“China Cheapies” is a tense and controversial topic but it’s also an important one to talk about in the cloth nappy community. We have broached this subject before but this time Vashti and Vicki do a deep dive into what to look for to spot a China Cheapie. They also discuss the history of China Cheapies and even the differences even within the “China Cheapie” category like where and under what conditions they’re made. It’s a long one but a really interesting take on a topic that’s been re-hashed in the modern cloth nappy community a million times.
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.
Transcription: How to spot quality cloth nappies.
Andrew: How are you doing, Vashti?
Vashti: I’m good thanks, Andrew. How are you?
Andrew: Excellent, how you doing Vicki?
Vicki: Yeah, pretty good.
Andrew: Excellent. So a couple of things I want to talk about before we start is our listeners. Our listeners jumped another 30%.
Andrew: So that’s 30 extra people. No, just kidding [laughter]. That started listening in March, which is fantastic actually, because we put a lot of effort into it, and we just spent a lot of money on new microphones and new software. So I’m hoping you’re hearing the extra quality of the recordings. And if you’re listening on the right type of podcast listening device, you can actually also see the pictures change as we go through the chapters of the episode, and if there’s something that you’re interested in, you can actually click on the picture and it will actually take you to the website.
Vicki: So he’s trying to see, are you trying to sell this to all of the listeners, but underneath that you’re trying to say, Vicki, I just spent an awful lot of money on software and hardware, and the listeners really appreciate it.
Andrew: They do, they do. You just haven’t seen the bill on the software yet.
Vicki: No, I have not. This I know, this I know.
Vashti: Actually I’m pretty interested. I might actually go and listen. What are the right apps that we need to listen through to do this changing pictures thing?
Andrew: Well, I’m not actually 100% sure on an android device, but on my…
Vicki: Because we have a Genius Bar at home, in case anybody doesn’t actually know, we are Apple fan people, through and through.
Vashti: Same here.
Andrew: Overcast is the app I use.
Vicki: You probably just lost that 30% of listeners. Bye.
Andrew: That’s right.
Vashti: Overcast, OK, I might actually listen to an episode. I don’t listen to the episodes…
Vicki: Don’t worry, neither do I.
Vashti: …if you haven’t worked that out.
Andrew: Actually secretly…
Vicki: I don’t think I’ll actually learn anything, that’s why I don’t listen.
Vashti: It’s funny, because Andrew used to send the episodes to Vicki and me to check before he posted them. He’s worked out not to do that because we don’t listen.
Andrew: I never got any feedback, so I stopped uploading them. But funny thing though, I do upload them, like they’re up on Vicki’s website like a week and actually they’re up on your website like a week before the actual publish date.
Vashti: Oh, there you go.
Andrew: And it’s interesting checking the stats on that thing, because it’s listened to five times. So all the Bubblebubs company people who have access to the site go and listen to the episode as soon as I put it up, before it becomes public.
Vashti: Might be Jenna listening five times.
Andrew: It could be. It’s usually like, she notices pretty quickly actually. Are you listening to us now, Jenna?
Vashti: Maybe. She might be in the Philippines.
Andrew: I also wanted to give a shout out to all the cloth nappy stores in Australia. There’s quite a few now, isn’t there?
Vashti: Yeah, you’ve got, well there’s me, obviously…
Andrew: Nest Nappies, yes.
Vashti: You’ve got Darlings Downunder in Ringwood in Victoria.
Vashti: You’ve got the Cloth Nappy Lady in Tecoma in Victoria.
Vashti: You’ve got Little Green Footprints in Caulfield South in Victoria.
Vicki: Baby Shop in Newcastle.
Vashti: Baby Shop in Newcastle.
Vashti: You’ve got Little Aussie Monster up in Cairns. Nappy Bucket has just changed hands, and they have a pop-up shop at their local supermarket or their local shopping centre in Mackay. They’re doing that, so they’ve got a showroom.
Vicki: There’s a lot of retailers that have showrooms in their homes, like Fluffy Bums do in South Australia, and Booty Crawl in W.A., in Perth.
Vashti: And Boutique Bums in W.A. There’s also, who was it?
Vicki: Little Rompers in Northern Territory have got, well I know they stock our stock, I’m assuming they sell some other cloth nappy brands as well.
Vashti: Nappy Bucket has a showroom as well as their pop-up shop that they’re doing. Little Piglet in Springfield, here in Brisbane. She has a showroom. Critters Creations in South Australia. Cloth Nappies Downunder does appointments. I don’t think she’s got a full on show room, but she does do appointments in her home. Most online retailers you can organise an appointment to go and see them and have a chat to them.
Vicki: I guess people could come here. Well they do, they come and pick up, you know actually probably when this podcast goes, depending on when this podcast goes, we’ll actually be working five days a week. I’m still not working Tuesdays though. I’m still going to spend Tuesdays with my Mum. But I’ve actually got someone that will be coming in to open up on a Tuesday.
Vashti: I’m still open six days a week.
Vicki: I work 24/7, so you know. Are we going to have to pull down our pants in a minute?
Vashti: Mine is bigger than yours. For those of you who watched that live recording of the Nest Release a couple of weeks, well when we released the Nest print, my laptop does fit in the double pocket wet bags.
