Today’s interview with Sydney photographer and mother-of-two, Eli, is a reminder that there’s so much worth in joining the cloth nappy world at any stage of the motherhood journey. Eli had recently begun a quest to reduce her household waste last year when she was confronted with empty shelves where the disposable nappies should have been at the start of the pandemic. She took it as a sign to make the switch to cloth for her then 5-month-old youngest daughter. One year on, being immersed in a world of babies and cute cloth butts brings her much joy. Eli is passionate about connecting with and supporting other mothers and women in business, and saving thousands of nappies from landfill.
Welcome, Eli @nurturethewild
Tell us a little about yourself and your family?
We are a family of four: My husband Bryan and I and our two little girls – Marianna (3.5 years old) and Rosalie (17 months). I’ve been a newborn and family photographer for 5 years and a cloth nappy advocate for exactly a year now!
What makes you happy?
My family of course. They give me so much joy. Outside of my family, I love connecting with other mothers – privately and through my work as a photographer. I love my photography as a way to capture all that’s precious in my and other family’s lives.
In which part of the world do you live and what do you love about living there?
We live in Sydney/Australia. I love the beaches, endless sunshine and the unpretentious and open-hearted nature of Australians. The coffee in Australia is great too!
Where would you be if you weren’t living in Sydney?
Probably near Munich – Germany, where I grew up! Or somewhere in a coastal town close to the beach.
One way you love to spend your days is in the water; you’ve said it’s the cure for almost anything. In what other ways do you and your family love to spend your days?
If there is one thing this family loves besides the water, it’s definitely food! We just let the day evolve around eating. Bryan and I both love cooking and Marianna loves helping with food and we all love to eat. So we either cook together or take a picnic, browse food markets or eat out on family days.
What’s the best part about having children for you?
Definitely the strong sense of purpose that comes with being a parent. I don’t think I ever valued the freedom of my early twenties that much and the aimlessness that sometimes came with it. Having that responsibility for my children’s wellbeing gives me focus and energy. I simply love how my girls always fill the house with so much laughter and joy and I get so excited to see the world through their eyes and learn with them. I love that they teach me how to view the world with wide open eyes and wonder.
What are some of the key values you hope to instil in your daughters?
To be kind and responsible human beings. To be real. To always be themselves and unapologetically so. I don’t want them to adhere to some of society’s outdated but sadly also current unrealistic and harmful notions of what girls, women, mothers should be. I want them to know their self-worth and when it’s time to stand up for themselves and what’s important to them.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first became a mum?
I definitely have a lot more experience now with Rosalie than I had at the start with Marianna. I have developed a motherly instinct over the last few years I just didn’t have to that extent as a new first-time mum. I now know exactly when there is something amiss with my children and what I need to do. I know when I don’t have to worry and I know when I do.
Outside of caring for your two little ones, you spend your time photographing other families. Can you tell us a little about that?
My business is LittleLights Photography. Before Marianna was born, I used to predominantly photograph couples and weddings. Then I got pregnant and gave birth to Marianna. This was when I realised how powerful that family bond is and also how intense these first days, weeks, months and years with children are! They are so intense and over in a blink of an eye. I want to capture every moment of that intense and joyful stage of life – for myself and other families. I also enjoy connecting to other mothers and listening to their stories. Each and every single one of our motherhood journeys is so unique and powerful in its own way. It’s something that continues to fascinate me and I want to capture it.
Mothers often go unseen in candid family photographs as they’re behind the screen capturing moments. How do you ensure you’re part of the captured memories in your family? Any tips for others who are struggling with this predicament?
I don’t have nearly enough photos of me with my kids. It’s a constant struggle! Bryan is really good with my camera and can even get great candid snapshots on just his phone but they’re still too rare. We finally booked in a family shoot with another photographer and I’m so excited to have some more family photos of all of us together soon!
As far as tips go: Don’t just do the annual santa photo and book a proper family shoot! I think mums get worried a lot about how they look in photos and if the kids will “behave”. Of course it’s worth having a chat about these concerns with your photographer but you might be surprised to see what a relaxed and fun experience a family session can be and I can guarantee you will treasure these memories forever. Even if you don’t – these photos will be so important for your children to have of themselves with their mum.
If all of the gorgeous photos on social media are anything to go by, you also spend much of your personal time with a camera in hand, often capturing cloth nappies in stunning environments. What motivates you to capture and share your cloth nappy journey?
When I started my cloth nappy journey, I discovered there is a wealth of support and a great community behind cloth nappies which I enjoy being a part of. I also discovered that the Australian cloth nappy industry is led by women, most of them other mothers. There are the big mainstream brands who are run by women, but there are also WAHMs – work-at-home-makers (also mostly women and mothers) who make these nappies by hand here in Australia and their fabric suppliers (also mostly women), the incredibly talented artists who design the prints on the fabric (again, mostly women) and of course the incredibly knowledgeable retailers who sell cloth nappies by running online shops from home while also doing most of the family work. Like my photography business, the cloth nappy community allows me to connect with mothers and other creative women in business. I love that. Also, by showing how cute these cloth butts are through beautiful photographs (and of course by buying them), I show my support for other women and mums which is something I’m deeply passionate about!
What are your best tips for others trying to capture that often elusive cloth butt shot?
Plenty of natural light – outside in the shade or late in the afternoon sun is best. Get down low to capture that butt from the right angle.
