For today’s interview, we asked New Zealand mum, Sara, what her greatest lessons have been since beginning cloth with her second child, one-year-old daughter, Clem. She shares her thoughts on buying second hand, her top five cloth nappy accessories, her routine and tips for managing the nappy laundry while working full time, and why she’s now a store-bought bamboo wipes convert. Sara says she didn’t realise until recently that every disposable nappy ever produced is still sitting in landfill or that disposables use a huge amount of water to produce and, if she had known those two facts earlier, she would have pushed harder to use cloth for her first child. Her story includes a heart-wrenching anecdote from one of her students that will have you, too, pushing to make cloth mainstream.
Welcome, Sara @clothandclem
Can you tell us a little about yourself, your family, where you live and what you love about where you live?
I grew up in Otautahi (Christchurch) and have lived in three out of four of Aotearoa’s main cities. My husband and I met at Drama School, but now I teach English at a large kura full of some of the coolest kids from all around the Pacific. My family and I (me, my husband, our five-year-old son, our one-year-old girl and our giant rabbit) now live in Tamaki-Makaurau, Auckland, and there is a lot to love about it, there’s a reason why it’s called ‘Bay of a thousand lovers’. We love its combination of nature and culture. You can go from beach to forest to Korean fusion burgers all within an hour. But, we are both from large families and having none around us and our kids is less than ideal.
How do you try to make the most of every day?
I’m not sure I do! But, I am increasingly trying to just focus on one thing at a time. I guess, trying to be more mindful in each moment.
How will you and your family be spending Christmas?
Actually, Boxing Day will have a bit of a different meaning for us this year. We are relocating cities the week before Christmas! So we will be settling into our new home.
What are your hopes and dreams for 2021?
With a new house, jobs and city on the horizon, my hopes and dreams, really, are of a smooth transitional period! I’m looking forward to connecting and chatting with more people making the switch to cloth, and I can’t wait to introduce my kids to the wonderful world of sleep-overs at Nana’s, so I can have more time with my husband!
What’s the best part of being a part of your family?
Probably the mini dance parties we have in our lounge. Our son likes a good dance off! More honestly, seeing the two kids’ burgeoning relationship. I asked my son recently whether he will get married one day and he replied, ‘Yes. I will marry Clementine.’ I had to explain why that wasn’t really appropriate, but it was cute that he sees her as a vital part of his future.
Best parenting advice you’ve ever received?
The fact you are thinking about how to make them happy or what you could do better means you are already a great parent. You care, you strive, you can’t help but have them on your mind. No one can be a perfect parent.
How do you think parents can support the betterment of our planet?
Talking to your kids about consumption. We try not to buy too many things for the kids, and explain to our eldest why certain toys are not a great idea. We do have plastic toys but often they have been gifted and we are conscious to try and buy them practical items or toys that will last.
What compelled you to become a cloth family?
One of my best friends lent us some cloth nappies. I don’t think she even said anything about them. She just popped them in with some hand-me-down clothes and left them at our whare. I tried them a few times but they felt weighted to me, like I would either succeed or fail so I put them away for a while. But I really wanted to use them and I’m an info geek so I googled for fit advice, and stumbled across a post somewhere saying: ‘a good place to start is by replacing one disposable a day.’ It suddenly seemed less scary and after five days I thought, this is easy, I’m going to replace all our daytime nappies, when at home, with cloth. Once I’d done that, I took them out with me. I haven’t looked back.
You have claimed that, without a doubt, those new to cloth will love it. Why do you think cloth nappies are so loved?
Remember that whole Marie Kondo fad? I think cloth nappies perfectly fit the ethos of Kondoism. They have a clear function, are beautiful and once you learn how to wash them well, you take pride in caring for them and returning them for reuse. They’re also bloody cute and associated with your baby so it’s hard not to love them. Plus, if you start small and build up, it soon dawns on you how easy it is. I would hazard a guess that most people who end up trying and disliking them just needed some support to get the right fit or the right nappies. There are a lot of cheap nappies with inadequate absorbency around; they’re never going to work on a heavy wetting 10 month old, for example. If someone is there to say, ‘hey this is an easy fix – try this insert instead,’ then it’s likely to end up a different story.