Vicki: Yeah, that was a bit of an in-joke.
Vashti: Yeah, just thought I’d better explain it for those that hadn’t seen it.
Andrew: And of course the next place you can go if you can’t see it at a local retailer, and hello to all the local retailers, and if I missed you and if you’re a retailer, send us an email and we will give you a shout out on the next podcast. Another place you can go of course, is baby shows. You love going to baby shows, don’t you, Vicki?
Vicki: I just love it so much.
Vashti: I’m actually missing it. I’m missing it, I’ve only done one show so far this year, and it was my home town. And so…
Vicki: Well I must admit, I’ve just come back from Adelaide and shout out to all the Adelaide people, and the wonderful people that are on the stand, and if I start actually listing them, I might…
Vashti: Miss someone accidentally.
Vicki: …miss someone. But I know Katelyn and Hannah and Olivia and oh my gosh I can see all of the faces and can’t remember one single name.
Vashti: And Nicole.
Vicki: Oh yeah, Hayley and Nicole. They were over there…
Vicki: Oh Molly, yes.
Vashti: You said Olivia.
Vicki: Have you got a list? Can we re-record this? No actually, it’s my first trip to Adelaide and the one thing that I found about Adelaide is it’s like a big country town but so friendly. I thought Brisbane was friendly, but Adelaide is kind of even…
Andrew: Did you say Nicole?
Vicki: Yes, I did say Nicole.
Andrew: Because she’s a retailer.
Vicki: She is, Critters Creations.
Andrew: Critters Creations.
Vicki: Thanks for not making me say that again. Crazy Critters. I just had, when I was doing that live video, I had in my head Crazy Critters, so I could not get Critters Creations out, because Crazy Critters is just near us, is one of those play centres. And that’s what was going through my head. And it’s a bit like that Bridget Jones’s Diary, she said don’t say, when she had to introduce Tits, don’t say Tits Furbottom, or whatever his name was. Actually say his real name. That’s what was going through my head. I’m like, I can’t actually pronounce her business name. But anyway. But Adelaide…
Vashti: Adelaide’s gorgeous.
Vicki: It really is. And the weather wasn’t too bad. And the people down there, really just next level friendly. And I think it’s because it has got that whole country town vibe.
Andrew: Is it also because Qantas gave you alcohol on the plane on the way home?
Vicki: That’s the way home. I didn’t actually take them up on it on the way down.
Andrew: Oh, didn’t you?
Vashti: No, because she had to drive from the airport.
Vicki: No, I didn’t.
Vashti: Oh, didn’t you?
Vicki: No, no, Hayley was my chauffer. It’s amazing.
Andrew: Didn’t you just walk? It’s a country town, it’s just across the road, isn’t it?
Vicki: No, it’s a 20 minute drive. No, it was a little bit too far.
Andrew: That’s not a country town.
Vashti: I actually think Adelaide’s a little bit like Brisbane was 10 or 15 years ago.
Andrew: So give a shout out to a couple of the companies who are doing baby shows. What was the baby show you just did?
Vicki: We just did the Pregnancy Babies and Children’s Expo.
Vicki: So there was Peapods and Real Nappies and…
Vicki: Grow-Via and Bam Booty and Bubblebubs.
Vicki: Hippybottomus, yes. Love the girls from Hippy’s, they’re so friendly. Yeah, there were seven of us. And Leanne from Baby Behinds came in to visit me to say hi. Which is really nice. It’s such a nice industry that we can be essentially fierce competitors if you like, and work together as a whole to grow cloth nappy use.
Vashti: That’s the whole premise behind this Australian Nappy Association.
Vicki: And behind the podcast as well. Grow cloth nappy use.
Vashti: So it’s all about…
Vicki: Working together.
Vashti: …working together. I know Renee from Cloth Nappies Downunder contacted me recently. I’ve done it to her as well, if I’ve accidentally oversold something, I’ll give Renee a quick call and ask her if she’s got that product and she’ll get it to me for my customer. And she’s done it for me, so we quite regularly piggyback off each other. I know I’ve actually shared orders from the U.S. with some of my competitors as well, to cut down on costs, because shipping is really big from the U.S.
Andrew: Shipping seems to be the most expensive part of anything.
Vashti: I worked our recently on a recent order, and the shipping cost was just over 20% of the order. And so…
Vicki: Yep, I would say if you’re air freighting in particular, I really hate air freighting out of China. But with the recent kind of blow out, lead time blow outs, we’ve been air freighting again. And I’m talking 16 and 18 parcels where it’s costing $1,500 to $2,000, U.S. to air freight stuff.
Vashti: You could actually fly there for cheaper.
Vicki: Well I did actually, but OK, note to self, if you’re ever going to try and use your kids…
Vashti: Baggage allowance.
Vicki: …luggage allowance to bring stock back, take into consideration that seven years olds, whilst they might have a 30 kilo luggage allowance, they physically cannot drag that, and we all had a big bag, the carryon luggage and a backpack, and yeah, just didn’t go quite how I had predicted.
Andrew: Some of us had two big bags.
Vicki: Well, ended up with two big bags, because we had little kids that couldn’t manage the bags.
