Why do cloth diapers cost what they do?
Recently there has been a new free online store set up to sell Cloth Diapers here in Malaysia.
Her diapers are cheap! RM46 each! Or even as low as RM36!
“What?!” you must be thinking, “so cheap! The other cloth diaper stores (like Tiny Tapir, Lil Danzell,Baby Sasha N Mom, Miabambina) must be ripping us off!”
Would it surprise you to know that this new cloth diaper shop’s margin is higher than the other stores? And in fact her profit per diaper in ringgitt terms is the same or more than the other more expensive imported cloth diapers?
Where are these diapers from?
One word. Ebay.
You can buy a lot of cloth diapers from Ebay – especially those brands that aren’t that popular (highly sought after) and that are mass produced in places like China. Your cost per diaper can be as low as RM18 (including shipping to you in Malaysia) – plus, because you are only buying a few pieces at a time, you won’t have to pay customs tax like resellers do – in Malaysia that’s a whopping 35% of the declared cost of the items plus shipping.
However, there’s a few reasons maybe you might not want to do this :
You need to have an ebay and paypal account to pay for the goods, which are sometimes in the USA, more likely in China
Your package can get lost – or if the seller is not reputable, maybe it will be sent late, or not at all, or badly packaged (and therefore damaged)
You have no guarantee on the quality of the goods. Cloth Diapers are not all created equal, despite what some people might have you think, comparing a RM83 diaper to a RM46 diaper is like comparing handmade leather shoes put together by a long time shoe maker in Italy or a Saville Tailored suit to Vincci shoes and a pasar malam T-shirt. It’s ludicrous.
Yes, there are definitely good bargains on ebay – but it’s a question of whether you hit it lucky or not. the long established Diaperswappers forum in the USA is full of people who have bought diapers from ebay only to regret it, despite the low cost of them.
There are 2 main worries when it comes to cloth diapering :
Sure, not all cloth diapers will fit all the myriad shape of children the same, just like a single brand of disposable diapers won’t fit every child the same.
However, brands that have done well enough to become well known (bum genius, rumparooz, blue berry, jam tots etc etc) have been tried and tested – they do fit a good wide range of babies shapes and sizes. That means they have been well designed, and the designs have been tweaked carefully after many 100s of customer feedback.
On the other hand, a cheap cloth diaper, although sometimes they try to copy the established brand shape and size (which is stealing, frankly), is probably simply created – because their primary concern is to make a quick buck, not to necessarily minimize the risk of your child’s diaper leaking or falling apart after 1 month of use.
The build quality
Here is where you literally get what you pay for.
With a cheap diaper you are much more likely to get:
poor quality elastic (which won’t last long, given how resilient cloth diaper elastic needs to be due to frequent and heavy duty use),
poor quality velcro or aplix used to close up the diaper (you escape this problem with snaps, but with snaps you might get hard to snap snaps or snaps that break down after frequent use). With velcro or aplix, if it’s not strong enough the diaper will quickly open up if your kid is running around. Or, it will become ‘fuzzy’ quickly – meaning it might not close up at all. Incorrect placement of velcro or aplix may also lead to the velcro cutting into the baby’s skin.
poor quality inner fabric. This will mean bulk because ultra absorbent and natural fibers like high quality tightly woven organic cotton, bamboo and hemp are too expensive – you’ll never find these materials in cheap diapers. The soakers won’t absorb as much – even within the microfiber family, there is really absorbent long lasting microfiber, and there is loose pile, quick to pill, quick to wear out microfiber
poor quality outer fabric (especially with waterproof diapers, PUL must be of good quality. If not, after a month or so the PUL will start to come apart – PUL is actually a plastic layer bonded to cloth. If it’s not good quality it will separate and break down. Some PUL will actually melt in the dryer (i’ve seen this in some used diapers that have passed my hand). Other PUL loses its waterproofness after a few washes.
poor quality sewing. Because most of these products are made in a factory by sweatshop labor (go here and play this fun game if you don’t understand the implications of that fact) and with poor quality control you might get wonky seams, poorly sewn items (with insufficient number of stitches per inch of sewing which will mean your product will fall apart faster) and even incorrectly cut diapers.
However. Let’s (illogically) put all that aside and pretend all cloth diapers are equal and do the math!! As this new shop is quite keen on tables and charts and we here at Tiny Tapir are pretty good at math if we do say so ourselves, we thought we’d use her table as a basis. However, we corrected a few things and included the one column that was left out before.
* based on a basic one size diaper (non minkey, no extra gussets)
** based on cursory random search of an established online store (not Tiny Tapir).
*** includes shipping from China to Malaysia, on the basis of purchasing a set of 8 cloth diapers
So what’s the conclusion? If money is your number 1 concern and you don’t care about diaper leakage, the useful life of the diaper and you’re OK with supporting sweatshop practices, then Ebay is totally the way to go!
Sarcasm aside though, there are gems out there which can be had for a bargain – just be cautious. Whether cheap or expensive, it’s always recommended to buy 1 cloth diaper of a brand to use for a month first and see if it works out for you – if it does, then buy a whole bunch. Being Penny wise and Pound foolish (i.e. buying a big lot of all the same brand and style before trying it first) is more than likely going to be a very expensive mistake and leave you very frustrated with trying to cloth diaper.