What drew you to cloth nappies?
Like so many others, I was confronted with empty shelves where disposable nappies should have been during the start of the pandemic last year. Even before that I had already started on my journey to reduce waste and become a more conscious consumer. When the pandemic hit, I took that as a sign to make the switch to cloth and also gain a bit of self sufficiency in the process.
Can you tell us a little about your cloth nappy journey so far?
I started with Rosalie when she was 5 months old. My biggest regret is not having started cloth with Marianna (who is 3.5 years old now). They honestly haven’t even been on my radar when I was pregnant with Marianna and I didn’t even know what a modern cloth nappy looked like back then.
Regardless, by the time this interview is published we are celebrating our one-year cloth nappy anniversary and will have saved over 2,000 disposables from landfill. How amazing is that?! Another year – and when the time for toilet training comes – we will have saved another 2,000 nappies from going to waste. Trying to imagine these numbers is blowing my mind and really motivating to keep going and keep promoting cloth nappies. Even though we started late in the game, it’s been worth it!
What has the response to your use of cloth nappies been like from family and friends?
Both my husband and my mother-in-law can fit any brand I throw at them (and I have close to 20) like total pros.
What do you look for in a cloth nappy? Any favourite design features?
A good nappy needs to fit well, the elastics need to be gentle and not leave red marks and the nappy needs to be made from high quality materials to last all the way until toilet training and provide sufficient absorbency. I’m loving that some brands have started to use recycled plastic bottles to make the leak-proof outer layer of cloth nappies! My favourite inserts (the absorbent part of a modern cloth nappy) are quality fibre hemp inserts because they are super absorbent, and the most natural and sustainable material to make inserts from.
What would your all-time favourite stack of cloth nappies look like?
I love them aaaall. I can’t choose.
What’s your favourite modern cloth nappy accessory and why?
Cloth wipes. They go through the same wash routine as the nappies and all I need to do is wet them with some water before use. On the go, I just use a water bottle to do this. They are so easy to use and have been the biggest money saver.
What is your take on dressing with cloth nappies?
I think a cloth nappy is the perfect outfit on a hot day. When it’s cooler, I put some leg warmers on Rosalie and a jumper with the nappy being the centre of focus. This gives us easy nappy access and makes nappy changes and dressing relatively easy (as far as getting a toddler dressed could ever be easy). I love how fashionable cloth nappies are.
Once or twice you’ve attempted camping with cloth nappies. How doable and practical do you think cloth nappies really are on a camping trip? Would you do it again and, if so, what would you do differently?
It’s definitely doable but depends on what facilities are available, how much packing space you have and how motivated you are to spend part of your holiday time with laundering cloth nappies. We went on a 6-day camping holiday near Byron Bay last December and only had access to a hot water laundry sink. I brought enough nappies for the entire trip and pre-washed them by hand every 2-3 days which was a lot of work (not to mention the heavy ammonia smell!). Keeping the pre-washed items aired properly was challenging too because we had occasional rain showers throughout our stay. But in the end, none of the nappies got damaged and we managed not having to use any disposables during the trip! I would do it again, but if we go for a whole week I would probably use disposables for the first half of the trip so I don’t have to stress about pre-washing nappies by hand.
What do you know now about cloth nappies that you wish you knew before you started out? Any misconceptions you’d like to break?
I wish I had known how cute and soft and beautiful cloth nappies are. Once you put a quality cloth nappy on your child, it just doesn’t feel as nice to put on what is essentially a wearable garbage bag.
I would love for people to realise that with the right washing routine, their cloth nappies will stay fresh and clean forever. They shouldn’t ever be stinky when they’re washed correctly.
What’s your best advice for parents new to cloth?
Get that washing routine down pat first (I strictly follow Clean Cloth Nappies’ routine) and try a handful of different brands to start with before you commit to buying a full-time stash of only one brand. Baby’s shape changes as they grow and not every brand fits the entire way through from newborn to toilet training. Personally I have about 20 brands in my stash and have tried probably twice as many.
In the past year, you have embraced our unknown future by making more responsible consumer choices. Can you tell us more about that?
Yes. The pandemic and lockdown left a lot of people (including myself) feeling very insecure and unsure of their future especially in regards to their job situation. A lot of small businesses suffered and are still suffering. It has been a great reminder to support local and small businesses as much as possible.
All the uncertainty also has made me think and reflect. It has made me focus on what’s important and what I really need. I try to move towards a more minimalist lifestyle but it requires me to be very strict with myself and organised which is super hard for me.
Are there any other ways in which you have attempted to make your lifestyle more sustainable?
We recently got a compost bin for our small backyard that we use to reduce waste. The girls enjoy observing all the grubs inhabiting it. It’s pretty fascinating. I hope we can find time this year to start growing some of our own herbs and vegetables too and use our compost to help them grow. We are slowly using up all the plastic bottles and containers in the bathroom and replacing them with simple soap bars or refill bottles instead of buying new ones. We use reusable containers in the kitchen as much as possible and don’t buy as much packaged stuff as we used to. We also bring our own bags and produce mesh bags to go shopping – all small and easy changes over time that we hope eventually amount to something. In fact we have managed to reduce our waste by almost two thirds over the last year by implementing these changes.
What future do you envision for your children?
I envision a future for my girls where equality is a reality. I want them to have a seat at every table and the opportunity to decide and choose for themselves.