Pallavi Swaraj was a nervous wreck while preparing for her first child a year ago.
There would be a cranky baby in the world soon and little clothes suddenly became frightening. On the way to becoming a mother, the 29 year-old felt the need to be near her own.
Pallavi Swaraj with her 11 month-old daughter Vidita at her Kandivli residence. Swaraj chose to use cloth diapers for the first eight months and then switched to disposable ones
Grandma-to-be came to the rescue and even before the delivery date was declared, there were bundles of pure cotton fabric being sown into diapers for the guest of honour.
“I realised that an infant’s skin is sensitive and the disposable diapers available in the market are too coarse. Mum had advised us about using cloth diapers but she took an extra step and hand-stitched a set for us in cute prints and happy colours,” recalls the Kandivli resident.
Baby Vidita was more than pleased about her new wardrobe that she used for the first eight months.
Nimeran Singh Delhi-based architect who uses only cloth diapers for her one month-old son Adit because she doesn’t want to contribute to landfills
Vidita is now 11 months old and while her mother has a full-time baby-sitter to help her out, her husband also does his bit. “Initially he was a bit scared, he said to me — ‘I’ll do anything but change diapers.’ Now he can handle the situation all by himself,” she laughs.
For Nimeran Singh, based in Sainik Farms in Delhi, the issue wasn’t just about her 10 month-old son Adit, it was also about the carbon footprint he would leave even before he took his first steps. An architect by profession, Singh never had a doubt about whether it would be cloth or plastic when it came to diapers.
Dr Samir Dalwai, developmental paediatrician with a special interest in Child Development, Child Psychology and Juvenile Jurisprudence (Child Law) at New Horizons child development centre in Goregaon says both cloth and disposable diapers are fine, though he prefers that patients choose an environmentally friendly alternative.
Singh agrees. “As an architect, I think I am bound to be more sensitive towards the environment. I couldn’t stand the thought of contributing to landfills, though there isn’t enough awareness among parents about this phenomenon.”
According to a study in the United States, an estimated 27.4 billion disposable diapers are used each year in America, resulting in 3.4 million tons of used diapers adding to landfills each year.
Babies are big business
It isn’t just the environmental impact that’s forcing the switch, however. As new parents tell us, diapers account for close to 60 per cent of their baby care purchases. A 2011 business segment report by research and analysis agency RNCOS seconds them.
Apparently, the baby healthcare industry is expected to reach the worth of Rs 28 billion by the end of 2012 by experiencing a compound annual growth rate of 17 per cent. The global baby care market witnessed a compound annual growth rate of 2.7 per cent from 2003 to 2008, where more than 80 per cent of the total share was held by the category of baby diapers, it states.
Diapers on a budget
For Bengaluru-based Sundar Nadimpalli, baby care for his 18 month-old daughter Anjali runs up a monthly bill that includes baby formula, vaccinations, massage oils, creams, shampoo and soaps, but diapers are the real money-grabber.
He does the math, “Children use diapers for the first three-and-a-half years of their life. If you calculate that at three diaper changes per day that’s Rs 1,278 and a cost of Rs 14,000 to 20,000 for three years.
Swaraj, on the other hand, spends Rs 1,500 per month on baby bath products, of which Rs 900 goes towards diapers. Komal Sangani from Colaba buys three diaper packs of 45 pieces each in a month, which adds up to Rs 1,500.
She says, “Other expenses like cream, oil, talc, etc are simply a fraction of the cost and last longer too.” Singh, who uses only cloth diapers, made an initial buy of a 12-diaper set for Rs 14,000 and avoids the monthly spend. “Twelve diapers will need you to do a wash once every two days and can last till the baby is potty-trained. Without diapers my expenditure per month is Rs 1,000.”
Nadimpalli explains, “I started out with Econobum’s diaper series, but it turned out to be too expensive, so I switched to regular homemade cloth diapers that my mother would make.”
Singh however believes that you have to look at the long-term benefit. “Initially it is a large investment, because you will be using them for two years till the child starts potty-training. With disposable diapers you have to keep purchasing new pads,” she explains.
The diaper entrepreneur
Rachel Chand, founder of Smart Baby Retail Pvt Ltd, started her own company in 2010 after she had to deal with four sets of diapers for her three sons and daughter.
She says, “I am an American married to an Indian living in Shimla for the last 16 years. We have cloth-diapered each of our children and home-birthed our last two. My oldest will be 13 in May and my youngest just turned three.”
In 1999, when she had her first child, Chand felt guilty about spending Rs 10-15 on a diaper that would end up in a landfill. “Our budget was tight, and there was more environmental awareness.
If you consider that every baby can generate as much as one ton of landfill waste before the age of two and then consider the garbage situation that developed nations are dealing with, it’s scary.”
On one of her trips to the US, Chand met an old friend, Jennifer Labit, a mom-turned-entrepreneur, who ran CottonBabies, a design and manufacture unit for cloth diapers. Chand decided to become the Indian distributor through her online store. They stock brands like BumGenius, Flip and Econonbum cloth diapers.
“We soon became overwhelmed with the number of Indian parents looking for diapers like these and our sales increased. We hope more retail chains pick up these diapers, as the demand, with modernisation, is changing the way people use diapers today,” says Chand.
Who is buying? “Smart Baby caters to the middle and upper class demographics in India. Our customer base comprises well-educated, well-read and well-travelled individuals who are conscious about their health and environment and the choices they make,” she says.
The funky Indian diaper
Why aren’t Indian brands coming up with cloth diapers, though, forcing families to shell out big bucks for international ones found online? Arunima Singhdeo, director and co-founder of Babyoye.com, an online retail brand for baby products, explains, “Indian brands can’t support the production. If anyone is to get into the large-scale production of cloth diapers they will have to come from the cloth industry.
A P&G is unlikely to get into that segment. Even in foreign countries the origins of their brands are women entrepreneurs who are mostly moms with innovative ideas. And the business has taken off and come to export in India,” she explains.
Missouri-based Jennifer Labit, who started Cotton Babies in 2002 is one such example. When she was expecting her first son, she and her husband, both IT programmers by profession, found themselves out of jobs and living off a government assistant programme.
“The company was started to generate enough income just to take care of our family. But now we employee over 100 individuals. We distribute to the USA, India, Canada, Australia, Africa, and the United Kingdom.
Italian baby care brand Chicco, which made its entry into the Indian market earlier this year, doesn’t stock diapers in India. Shahana Hameed, brand manager, says, “We have disposable diapers internationally which we do not currently sell in India. These are premium diapers, which would not be cost-effective in India where diapers are still considered a commodity.”
While Babyoye stocks a wide variety of Indian and international brands, very basic, functional cloth diapers made by local tailors are available too.
“Though they are cheap, middle-class buyers don’t want this. These women entrepreneurs have created diaper pants that don’t leak, look funky and are functional too.
It is just a matter of time, I’m sure by next year we will have Indian women entrepreneurs making more refined cloth diapers. Though the audience may be niche, in India that is still sizeable.”