This week, we meet former ANA member and creator of Issy Bear Nappies, Michelle Toia. We thank Michelle for her contribution as a founding member through to 2016.
Tell us about your background. What did you do in your past life, before children? Before cloth nappies!
I had a TOTALLY different life before children and nappies.
For ten years, I was in the Australian Army as a Military Policewoman. This is where I met the other part of Issy Bear Nappies, my husband Peter.
Tired of being ordered around, I then joined Nutrimetics and worked my way up to Executive Sales Manager, earning myself a trip to the Greek Islands as a result, which of course I couldn’t take as I was 39 weeks pregnant with my second baby.
Three babies later (yes that does add up to five babies), I decided that I needed my sanity back.
I also decided that I needed some better cloth nappies for my baby Isabella than the traditional terry toweling square nappies.
Tell us about your journey into the cloth nappy industry.
I used terry toweling squares for my first four girls, so it seemed a natural progression for my fifth daughter, Isabella.
I had been making up absorbent pads for waterproof covers since 1999, but these were bulky and took ages to dry. So Google became my friend and my creative side went into overdrive.
I then showed a friend the first nappy that I had made for Isabella. She wanted some for her baby, then told others.
A house full of cardboard later and the very first one-size-fits-most Pocket Issy Bear Nappy was born in April 2008. The newsagency owners used to joke with me that I was building a house to hide from the big bad wolf.
My husband was overseas with the Army at the time and he came home to the company, Issy Bear Nappies.
We started outsourcing ethically through China in early 2010 as we could not keep up with the demand. To this day, our nappies are made both here in Australia and ethically in China.
How has the cloth nappy industry changed since you started your business?
I think the biggest changes are the variety of nappies available and the flooding of “China cheapie” nappies in the Australian market.
The variety is a great thing. The China cheapies, not so much.
You really do get what you pay for.
When buying from an Australian company that has designed their own nappy (like Issy Bear Nappies) you are also buying a guarantee.
A guarantee that:
* The nappy is a great design – no scrimping on fabrics, labour or design
* The nappy comes with a great warranty and after sales customer care
* That you are supporting an Australian family
* The nappy is ethically made – no slave labour
Look for the Australian Nappy Association logo on the businesses you buy from. These businesses have the approval of the ANA.
What is the hardest thing about running your own business?
Juggling for sure!
I have five girls (all living at home). I find the balance between being there for them as a Mum and being the Director of Issy Bears a real challenge most days.
Throw in a shift working Policeman husband who gets call outs quite often, then you have chaos most days!
No wonder I am always tired!
What’s one thing you know now that you wish you’d known when you started your business?
Don’t do it. Just jokes!
Take it slowly and listen to your gut instinct. It is very similar to the Mummy instinct and it is always right.
Start with plenty of research on the industry. Can you create a point of difference?
Make a business plan and review this plan often.
Do what makes you happy. Not what others expect of you. It is okay to say no.
Who helps you run your business?
My husband – long suffering post office guy and general support. I have been told he is proud of me, but he has never said it to my face haha.
My girls – They travel to the expos with me. The three older ones help out on the stand from time to time. Payment is one on one time with Mum and a trip interstate!
My sewing lady – I won’t mention her name as she is very shy. But she is truly awesome. Especially around expo time as it gets crazy busy.
My book keeper – Ahhh she saves my life by doing the BAS for me each quarter.
I did have help with customer service and Facebook, but the ladies keep going off and having babies, so I run all social media at present.
What do you do to relax?
I love to watch any Vampire series I can get my hands on; there is not a lot to do in a small country town.
I have recently started playing netball again. I am not sure if you can convince my joints that I am relaxing, but I am enjoying playing netball with my second daughter Sarah.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Slow down. Step off the merry-go-round when you can and enjoy your life. Love you Aunty Maureen xxx
What’s something you’d like your kids to remember about you?
That I am a fun person who believes that everyone is equal and deserves respect.
That animals should be protected and loved.
That the earth is worth fighting for, so look after it.
Lastly, laugh at yourself. It’s fun!
Tell us your favourite quote or saying.
Keep it simple silly (KISS).
Is there anything else you think our readers would love to know about you or your business?
I am extremely clucky and I would have added to my tribe of five girls if I could have. So baby cuddles at expos are very welcome.
That I truly love what I do. Why else would I still be doing this 6.5 years later!