“When I discovered my baby son had diaper rashes, it was a scary scene. Most of all, I was guilty. Diaper rashes can do that to moms — using diapers feels like a shortcut and that’s what happened to me,” says Pallavi Utagi, whose not-so-pleasant experiences with disposable diapers led her on an entrepreneurial path.
Mumbaikar Pallavi is the founder of Superbottoms, a brand of economical and eco-friendly cloth diapers.
Speaking about her experience, Pallavi says, “A woman becomes a mother, and overnight she is suddenly introduced to a world of baby-care and baby products. Like most mothers, I bought disposable diapers for my son. It took two uses for him to get rashes.”
Pallavi’s husband was also very concerned about the environmental hazards of using disposable diapers in large number. Their joint concerns led them to look for other alternatives, which came in the form of international cloth diaper brands.
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“These international brands were better in many ways — they were kind on baby skin, they were economical because they lasted much longer, and they were eco-friendly.” Pallavi invested in these diapers for her son, but decided that wasn’t enough.
Armed with an MBA and years of experience working in the pharmaceutical industry, Pallavi came up with the idea of creating her own label of cloth diapers. Thus came about Superbottoms, a label that has, since its launch, made many mothers around the country happier.
In a market filled with disposable diapers, Superbottoms stands out for its eco-friendly virtues and colourful designs.
“Regular diapers are coated with plastic and contain a cocktail of chemicals,” says Pallavi. Superbottoms diapers are composed of layers of fabric coated by a dry-feel protective soaker that Pallavi calls the USP of the design. These soakers are made from microfibers as well as bamboo and hemp. A soft, laminated outer layer helps keep the inner parts waterproof yet breathable.
“When we started, our biggest issues were finding the right materials,” says Pallavi. “People are familiar with disposable diapers or they stick to the traditional langot. We struggled to make suppliers understand what we really wanted.” She finally found a supplier in China whose quality matched the standards Pallavi wanted.
To distinguish her products further, Pallavi introduced colours and patterns. “I thought of the products as functional apparel. Many parents prefer to leave their children in diapers at home, and having colourful patterns makes it seem like any other item of clothing. A lot of parents now use only these colourful diapers.”
The designs are executed by a team of freelance designers, some of whom are new mothers on sabbatical.
In fact, in the course of a year, Pallavi has developed a network of moms to help her out. A team of mothers — christened Superbottom Buddies — help customers with queries, introduce them to cloth diapers and how to use them. Yet others pitch in to help with social media and outreach.
Reaching out to parents and creating awareness is one of Superbottoms crucial aims.
“As it turned out, disposable diapers weren’t our biggest competitors,” says Pallavi. “Most mothers around the country would rather use more traditional options; with our product they can have the benefits of disposable diapers on a cloth base.”
But not many are familiar with sustainable diapers, and Pallavi initially struggled to even find testers. “I could test the product on my own baby, but many parents were hesitant to let their babies try a new diaper. But friends and family pitched in and I gradually got volunteers too,” she says.
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Now, the brand focuses on social media and word-of-mouth to spread awareness. Using cloth diapers can take some initial hand-holding — the Superbottoms team conducts awareness sessions for mom communities via face-to-face interactions as well as social media groups. They also conduct sessions in pre-natal classes and are now seeking medical collaborations.
“We have spoken to many paediatricians who have responded warmly to the product,” Pallavi says.
A little over a year into the business, Superbottoms produces 1,000 units a month and promises to grow. They cost between 600 to 1,000 rupees, but their reusable quality makes them more economical than disposable diapers.
“We also have a project in the works for disabled children,” says Pallavi. “We receive many requests from parents of children with developmental as well as physical disabilities. They take longer to be potty-trained and sometimes require diapers till the age of 8 or 9. Imagine the cost of regular diapers. I want to start a not-for-profit initiative that addresses the cause and would love to collaborate with organisations that can take this cause forward.”
Pallavi also wants to draw attention to the environmental impact of disposable diapers and promote cloth diapers as a viable, eco-friendly alternative.
Sanitary waste has emerged as a global concern, as landfills are choked with such waste. With Superbottoms, Pallavi is on a mission to offer parents hygienic sanitary options and also relieve the landfills of some of the seemingly endless pile of diapers.
And she’s just getting started.