even taking Kailan(?) to work, I was very, very lucky in the fact that I did get to keep Kailan(?) at work with me until he was 14 months old. That was because of my previous employer, like you know Elizabeth and Wally who owned Nest, they were fine with me keeping Kailan(?) at work with me. And they were paying me to do a job, that was before I owned Nest. But even taking him to work I was still missing stuff, because he was either in the carrier or sitting on the floor or something, and I wasn’t spending time with him because I was working.
Vicki: Yeah, it’s quality over quantity.
Vashti: Yeah. So…
Vicki: Yeah, you might be with your kids, but you’re not with your kids.
Vashti: Yeah. I regularly like sit at the kitchen table doing work on the computer while the kids are eating dinner because at least I’m spending time with them. I’m not interacting with them, but I’m spending time with them.
Amy: Yeah. And I think my other guilt as well is that eternal, you know, thinking over your head and you’re always, as a mother I think you always feel like you could do more and you could do better, but realistically you’re human and you can only do what you can do.
Vashti: Yeah, so much. Yeah.
Amy: But you obviously both do your best.
Andrew: Yeah. So we’ll move on. Probably only got time for one question. (Group laughter).
Amy: Let’s ask the short one, will we (chuckles).
Vicki: (Laughs) Sorry, I didn’t mean to (indistinct words – 15:51). It’s like Jenna unloading at the checkout chick the other day (chuckles).
Amy: All right, well I’ll ask the short question.
Jenna: Me? No, I wouldn’t. (Chuckles). ((Indistinct words – too far from microphone – 16:00).
Amy: All right, next question is what’s your favourite snack to include in a Candies order?
Vicki: (Chuckles) To eat? I actually really like the candies, like the rock candy, and more for them. I’ve asked them to show me how it’s made, like and you know because I like to see behind the curtains on everything, I like to see how stuff is made, and you know I’d love for them to actually do that and we can share it on Instagram and what have you. It’d be good for them, too. But, yeah, that’s… and I’m playing with flavours at the moment, so when they come in of course I have to taste.
Amy: It’s always exciting to get a Bubblebub’s order because you get to open it and there’s always something to eat (chuckles).
Vicki: Candy. Well if there’s not candy in it, usually it’s because we’ve run out and I haven’t ordered it, or (chuckles)…
Jenna(?): Or your hubby takes it.
Vicki: No, no, no, I bought that one, this last time I bought 30 kilos because I’m like (chuckles)… yeah. No.
Amy: All right.
Andrew: And the best part about those orders, though, is you get all the candy that you give away, but they give you the scrap.
Amy: Oh, really?
Andrew: They give you a bag of scrap.
Amy: Really? So you get, yeah, warehouse scraps as well.
Andrew: Scrap candy.
Vicki: No, no, you have to buy that, but it’s only five bucks a kilo.
Andrew: Oh, five bucks a kilo for scrap candy.
Amy: Sounds all right.
Andrew: Scrap candy tastes yummy. (Group laughter).
Amy: Yeah, it does.
Andrew: OK, we could probably go with your next question, if you want?
Amy: All right, sure. So this may end up being another long one, but it would be great to talk about the process of actually creating a new nappy from scratch, so what you actually do on your own sewing machine, drafting your patterns and such, and at what stage of the process do you actually contact your family and get in touch with them about, you know, producing that as a, I guess a commercial, as a commercial item? How does it work?
Vicki: I’m actually, now it’s actually really different. So take the Pebbles as an example, because it was based on an old design. Like because I’ve been doing this for so, so many years now I can look at a nappy and I’ll know if it’ll work. Like and that’s just, obviously that’s just experience. So you know when I did the swim nappy, it was actually based on my old design, and all we had to do was add a little bit of extra for the snap placement. So I knew that OK, well we’ve already run with this, I’m pretty confident that it’s going to fit, you know the amount of testing that we do is like pretty miniscule. But back in the beginning it was literally you’d make a dozen and send them out to a dozen different friends, and get feedback back.
Amy: Yeah. So you’d make them by hand first?
Amy: And then until the pattern’s (indistinct words – over talking – 18:25) and then…
Vicki: Yeah, yeah. Most of the prototypes are on the other side over there.
Vashti: The B.I.G’s were made by hand.
Andrew: Yeah, the machines she actually uses are actually on the other side, and…
Amy: I saw it on the… on one of your videos on Facebook or (chuckles) Instagram, and I was, oh, she’s really… she’s really (indistinct words – over talking – 18:36).
Vicki: Yeah. Yeah. Well actually the B.I.G’s are a really good example. They were actually based on my medium all-in-one pattern, and I knew I needed to extend the wings because my… the Bambam was made on the small. And I knew the medium from history, historically, it would fit mostly… it was almost a one-size, like it’s a very similar size to a one-size nappy, so just extending the wings and literally… I think I made four. Did I make four?
Vashti: I think it was six.
Vicki: Four or six, yeah, sent them out. And but I didn’t really even need to do that. Like I knew it was going to work.
Amy: Yeah, you knew it was going to work. Yeah. You didn’t have to experience it.
Vicki: Yeah. I didn’t actually know how good it was going to work, I knew it would be perfectly fine, but yeah, they actually came back way better than I’d expected, and fitting a lot smaller than we expected, too.
Amy: Yeah, right.
Vashti: Well during testing, we only tested them down to six kilos and we were told they were bulky. And now that they’re actually out there, like we’re getting… well we got reports of fitting four to four and a half, and so we fit them down to 3.3.
Amy: Yeah, yeah. Wow.
Amy: And they’re a great option for the heavier wetting kids than the Bambam.
Vashti: They are awesome (chuckles).
Amy: So yeah (chuckles).
Vicki: Yeah, and that just came down to knowing how much fabric you need to put into it, you know. And that started with that whole…
Amy: Yeah, that’s part of experience. Yeah.
Vicki: … flannelette nappy that I had (chuckles) (indistinct words – 19:51) that would just… she’d literally piss straight through it. Yeah, and no idea why (chuckles), so yeah.
Andrew: Thank you, Amy.
Amy: You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.
Andrew: Thank you, Vashti.
Vashti: Thanks, Andrew. Thanks, Amy.
Andrew: Thank you, Vicki.
Vicki: Thanks, Andrew.
Andrew: Thank you.
Andrew: Vicki Simpson is a wife and mother to three children, President of the Australian Nappy Association, and owner and founder of Bubblebubs. Vicki has been making and selling cloth nappies through her website for 15 years. Bubblebubs is now one of the most recognised and awarded cloth nappy brands in Australia and is currently expanding to other countries. You can find out more and contact her through her website bubblebubs.com.au.
Vashti Wadwell is mother to three children and has been using cloth nappies for 13 years. She is the owner of Australia’s first cloth nappy store, Nest Nappies, located in Brisbane, Australia. She can be contacted through her website nestnappies.com.au.
If you would like to give us feedback go to nappyleaks.com.au. If you are finding this podcast helpful the way to thank us is to leave feedback in the iTunes store, or wherever you listen to podcasts. I am your host, Andrew Simpson.