Thursday, July 14, 2011

Made in the USA: Weehuggers

For many cloth diapering families, supporting WAHM companies and USA companies is extremely important. The Made in the USA series highlights cloth diapering manufacturers that work hard to keep production local and within the USA.

Weehuggers features high quality covers and inserts with a great design. Their wet bags and laundry bags are fashionable as well as functional. Lisa from Weehuggers shares a little more about the company...

Where in the US are Weehuggers produced?
We currently make our weehuggers diaper covers in Arkansas. Everything is shipped from the Blueberry Diapers headquarters in Knoxville, TN.

How did you get started in the cloth diapering industry?
My obsessive search for the perfect cloth diaper for my son caused many WAHMs pain and suffering as they created complicated off-pattern custom designs for my particular needs, so I decided to spare them the agony and just manufacture a new diaper myself!

Have you run into any challenges keeping diaper production in the US?
This is a big issue and I've been studying it very carefully because I've always believed in local sourcing and local production. But we've had lots of issues and challenges! I've learned that the US is a manufacturing powerhouse, but mainly for crazy high-end, high-value things like Boeing airplanes and complex machinery. Because American workers have high skills and multiple opportunities (though times are tough right now with the recession), they are able to demand higher wages, which makes it very hard to produce low-tech products like cloth diapers and textiles in the US and still sell them at a profit at prices our customers are willing to pay. If we could sell $40 cloth diapers, US manufacturing would be no sweat. But nobody would (or should) pay $40 for a diaper! That's the heart of the challenge. So most textile manufacturing and cut-and-sew facilities have moved to other countries where workers aren't as productive or skilled as the US and are willing (and desperate) to take on these lower cost projects.

People call this "outsourcing" and say that US companies are "shipping jobs overseas". But I'm learning that that's not always quite right. Right now, weehuggers are in over 60 retailers, most of which are small businesses in the USA. They love our products and can barely keep them in stock. The reason is because our domestic production can't keep up. The more weehuggers we can produce to meet demand, the more money these mom-and-pop retailers, our dear partners, can make. If, for example, we could increase our production by moving manufacturing overseas, it's very likely that our local manufacturer wouldn't need to fire a single employee, because they're over capacity as it is AND our retail partners could sell more weehuggers and grow their businesses. That seems like a win-win. It's a really tough issue right now, again, because so many Americans are out of work and so many people blame overseas production competition for it.

But we keep on keeping on. I've spent the past two years exploring domestic manufacturing to try and solve this problem because, again, I prefer local sourcing. Demand is high, which is a great problem to have, but frustrating when you know that there are parents out there that want weehuggers for their growing babies and sometimes have to wait. We're making progress, so I'll keep you posted as things develop.

What is your favorite Weehuggers product?
Do I have to pick just one? Each of the prints inspires me in different ways on different days. I'm fickle like that! Our bamboo inserts are so soft and absorbent... I'm crazy about bamboo as a sustainable textile, so maybe those are my favorite.

What can we expect to see next from Weehuggers?
Maybe a black and white print for the punk rock parents and their newborns who don't see in color yet. ;) Conversely, a wildly colorful print would be nice, too. Perhaps stripes or tie dye. I love new prints!

Anything else...
I love my "job". Babies and parents love cloth diapers and weehuggers has always been about making cloth diapers more accessible and fun to even more new parents. I think the Earth is thankful for our efforts too.

Thanks, Lisa! It's interesting to learn about the inner workings of a decision to keep production in the US. Much more complicated that it may first seem. Snooty Booty Diapers carries Weehuggers and totally understands how hard it is to keep adequate stock ;)