Andrew: And then to make it harder, the wheel broke off one.
Vashti: Oh no.
Vicki: Yeah, Star Wars.
Andrew: My Star Wars bag broke.
Andrew: Going through this shoddy parking lot outside the train station. What town was that?
Vicki: That was in Shanghai.
Andrew: Shanghai. So today’s topic is, how to spot a China cheapy.
Andrew: In other words, how to make sure you get your money’s worth, and you’re not, because we know that there’s some out there now that are actually got the price of a good nappy but they’re actually China cheapies.
Vicki: This is actually not a ragging on China cheapies kind of episode, because I actually feel that they do have a place in the market.
Vashti: Oh, they’ve got a very important place. But I think it’s also about the fact that it is getting harder to spot a China cheapy. It used to be the fact that you could tell a China cheapy easily by the type of inserts. They were normally microfibre or charcoal bamboo or something like that. These days you’re getting rebranded China cheapies that actually have bamboo inserts. So it is harder to spot a China cheapy, so if you’re looking for an ethical brand…
Vicki: And look, I’m not even against rebranded China cheapies. It’s about pretending to be something that you’re not. That’s actually where my, that’s the crossover. I don’t, whilst I have my own opinions on ethical production and stuff like that, they’re my opinions, and unless I’m the one physically buying your nappies and earning the money, I don’t have a say in what somebody purchases. I just do my own.
Andrew: So what is a China cheapy?
Vicki: Do you want to go with that, because I actually couldn’t spot a China cheapy to save my life. Because to me, a China cheapy, all I really know about, if I was looking at one, is that they’ve got rye snaps down the front, and they will do up with snaps across. You know, like they’re front snapping.
Vashti: The best way to describe a China cheapy is pretty much somebody has gone to a manufacturer in China and they’ve picked certain features off a card, going to a restaurant and picking certain vegetables to put into your salad. You sit there and go yes, I want two rows of waist snaps, and I want a hip snap, and I want three rows of rye snaps, and I want squared off tabs or rounded tabs, and I want a pocket opening at the front, or a pocket opening at the back, or I want clip in inserts and stuff like that. So I want a suede cloth versus a micro suede as the lining. I want a double leg gusset versus a single leg gusset.
Vicki: But they’re pretty much, they’re the same shape, size and pattern design. They’re not designed from the ground up. That’s the big difference.
Vashti: Yeah, so a China cheapy is basically…
Vicki: A generic…
Vashti: …it’s a generic brand. So there’s just slight differences here and there because the factory that produces them says this is our pattern, but we can make these alterations to it. So yeah.
Andrew: So the difference isn’t the price anymore, is it?
Vicki: Used to be easy to spot because they were cheap, but now we’re getting the situation where a lot of China cheapies or rebranded China cheapies are kind of priced mid range, so around the $20 mark.
Vashti: Even up to $25 sometimes. I’ve seen some around the $28, $29 mark.
Vicki: So it just makes it that little bit harder to know what you’re getting.
Andrew: But if you’re buying in bulk, you can get most of the name brands almost down to that price, can’t you?
Vashti: Oh, definitely.
Andrew: If you buy your whole stash at a time, say you bought 24 nappies, you’re paying almost that anyway.
Vicki: Yeah, generally most 24 packs would be somewhere between 20 to 30% off the R.R.P. of a single nappy. Definitely.
Andrew: So if you can buy them in bulk, you can get a good nappy for almost the same price.
Vicki: Yeah, the Catch 22 with that, and this is where multi brand retailers really come in handy, is dropping a lot of coin on 24 of a single nappy…
Andrew: Twenty four of exactly the same nappy.
Vicki: …of exactly the same nappy, it is…
Vashti: And especially if your baby hasn’t been born yet.
Vicki: Yeah, it’s a risk, it’s a risk, and we see that all the time at expos. There’s very much, there’s a couple of different people. There’s a couple of different types of customers that come to expos. So there’s those that research, there’s those that just want to give a trial pack a go, of a couple of different brands, see what works for them and then go back and get more. And then there’s the others that say please just tell me what you’ve got, how it works and here’s my money. Just tell me. And one thing which is stupid from a business perspective, but this is where the ethics kind of cross over, you get somebody who comes into the expo and doesn’t really know anything about cloth. There have been times when they haven’t even considered cloth, and then within, after spending an hour with someone they’re dropping $1,000 on a birth to toddler pack. And as I’m a single brand retailer, I’ve just got my products. That, I actually, I kind of get a little bit nervous because I think wow, that’s a lot of trust you’ve just put in me. So I’m a little bit proud at the same time. Wow, you trust me enough to do that. But it’s also a lot of coin. I don’t just walk around, actually I do, I do with a coffee machine. I did just drop two and a half grand. But I knew Breville as a brand.
Andrew: But on the other hand, all of the big retailers, including you, do offer money back guarantees.
Vashti: No, they don’t.
Vicki: No, they don’t.
Vashti: We offer a money back guarantee, it’s actually just us.
Andrew: It’s just us?
Vashti: No other brand actually offers that.
Andrew: So someone who drops $1,000 with you for nappies, you know that if one of those nappies doesn’t work, and they want their money back on the rest, then you do that?