Would you recommend cloth nappies as a starting point for new parents hoping to make more eco conscious decisions?
Absolutely. But also I tell them not to worry if they end up using disposables too. Those early days with a baby are like no other. If you can cloth from birth that is awesome but it is way more important to bond with your baby, look after yourself and not let guilt about nappies get in the way! Cloth will always be there – just use them when you can. They are definitely a gateway to more reusable options in general though.
Is your other half in favour of using cloth nappies? Can you share a little on his views towards choosing reusable?
Yes, he is. It was me that decided to go full cloth but his view is ‘Why wouldn’t you? Would you use disposable undies? If you have the capacity, you should do it. Plus the prints are better than looking at Pooh Bear over and over again.’ There you go, verbatim James. We’ve talked repeatedly about how we would feel if the kids came to us 20 years from now, asking what steps we took to protect the planet, and we had done nothing. We both want them to see that caring for the environment is important.
You have described your 5-year-old son as a ‘nappy ninja’. What do you mean by this term, and what does it mean to you to be modelling low waste?
Haha, perhaps I should have said Nappy Natural but the term Ninja just went with the pic. I meant that for him, cloth nappies have become the norm, even though we didn’t use them on him. He finds the idea of plastic nappies strange; for him cloth IS mainstream. It is hugely important to me that our kids see us trying to be low waste. I love how much my students care about protecting the environment, but it has also been eye-opening hearing how some of them are being personally affected by climate change. One moment that has really stuck with me was when one of my Tuvaluan students told me she was from a forgotten, sinking island. You could tell that her deep connection to Tuvalu meant she too felt like she was sinking. Being part of a network of island nations, all with their unique and precious histories, makes our predicament that much more paramount.
Besides cloth nappies, what has been your favourite eco swap?
Definitely secondhand buys, especially clothing (does that count as a swap?). There are so many good quality secondhand clothes out there, especially for kids, who generally outgrow things before they out wear them. Auckland has some brilliant secondhand markets, Re-Generate both run one for adults and one for tamariki. Plus, Facebook and Instagram now have really good secondhand pages and, of course, Trade Me, in NZ.
You have said that your nappy collection comes from a love for collecting. Can you explain?
My husband and I are both big collectors – but not hoarders – together we have a designer toy collection and a board game collection. My dream would be a room for all my books and as a teen I was a big collector of rocks and gems. We’re both just geeks by nature so enjoy discovering more about something of which we are passionate and curating them in a pleasing way.
What recommendations can you give for parents wanting to build their first cloth nappy stash?
Take your time. Buy more as you need and can afford, you don’t need to get them all at once! Remember you can always sell a nappy on so it’s worth getting different brands to try and buying second hand is a brilliant way to test out styles without committing a bunch of money too.
But there’s so many options. Why can’t you just tell which brand to buy?
Because different babies suit different nappies and different parents like different styles. But, if you message me I can probably help you suss out what might be a good match!
Will I prefer single or double row snaps? Does it even matter?
Not really! Haha. Some people prefer the extra fit customisation of doubles – they can be staggered to accommodate your baby more specifically, others like the trimness of single – it’s all personal preference.
What are your thoughts on building a stash with secondhand buys?
I am 100% for this. So many of our nappies are or were secondhand nappies. If you can get them preloved but in good condition, why wouldn’t you? Also, if you’re using cloth from birth, babies are only in newborn sized nappies for such a short time, it seems crazy to pay full price for them.
So, stash complete, baby arrives, parents begin cloth and all they get is leaks. What should they do?
Cry and have a beer. No, just joking. Leaks are always either due to inadequate fit or not enough absorbency, so check whether the inserts are fully saturated when a leak springs, if they aren’t, get a fit check. Most nappy brands have their own Facebook page that offers fit advice or there are cloth specific groups that are more than happy to give feedback. Or, they can flick me a DM and I’ll do my best to help!
What’s the best advice you can give newbies hoping to achieve a good fit?
Position the nappy just above the bum crack and below the tummy button. Lower is better when it comes to cloth. And squeeze the crotch so the elastics sit where undies would.
When is it too late to start using cloth nappies?
