When I got started cloth diapering I was quite the novice. I didn’t know a pocket from a prefold. I quickly searched the interwebs for answers to my questions; and boy did I catch on quick. My searches landed me in some online forums where I found a couple other moms talking about these great deals they were finding on these things called “diaper co-op”. What’s a co-op? It stands for cooperative, but in the diaper world its where lots of moms go in on one single order of something (diapers, inserts, you name it) to get “whole sale” price or cheaper. Sounds great, right? Well, the bad news is a lot of mainstream businesses forbid co ops, so you will usually only find co ops running off-brand Chinese made products. A diaper for under $5? I was sold…hook, line, and sinker. Who wouldn’t want to save even more money on an already so economical way to diaper your child?
So I sought out these co-ops, joined, and gazed at gallery upon gallery of photos of diapers in all the colors, patterns, and fabrics. My first order included 25 diapers, 1 wet bag, and more inserts then I could have known what to do with. That’s plenty of diapers to cloth a baby in, right? But they were so cheap! At nearly $4 per diaper I figured, why not go a little overboard. So I joined another co op, then another. Soon, before I even knew it, I was paying hundreds of dollars for cheap off-brand diapers that I hadn’t even touched, used, or seen. But at the time it was so exciting! Feeling like I was saving so much money and would have a stash the size even the cloth diaper veteran would be jealous of.
But then it all came crashing down. I realized there were fees involved. “Co op fees” they call them, and paypal fees, and shipping to host cost, and shipping to me… Soon I uncovered the harsh reality that I wasn’t saving a ton of money at all. Sure, after everything was said and done I was probably averaging about $11 a diaper. Once I realized I was spending more money then I would have spent on a decent stash of name brand dipes, I raced back to the interwebs for validation for my purchases. I poured over YouTube tutorials and testimonials, read countless bloggers’ reviews of these nicknamed “China Cheapies” (a term I learned during my search.) The reviews were mixed. The negatives I uncovered were: no quality control, bad customer service, no warranties, no guarantees, short life span. The positives were: decent products, worked well, great fit, okay customer service (via e-mail), INEXPENSIVE. Inexpensive. That was key. I had to remind myself, diaper for diaper I was saving some money. I felt validated.
Then the waiting began. After I paid what was due it was time to wait for other moms to pay their invoices. Then I had to wait for the co op host to make the order. Then wait some more to get an estimated shipping date. Then even more waiting for the giant shipment to be sent to the host. Then more waiting for the host to separate, sort, and ship out everyone’s individual order. It was over a month per co op buy, minimum, before I got my order. One order took three whole months to complete.
What did I think of the products? That is a post for another day. I will shortly say they were as good as to be expected. I used them. They worked. Some failed but most didn’t. Was I pleased with my purchase? I would have to say no. I spent a small fortune on these diapers and they were just average.
Co ops hurt business and consumers alike. Period. I could have taken three quarters of the money I spent on these co op diapers and spent it at a small business buying name brand diapers that have quality control, customer service, warranties, and guarantees. No worries, no headaches, and MORE money in my bank account. They hurt consumers because as the popularity of these co op buys increase, the less interest people have in trying main stream diapers first.
Why buy a $17 diaper when I can (in theory) buy a $3? I can spend a small amount of money to see if I like cloth diapering, then invest more later.
The problem with that mentality is a lot of times these diapers fail for one reason or another. And it doesn’t always have to be poor workmanship, it could be improper laundering, the use of diaper creams, etc. These diapers don’t come with directions. They rarely come with packaging! Having such a poorly performing diaper with no customer service to ask questions can scare a lot of would be full time cloth diaperers from committing and never trying decent, backed up brands of diapers that I’m sure would please them and exceed their expectations. Also, something is to be said about instant gratification. I would have had diapers in my drawers and on my daughter’s bum in DAYS instead of months. That time alone makes up for the negligible savings diaper for diaper.
So after everything was said and done….You know what I’m doing now? Trying to sell off these diapers to invest in the name brands. I can sleep better at night knowing if my diaper fails tomorrow I can speak to someone over the phone who can troubleshoot with me and solve the problem. I cannot say that with any of the off brand diapers that I own. Had I just tried the name brands in the beginning I would have spent FAR less money and time in the end. But that is what I get for not doing my research. I’m glad these brands didn’t turn me off from cloth diapering, though because it is so rewarding… even with all the money spent.
I hope you can find rewards in your cloth diapering journey! And I hope my experience will help some of you curious would be cloth diaperers…. Really do your research, take out a pen and calculator and add up fees, costs, and what your time is worth and put it up against a mainstream retailer. I would bet the mainstream retailer would win!
Bio: This author wishes to remain anonymous but wanted to share her personal experiences with others.
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