Vicki: Yeah, yeah. They can try one. Because look, I have confidence in my product and I know what my product is, and I really don’t want to get too much into this, because I want to keep this unbranded. But I have that confidence, so we have a money back guarantee, and I’d actually like to see other brands pick up on that too. Back your product, because you know, in that particular instance, a customer has the opportunity to save a lot of money, to get a good quality brand, save a lot of money by basically investing from the get go, and how we work it is you can try one. So one of your nappies, wash it, wear it, all of that sort of stuff. And if it doesn’t work for you, you can return the one used and anything else that hasn’t been used for a full refund. I’d love to see that industry wide, because it takes the fear out. Huggies can handle a sample. You can’t get that with cloth nappies. So we brought it in, just to back ourselves more than anything.
Andrew: I’ll ask one more question before I move on. How many do you get back?
Vicki: Next to none. Next to none.
Andrew: So is that a good way to look for a good nappy brand? Other brands offer that as well. Look for a brand that backs themselves, and if you’re not happy with the nappy, you can send it back.
Vashti: I think that’s a really hard one to answer because…
Vicki: That’s a business thing.
Vashti: …yeah, that’s a business decision that Vicki’s made. I don’t think it’s that other brands don’t back themselves. I know that every nappy that I stock, I back. It’s a nappy that I would be prepared to use on my own kids, or I’ve already used on my kids. We’re very particular about the brands that we stock. If I don’t get the chance to use it for myself, I actually send it out with tried and tested customers. I’ve got a range of customers that I’ve had as customers for several years.
Vicki: Hi, Hayley.
Vashti: And Sonia.
Andrew: Do you call them your crash test dummies?
Vashti: No. Even Vanessa. Vanessa hasn’t been a customer of mine for long. Her little boy Xavier is only a few months old. But I got to know Vanessa quite well through her pregnancy. She was regularly coming in, regularly talking to me, she got all the information. And when I wanted to try a certain brand of nappy, I knew that that particular one would suit her, because of what she’d been looking for. So I knew she’d be able to give me a really good review on it.
Vicki: So you mean if you actually had somebody come to you with a night nappy that had 35 million layers, you would hand that on to Sonia, and say Sonia, can you try this one please?
Vashti: Yes, well I’ve actually got a couple of, I’m actually in the process of trialling a brand at the moment. We got a couple of nappies in from this particular brand, and there’s certain qualities in that nappy that I think would have suited Sonia very well, because her little boy is a massive wetter. She’s actually going through medical diagnosis with him at the moment, and she does have a medically diagnosed reason for him being such a large wetter. But he would wet through, I watched her change him in the store, and within half an hour she had to change him again, because his pants were dripping. And when she took off the nappy, I’m like, you’re sure it wasn’t ill fitted or anything? How could he have wet. She goes, no, feel it. And she handed me the nappy and the wet bag, and it was drenched. So yeah, I sent this particular nappy to her to try because of the certain features in it, and the materials that were used. And she’s actually gone and bought another one from that brand, she liked it that much. But that’s the thing, we are particular about the brands, so we do put them through a lot of testing. So whereas I think with a typical China cheapy, it’s very much from the card, most of your ethical brands have been designed by the brand owner, or if the brand has changed hands, they’ve been designed by a mum on their kitchen table, and that mum has sewn those nappies herself and build that business herself.
Vicki: And made tweaks on the nappy. I know I can talk from personal experience. You make tweaks on the nappy based on customer feedback. And over and over, even now, I still tweak nappies now.
Vashti: Well you just made upgrades to the Bam-bam, what, 18 months ago, if that? You increased the size of the booster in the Bam-bam.
Vicki: It was only about 20%. It wasn’t the Pebbles, they’re a fairly new thing. A couple of runs ago, we increased the capacity, increased the…
Vashti: The absorbency.
Vicki: The absorbency. We dropped the booster width down, because we were having some issues where it would just, you know, it was only just the overlocking width that we dropped the booster down, but we increased the, from a 340 G.S.M. to a 420 G.S.M. in shell, so we still had the same absorbency within the whole nappy. And that’s the difference with a nappy that is created from the ground up, I can tell you all of the reasons that we have done that. Why we have legs rolling in, why we do this, why we do that, why we’ve got snaps, why we’ve got Velcro. Whereas when you’re reading off a card, you don’t have that underlying sewing knowledge, I guess, or design knowledge.
Vashti: It’s also, and this is probably where one of the hard things comes in. It’s not to say that the people, the brands who do the rebranded China cheapies and things like that, don’t have the knowledge of their product, they do have the knowledge of their product, but they don’t have the knowledge on how their product is made, and they can’t make massive changes to it. They’ve pretty much got to stick with that basic pattern, and they can’t just make those small tweaks. Cut the size of the booster down by just the overlocking width and stuff like that. They can make tweaks to it by changing the inserts and by changing the absorbency and stuff like that.
