Cloth diaper co-ops. Like cloth diaper detergents, this discussion can really divide the cloth diaper community. Throughout my journey, I’ve had the pleasure of working with cloth diaper manufacturers, retailers, and cloth diapering families. I’ve become friends with many, and stood beside an old friend of mine as she started her own store. I’ve also been in the position of wanting to cloth diaper, but having limited (that is, essentially none at all) funds to do so. The Real Diaper Association (RDA) is not an industry organization, but an organization to advocate for cloth diapering (I’m a member.) They released a report on how co-ops affect cloth diapering as a whole, not just how it affects one aspect or part of the industry. I want to share my thoughts, as well as some parts of the report that struck a chord for me.
I’ve heard it said that I am “anti co-op.” I’m not anti co-op. I’m anti illegal, unethical or unauthorized co-ops. I’m anti infringing, black market diapers, and I’m pro cloth diapering, and pro cloth diapering industry. If a manufacturer or WAHM has authorized the co-op, if the co-op organizers are acting ethically, paying taxes etc. Great! There ARE ethical co-ops out there. Unfortunately there are also a lot of not-so-great ones out there.
Many manufacturers require that retailers be established, have a brick & mortar store, and/or provide a photo of their store before approving their wholesale account. Part of this may be due to the high turnover of online diaper retailers, and the subsequent discounting of the products. Part of it is to avoid being duped into approving cloth diaper co-ops. While some manufacturers will work with co-ops or deal sites, others feel that this hurts relationships with their retailers. One big order is appealing, but not at the expense of retailers. This makes it even more difficult to get started as a new retailer.
The RDA’s report says: “We do not accept the inevitability of black market diaper co-ops. We reject the illegal, and we discourage the unethical. We embrace independent retail of cloth diapers. We embrace legal, ethical, sustainable cloth diapering.”
Some co-op organizers may not realize that they have legal requirements such as obtaining a business license, remitting federal tax and state sales tax, as well as complying with federal and local requirements (such as CPSIA compliance.) The co-op organizer could be held liable for product testing, labeling, and patent infringement.
Often illegal co-op items are low cost, low quality items with no warranty. This can lead to families getting a poor cloth diapering experience, as well as going to local retailers for help, with no intentions to buy.
“Co-ops Create Unsustainable Expectations Co-ops often operate illegally, creating expectations among consumers that legitimate business costs are optional.” This portion of the report really resonated with me. If a co-op is operating illegally, without the costs of licensing, taxes, overhead etc. it creates an unreasonable expectation for cloth diapers to be sold at these low prices. For a manufacturer producing diapers in the United States, Canada or overseas ethically, believe it or not neither they, nor their retailer is making big bucks. Even work-at-home-moms who sell exquisite diapers for $30+ are often making just enough to put back into more materials. They aren’t charging $20+ for cloth diapers to get rich. Business costs are not optional for legitimate businesses and margins in the cloth diaper industry are extremely slim.
When you buy a diaper that is available from retailers, through a co-op, you are hurting the retailer (who would buy an item at full price that they could get for a steal?) but in the long run, you’re hurting yourself. Many retailers will stop carrying a product that is sold through co-ops or deal sites, so you will soon be unable to find those products there.
The RDA’s report has a very interesting section (page 13) and graph on what happens if cloth diapers become a commodity. Don’t let cloth diapers become a commodity. This may make no sense out of context, so please do see this portion of the report.
The report says: “If you care about the social or environmental sustainability of cloth diapering, if you care about the survival of the cloth diaper industry, you need to buy and use diapers by your values. Otherwise, your choices are going to go away.”
One of my first posts on this blog was jokingly entitled “I’m too Poor to Have Convictions.” My choice to switch to cloth diapers, despite the cost of “safe” detergents was not because of my values, but because of my son’s skin sensitivity. There was no possible way for us financially, to buy a full stash of pocket diapers at once. In 2009, there wasn’t a cloth diaper blogger on every street corner (just kidding) and it wasn’t easy to find great resources for tips on cloth diapering with receiving blankets & flour sack towels. If I’d had someone to hold my hand, I probably would have gone that route rather than wash 3 diapers twice a day & buy one diaper at a time. There are options out there! Even if you pinch pennies by cloth diapering with receiving blankets for a few months, eliminating the cost of disposables will allow you to buy your “easy” stash more quickly, with quality diapers from reputable manufacturers and retailers. If you’re still expecting, buy a diaper a week, or set aside your disposable diaper budget every week during your pregnancy.
“If [co-ops] continue to undercut the quality and pricing for cloth diapers, local industry — both manufacturers that operate from the U.S. or Canada AND the retailers who sell and support those brands — will shut down. This in itself would severely limit consumer choices, and it’s not apparent that all cloth diaper co-op participants are aware of this. If YOU are concerned about the long-term health of the cloth diaper industry in the U.S. and Canada and its contributions to local jobs and communities, or if you are concerned about the long-term availability of quality cloth diapers, we recommend that you don’t participate in cloth diaper co-ops.” – From the RDA’s report.
I want quality cloth diapers to be readily available when my children have children. I want to see manufacturers and retailers thrive. Therefore, I do not support unauthorized or illegal co-ops.