Cloth Nappies: A Changing Conversation

Thanks to Elizabeth Guthrie, founding member of the Australian Nappy Association, the Association’s inaugural President (2015) and former owner of Nest Nappies, for sharing her experience of the recent PBC Expo.

Over the weekend of 1-3 April, I had the great pleasure of representing GroVia at the Pregnancy, Babies and Children’s Expo in Adelaide.

Driving home after a big weekend I’ve been reflecting on the conversations I had over the past few days. Expos are full of conversations…

As a (former) brick and mortar store owner, I’m no stranger to talking all day, long and hard about cloth nappies. As a big talker it was one of my favourite parts of the job!

But expos are different. There’s less time, too many people, too much noise, a hugely diverse customer base. It’s both tricky and hard work to make a connection and get your message across honestly and succinctly.


And then there’s the elephant in the room: the competitor (or five or six) up the aisle!

I like to call the first few expos I did as a cloth nappy retailer, the Years of Why! Precious expo minutes were spent rattling off statistics about why people should consider using cloth nappies – less waste, environmental impact, money and cost savings…. People were defensive, sometimes aggressive and I felt like the idea of cloth nappies would probably stay on the fringes forever. There was a very real (and tangible) fear we’d all go broke before we got over the hurdle of selling the idea of cloth and got to the point of getting people to buy the actual nappies!

After some years, with great relief, we moved past all the statistics and with a lot of razzle-dazzle, cloth nappies seemed to come out of the shadows.

You couldn’t walk through a baby show without bumping into nine or ten cloth nappy stands – there seemed to be one at every turn. It was true, cloth nappies were making a big impact, people wanted to do cloth nappies, that was clear but with it came pressure and expectation and honestly they were confused about how it all went together. I call these the Years of How; how does it work, how do you wash them, how do you put them on, how do you stay dry, how do you deal with poo and my personal bug bear… how trim is it compared to a disposable??

It was progress, but was it enough? Because people were buying the nappies but they weren’t telling their friends about them, or they were using them a handful of times and then giving up….

This weekend, and a dedicated expo retailer may differ with me here, but it felt like the conversations had finally slipped into a completely different sphere. Have we finally moved beyond the Years of Why and How and into the Years of What?! Please say it’s true!!

Of course there are exceptions to every rule and not every conversation went like this; there were still grumpy folks demanding to know how you could save money on a $30 cloth nappy and a 30c disposable (I still have my calculator at the ready!), there were washing and what-to-do-with-poo conversations (thanks ANA washing instructions!) but praise be the one, single, only time I said “this nappy is super trim, you’d never know if they were wearing a cloth or disposable” the lady looked at me like I had two heads – as if comparing the two had never occurred to her!!!

People were there armed and ready to give cloth nappies a try. They were on board. They had the Why and the How pretty well covered and as a retailer, it was simply my business to furnish them with information about my specific product and how it could work for them.

I don’t for a moment think we’re out of the woods when it comes to educating, advocating and supporting cloth nappy use. What I do take home from this weekend is a crystal clear picture of how easy it is to do my job as a retailer when someone else has my back.

When the additional information that is vitally important in getting people over the line is being covered cooperatively, rather than by me alone.

My sister, who came to help me out over the weekend and has no connection to the cloth nappy industry talked at length about how brilliant it would be to have the ANA represented at every baby expo event so end consumers have an “authority” to approach to troubleshoot or get great unbiased information, right there at the coal face. I can only agree with her. It would be brilliant to offer a fitting service, information sessions for new and existing cloth nappy users, brochures, links to our child care kits. The benefits are endless for both our members and end consumers.

What’s your experience been at expos recently? Do you think the conversations have changed? What role do you think the ANA could play at events like these? We’d love to hear your thoughts! Join the conversation over on our Facebook page.

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