Vicki: But what you tend to find is with China cheapies in particular, the generic pattern has, well not already been, but it has been tweaked to already cut corners. That’s the other thing with the China cheapy is they cut corners. It’s all about making them fast, making them cheap, and basically the process is super speedy. And it is about cutting corners. That’s the big difference between a China cheapy and a better quality brand, is all of those things that we, as I said, the layer of bamboo that we put inside the Pebble, the reason we do that is just in case anything, because it’s a newborn nappy, if anything misses the booster, it’s going to go straight onto the shell. Now I know newborn poo is liquid, and that can potentially seep through the P.U.L. So we put a layer of bamboo in there. So it’s those sorts of things that get cut out of China cheapies, to make them cheap.
Vicki: Pretty much.
Vashti: Very much.
Vicki: Not that I don’t know a hell of a lot about China cheapies, I just know…
Vashti: And they’re cheaper because the research and development hasn’t gone into them.
Vicki: And there’s no licencing print. It costs an absolute fortune for us to licence our designs, and we don’t even use exclusive licences. Because if we were to use exclusive licences, it would put the…
Vashti: …nappies over $50 each.
Vicki: Well maybe not quite, but certainly because we don’t do, OK, so let’s say Disney does a run of fabric or a run of products, they’re doing like tens of thousands or millions of products even. So the licence fee per unit is quite inexpensive. But when we’re only doing 1,000 units per design, and you’re spending $1,000 on your artist fees, well that’s a dollar a unit. But they’re not paying that, so you can be pretty much guaranteed if it’s a licenced design, like Ariel or, what’s another, Buzz Lightyear or something like that, and you’re seeing it in a nappy, you can be pretty sure that the licence fees haven’t been paid.
Andrew: So let’s move on. Rebranded, versus China cheapies.
Vashti: So China cheapies is things like your Alvas and your Happy Flutes. They’re the ones that you buy off Ali Express, you’re getting them direct from China. And they’re costing you $5 or $7 a shell, plus your inserts and stuff like that.
Vicki: Interestingly, with China cheapies, there’s quite a few different brands. I was talking to my manufacturer when we were over there about the history of it, and how it, it was actually a really cool conversation.
Andrew: Oh yeah, I was listening to that. I was in the back seat. I was listening to that, and he said, who was it that came over?
Vicki: It was Happy Flute and Alva that they were together, they were good friends, and they actually kind of started cloth nappies in China, if you like for lack of a better description, they started producing this, I can’t remember what the original nappy knock off was, was it a Thirsty or something? Or was it a Rumperoos.
Vashti: Thirsties is a very well known and a good brand in the U.S.
Vicki: No, I’m just talking about the generic China cheapy design is based on a well known brand.
Vashti: Bum Genius.
Vicki: Bum Genius, yep. So they were the first to produce it, and then they had a parting of the ways, and Alva is down in southern China in Guangzhou, and Happy Flute are more up northern China. So for starters, that’s why Happy Flute is more expensive than Alva, because you can read between the lines, I don’t have any proof, I can only go on conversations that I’ve had, and Andrew was witness to those conversations as well…
Vashti: Well we had the same conversations when we were there two years ago.
Vicki: Exactly. In Guangzhou, that is where a lot of your Chinese fashion comes from, and it is still quite rampant to have kids in the factory, and slave, pretty much slave wages, things like that.
Vashti: Fast fashion.
Vicki: It is fast fashion, down in Guangzhou. So if you’re purchasing from, but I can’t tell you without a shadow of a doubt. We tried.
Vashti: We tried to look at ways of getting in there, and we were pretty much told forget it, you’re not going to get in there.
Vicki: Yeah, it’s not going to happen.
Vashti: And if you do manage to get in there, they actually have showroom factories.
Vicki: They do, they do.
Vashti: So they bring you through a showroom factory that is all above board. This is what we’ve been told, and it looks nice, and it looks like it meets all of the criteria that you want, but the real factory is actually…
Vicki: Somewhere else.
Vashti: It’s the slum factory type thing.
Vicki: And you know what, this is all hearsay, 100% hearsay based on what we have been told over the years from getting in with, me personally, I build relationships with my manufacturers, and so a lot of the times, I ask a question and then I’ll ask it again a couple of weeks later in a different way. So I kind of get the answer. How many times did I ask pretty much those same sort of questions? It was almost every time I was in the car, but I asked them in a different way. Because it’s like asking a child something. The story will change if it’s a lie, but if it’s the truth, you start adding in more facts. But anyway, back to the story. So Happy Flute and Alva split ways. So Alva is down south, and Happy Flute is up top, and there’s also An An Baby. They’re also up in northern China. We went past their factory actually.
Vashti: Oh really?
Vicki: It surprised me too. And there was one more as well.
Vashti: Is it Happy Baby?
Vicki: Might be, not 100% sure. But what I do know is Alva’s the one that’s down in southern China and they seem to do most of the rebranded China cheapies. So you know what, as I said, that is all 100% hearsay, and you can take from that what you like. Would I stake my life on it? No. Because I haven’t seen it with my own eyes. I can only repeat the conversations that I’ve had.
Andrew: That’s actually not the conversation I was thinking, talking about.
Vicki: Oh, which conversation were you thinking about? The one before or after the accident?
Andrew: Oh yes, we’ve experienced a car accident in China. You know those little bikes that go around? Yeah, sometimes they don’t squeeze between cars.
Vicki: And buses.
Andrew: And buses, yes. It wasn’t even his car.
Vicki: So this is going way, way, way back to kind of 2005-ish. We would, the industry was very, very young then and we would co-op fabric.
Vashti: That was the time when the industry was mums working at their kitchen table and having six month wait lists.
Vicki: Yes, literally.
Vashti: And if you managed, if one of those businesses, like Vicki from Bubblebubs, Sue from Itty Bitty, Davina from Baby Behinds, if they managed to get a bulk lot of nappies done, they would have it go up on their website and be sold out within five minutes. It was hyena days.
Vicki: It was hyena days, we used to call them the hyena days.
Vashti: What about you, I think we’ve mentioned it before, you had a customer…
Vicki: I had someone pinging my site, waiting for me to do a stock in.
Andrew: Every minute.
Vashti: Her husband had created an app to ping your site.
Andrew: No idea how much that used to cost us in memory though, in space.
Vicki: Exactly, and sites would crash and all sorts of stuff. So this was back before pretty much anyone was manufacturing offshore. So what would happen is we’d be able to get the fabric, so the only way, actually no, sorry, Gab from, can’t think, her business isn’t around anymore, but she was the first to bring in hemp fabric. So we’re talking hemp, this is way before bamboo even. And so what would happen is I’d go and buy a roll, because Gab was just up the road from me, and we’d co-op it. So we’d all go in to buy the roll of fabric, and I’d just cut it up and ship it out to everyone. And what happened with Sue was she was a bit too stingy, and actually cut her nappies a bit too short, too small. And that’s how Itty Bitty became a super trim nappy. It was from an accident. But I wouldn’t say I taught her how to sew nappies, but certainly we had spent a lot of time together discussing different ways to make nappies and stuff. But Davina from Baby Behinds was the first to go offshore and have the nappies produced. And she had them made in a hat factory actually.
Vashti: Oh really? I didn’t know that.
Vicki: Yeah, it wasn’t a traditional textile factory, it was a hat factory.
Vashti: I did know, Davina was actually a RAAF wife, her husband was in the RAAF up in Townsville, and he left the RAAF because Baby Behinds started doing so well. So he actually came to work for Davina. So that was way before Andrew came to work for you.
Vicki: It was. Completely. And she did, she really took off. And Sue went over not long after that.
Andrew: You know in the early days I used to cut the nappies.
Vashti: Yeah, I know, but you weren’t getting paid for it.
Vicki: Not in money.
Andrew: That’s true, that’s true.
Vicki: Now I’d give him 90 bucks a week. So I don’t have to pull it out.
Vashti: Is that all he’s worth?
Andrew: You’ve got to stop putting it next to the bed though. It gives the wrong sort of…
Vicki: Yeah, so then Sue went over to teach. The one thing Sue and I had very much in common is we’re both absolute perfectionists, and we’ve both been sewing, well I think so, Sue had been sewing as long, I’d been sewing since I was eight. And my mum’s a dressmaker.
Vashti: I used to work for Sue. Sue I was her expo manager.
Vicki: I know she was a perfectionist.
Vashti: She is still a perfectionist.
Vicki: See, the difference with cloth nappies in Australia versus the States, is America still has, they still have a big manufacturing sector, and same with Canada and Mexico and what have you. And look that is honestly due to their terrible labour minimum wage. Whereas in Australia, we’re a lot tighter on that. That’s just the reality of it, that’s why we can’t manufacture in Australia.
Vashti: It’s interesting, because a lot of my U.S. brands, they are very proud of the fact that their products are manufactured in the U.S. They’re manufactured onshore, so they are supporting, it’s an American brand, made by Americans, sold in America. And so yeah. Although I am looking at a Canadian brand at the moment. Are they Canadian? They might not be Canadian, they might be U.S., I don’t know.
Andrew: Do you want to mention the brand, or you’re not ready yet?
Vashti: Well, I don’t know, [beep] listening?
Vicki: Maybe one of your competitors is listening, and now they’re going to go, oh my God, who is this?
Vashti: Actually no, you better cut that out, I’m not ready to release that information yet. Cut that out.
Andrew: OK, let’s go back a little bit and I’ll ask you the question again. Rebranded versus China cheapies.
Vashti: We’ve pretty much covered what a China cheapy is. So a rebranded China cheapy is pretty much exactly the same thing, but somebody gets their own label put on it and they might get their own prints done. So they’ll either pick the stock standard prints and colours that the factory offers, or they’ll bring in their own…
Vicki: Digital printing has really helped with that, because you can get minimum orders, I think 50, 100 metres now, which is like six nappies, 6 by 300 nappies, 300 odd nappies per print.
Vashti: That’s a really good way of doing it.
Vicki: That’s making it harder to be able to spot, because they’re no longer just a generic…
Vashti: And they can employ, they can get their own prints, they can get their own artists to design prints for them. They can pick prints off Spoonflower. And have them sent over in a digital format.
Vicki: No different to what we do. I go, here’s a fun fact everyone probably knows. I go on Instagram. I find most of my artists on Instagram. I’m looking for an artist. I’m looking for someone who is on brand with what I’m actually doing. So that has really opened up the market with China cheapies. They can do exactly the same thing.
Vashti: And a rebranded China cheapy may also, well I have noticed that some of the stock standard China cheapies are now giving you the option to upgrade your inserts. Traditionally a China cheapy insert was a microfibre or a charcoal bamboo…
Vicki: …charcoal bamboo.
Vashti: …now just to make it clear, charcoal bamboo doesn’t actually have bamboo in it. It’s a layer of fleece with microfibre inside. But that was, that’s your stock standard insert with a China cheapy. Some China cheapies are now offering you a bamboo upgrade, like a three layer bamboo.
Vicki: Even Alva do that now, I’m sure they do a five layer bamboo.
Vashti: Yeah, they do a five layer bamboo.
Vicki: Because they’ve learned. They’ve learned that that’s what the customer wants.
Vashti: But your rebranded are actually starting to do their own inserts. So they’re starting to custom make or to request specific products in their inserts and a specific way of having their inserts made.
Vicki: OK, I’m going to play devil’s advocate here. So with that in mind, then does it matter that this nappy is now $28 if it’s got upgraded inserts? Is it more the whole ethical manufacture that, like I said, do people have issues with…
Vashti: You know what, it actually doesn’t matter what nappy you use, because literally they’re designed to catch poo and wee. I think it comes down to more…
Vicki: Knowing what you’re buying?
Vashti: …knowing what you’re buying. Knowing that if you’re spending $28 on a rebranded China cheapy, jump up to $30, $35 and you’re supporting a mum or dad who have designed the nappy from the ground up.
Vicki: And are paying licencing fees and are paying the workers well. Yeah, you’re right, it’s the whole chain.
Vashti: It is, it’s not just about the end product. Yes, the end product, the $35 nappy works the same as the $5 nappy. They catch poo and week.
Vicki: Longevity wise?
Vashti: The $5 you might need to change a little bit more frequently and it’s probably not going to see you all the way through because the elastics aren’t quite as good, the P.U.L.’s not as thick. That sort of thing. The $35 nappy you’d be wanting it to last…
Vicki: Birth to toddler. A birth to toddler nappy should…
Vashti: And if not into a second child, if you’ve got a decent sized stash. If you’ve got a stash of 20 nappies and you’re using, washing every single day, the chances of them seeing you a second child aren’t going to happen.
Vicki: Having said that, well I know the expectations that I have with my nappies is that they will see a second and third and fourth child, with minor repairs, like elastic. I would not expect elastic to last four children. I’m not saying it won’t, because I’ve seen some of my nappies that are nine years old. However, I expect them to be in a reasonable to condition to be able to reach that…
Vashti: I’ve got some of your all in ones that are eleven years old. Yes, they need elastics repaired, but the nappy itself is in immaculate condition.
Vicki: That’s right, as soon as you repair the elastics you have a brand new nappy. That’s my expectation of a quality nappy versus, it’s that whole throw away society, isn’t it? It’s the difference between buying a Smeg and I can’t think of a really cheap, an L.G. as an example.
Vashti: But then I just bought an L.G. vacuum cleaner and it’s pretty damn good.
Vicki: It wasn’t the right, I can’t actually think of, I probably picked the wrong type of appliance. OK, so a Kogan versus a Smeg. So you would expect the Kogan one, you pay $100 for, OK, let’s go air fryers, so you pay $100 for a Kogan air fryer, and you pay $400 for a Philips air fryer. You would expect the Philips air fryer to be lasting you a heck of a lot longer than the $100 one, because it’s designed as a throw away product. That’s pretty much what a China cheapy is. It’s designed as a throw away product. I can’t talk for other brands, I know I can talk for my brand, that our products aren’t designed as a throw away product. They’re designed to be repaired and passed on.
Andrew: Every time I hear somebody talk about Smeg, I think that the guys who created that company must be really, really big…
Vicki: Red Dwarf fans. I know. I knew he was going to go down a Red Dwarf path. I should have gone Bosch.
Andrew: If you don’t know what a Red Dwarf is, as your husband.
Vashti: We just bought a Smeg dishwasher on the weekend…
Vicki: And that’s why I picked it, by the way, we were just talking.
Vashti: …ours has died. You know, a slow death, but it’s died, and so we decided it was time to upgrade. And my other half chose the Smeg over the Bosch because it was a Smeg. That was it. He was like, I’ve got to have it because it’s Smeg.
Vicki: Seriously, don’t even, if you don’t know what that is, just wipe it from your brain. There is no need to know. Oh no…
Andrew: So any other subjects you want to cover?
Vashti: I think as long as you know what you’re buying. So don’t buy an Alva or a Happy Flute or any one of a myriad of rebranded China cheapies that are on the market, and expect it to have the same quality as a Baby Behinds and Itty Bitty, a Bubblebubs, a Thirsties or a Rumperoos. There are so many other amazing brands on the market. And really, once you do all the upgrades and pay for your postage and stuff like that, the price difference isn’t that much. Especially if you’re looking at buying 24 Alvas versus 24 Econaps, you can get, yes it’s still going to be more expensive to get the Econaps, but you can get the price of the Econaps down quite nicely, or any of your major brands…
Andrew: By buying in bulk.
Vicki: By buying in bulk.
Vashti: By buying in bulk. And there’s lots of ways to buy in bulk as well. There’s all of the buy now pay later schemes that are available.
Vicki: Also this is where I didn’t go with the multi-brand retailer, is they can do up packs of 24 different nappies. That’s a huge thing. That’s a huge bonus that a multi-brand retailers has over a single brand. I can only sell you 24 of a single product.
Andrew: An actual shop is actually going to have the nappy so you can touch it and feel it, and you’ll be able to tell pretty much straight away which is the quality nappy and which isn’t.
Vicki: And unfortunately, going back to the baby expos, unfortunately it generally tends to be brands that are at expos because they’re so expensive, they’re more a marketing exercise than a sales funnel, or anything like that. So to get a multi-brand retailer to actually have a stand at the expo is unrealistic, which is why I actively encourage my multi-brand retailers to run, either run the stalls or be on the stalls so they can answer those questions. If someone wants a pocket nappy, I don’t make a pocket nappy. I can’t help you. But I can say, well on the weekend, Hayley or Nicole sell pocket nappies. Let me go grab one of them and they can answer your questions for you. There’s a lot to be said about, instead of going direct to the brand, go to a retailer.
Vashti: The retailers, we deal with a myriad of brands. And we don’t just deal with the brands that we sell. We also deal with brands that we’ve sold in the past. We deal with brands that our customer have brought into us and said can you give me a hand with the fitting of this? Look, I bought this online, I bought it second hand, and I’m just not getting a great fit. And we can look at it and go that’s because your elastics have gone. Do you mind if I have a quick look at that nappy? I haven’t seen that brand before, I’d really be interested in seeing it. So we deal with a wide range of nappies, so we have a greater understanding of what is available on the market.
Andrew: And you tend to not stock anything that you’re not happy with.
Vashti: No, definitely. As I said before, I’m very particular about the brands I stock. It’s got to be something that I’ve used on my own kids. It’s got to be something that I would be prepared to put on my own child.
Andrew: It’s all prepared to put on your own child now, because all your kids are out of nappies.
Vashti: Yeah, all my kids are out of nappies.
Andrew: Unless you’re looking to have another one?
Vashti: No. No, this…
Andrew: You don’t want to make that announcement?
Vashti: …this shop is closed.
Andrew: We’re not going to break any new news or anything like that?
Vicki: Let’s have another baby, Andrew.
Andrew: Sure, you just have to go and find somebody else.
Vicki: I just got a pass. Ryan Reynolds.
Vashti: No, Brent’s had the snip, there is definitely no more babies.
Andrew: Well I didn’t want to make this public as well, but me too.
Vicki: You never got tested.
Andrew: No, I never got tested.
Vashti: Well, I didn’t think Brent did, but apparently he did.
Vicki: Yeah, but see I pay him now. I don’t have to worry. We were talking about wages before. I pay you now. I used to have to pay you in other ways. I don’t have to anymore.
Andrew: Oh, that’s right, yes.
Vashti: But you still don’t leave it by the bed.
Andrew: I’m so much more comfortable now you’re putting it into my bank account. I feel like a real paid person. Any other things you want to touch on, ladies?
Vashti: Just make sure you know what you’re buying. And if you…
Vicki: Ask. Ask.
Vashti: And if you are buying a China cheapy, that’s fine, it’s great because you’re putting a cloth nappy on your baby’s bottom, and that is fantastic.
Vicki: But don’t actually, there is a little bit of a stigma that comes with China cheapies, but you know what?
Vashti: Who cares.
Vicki: You have to just be confidence in your own decisions, and this is why we focus so much on education. It’s not about bagging out a particular brand or a particular style or anything like that. It’s about giving you, empowering you with the knowledge to make the right choice for your family. And as I said earlier, if you’re, whoever is doing the nappy changes and the washing is…
Vashti: And paying the bills.
Vicki: …and paying bills, they’re the ones that make the choice, not anybody else, and be damned with anybody else’s judgement.
Vashti: It’s no-one else’s business, absolutely none. But if you are buying a China cheapy, have realistic expectations on it. That’s the main thing. Is just have those realistic expectations on what your nappy is capable of doing, and if you aren’t sure, ask someone. I’m always happy to answer questions. Send me a message on Facebook or Instagram. Send a message through to Nappy Leaks and Andrew will forward it to me or Vicki. It’s not an issue, and we’ll give you a rounded and honest answer, and it will be a non-judgemental answer. I don’t care, as long as you’re using a cloth nappy. And even then…
Vicki: Depends on the question. If you want to know a style or particular brands, send it to Vashti. If you want to know composition and stuff like that, that’s my forte. The actual making and what works and what doesn’t work, versus different brands and styles, which is your forte.
Vashti: And whenever I get a question about how a nappy is made, I always say, I’ll get back to you, and I ask Vicki. Or I ask one of my other manufacturers, because they’re the ones that are doing it for a living. I’m in the front, selling for a living.
Vicki: So if you need a salesperson, get Vashti on your team.
Andrew: OK girls, I think we’ll finish it up then. Love your work. Thank you Vashti.
Vashti: Thanks, Andrew.
Andrew: Thank you, Vashti. Thank you, Vicki.
Vicki: Thanks, Andrew.
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.