Never! I said it somewhere above, but nappies have a really good secondhand market, so if your child needs nappies, either during the day or just at night, then it’s not too late. Make the switch and when you’re done sell them on. You’re more than likely still going to save money and many a disposable from landfill!
What is your approach to choosing nappy prints?
I’m not sure I have an approach, but I am a massive sucker for anything colourful and floral. I’m not so into prints aimed more at children. The nappies are for me to look at! A strong artistic design always grabs my attention. Florals, Retro, Abstract, Colour.
Can you share your thoughts on dressing boys in floral prints?
Florals are a gift of nature, they should be enjoyed by boys as much as girls. And, again, when they’re little, the prints are more for the parents’ benefit anyway. My husband wears florals, why shouldn’t my son?
Besides the nappies themselves, you have a great love for other accessories that support cloth nappy use. Can you give us your top 5 and why you love them?
- A wool nappy cover. Why? Because you can pop them over any nappy and they will protect against leaks overnight and you don’t have to wash it between use – just air it out! Which means one is enough. Amazing.
- Bamboo wipes. Why? Because disposable wipes are actually just a pain when you use cloth nappies – you have to pick them out, all pooey, and dispose of them separately plus bamboo is so soft against baby’s skin.
- A steel multi-peg hanger. Why? Because I am crap at remembering to bring pegs inside and wooden or plastic pegs break in the elements plus you can hang a bunch of inserts or shells on a multi hanger and chase the sun.
- Thin hemp boosters. Why? Because they add almost zero bulk to a night nappy but a bunch of extra absorbency.
- Wetbags! Why? Because they make heading out with cloth a breeze. Use mini ones to keep damp wipes for cleaning and use large, double-pocket ones to carry your nappies – one compartment for clean, one for dirty.
Once a user of ‘badly homemade’ cloth wipes, you are now a store-bought bamboo wipes convert. Can you explain the change?
Pretty simple, my home-made ones were too thin and unhemmed (I am sewing challenged – at intermediate school, while the other kids sewed gym bags, I just kept making bookmarks). I got too embarrassed to send them into daycare with Clem so I sucked it up and got some nice bamboo ones and they are so much better (of course!) I can just use one max two at change time.
It often seems that, when it comes to using cloth nappies, night nappies are the next frontier. You are very active in trialling a wide variety of night nappies, so can you, first, tell us what exactly a night nappy is? And, then, give us your best advice for taking the leap, as it may be, into night cloth?
A night nappy is really any nappy that is on the bum for longer than five hours – this is because you need to wash them a little differently: at a higher temperature and as soon as possible to avoid ammonia build up. But more generally it is a nappy the baby wears overnight right? Some babies can use day nappies that have been boosted others need dedicated night nappies that have extra, extra absorbency. The first step is to weigh your disposable dry before bed time and then again the next morning. If the output is 350g or less you are going to be fine with a boosted day nappy, more than that, you might get away with a boosted day nappy but are probably best to invest in a proper night nap.
You have recently returned to work and continued with full time cloth. How did you come to the decision that you would continue with cloth? How do you make it work? Can you give us a rundown of your routine and any other tips for success?
I just assumed we’d keep going. I was a little nervous about it because life gets so busy with both parents working full time but actually it hasn’t been an issue. Laundry is a fact of life with kids and the nappy laundry is minimal compared to the rest. Plus, because we have a routine for it, it’s the washing that actually gets done promptly rather than building into ‘Mt Washmore’ as one of my followers have called it!
Routine: before bed – put the days nappies in the machine and leave them there. AM – add the night nappy and switch on for prewash. After work – take the nappies out and dry pail. Every 3-4 days after work – put all the prewashed nappies back in for a main wash. Before bed – hang them out or chuck the inserts in the dryer. Done.
- Have a slightly bigger stash than you need in case something unexpected comes up and you can’t main wash in time.
- Night nappies can wait longer than you think! Clean Cloth Nappies have found that, actually, if the night nappy doesn’t go on to wash straight away it’s ok, so if now and again it doesn’t get prewashed until after work don’t stress.
So, work = childcare. How did you approach the task of finding a daycare to suit your reusable needs? How have you managed the relationship with your daughter’s carers when it comes to managing the nappies, for example, how they are stored and when you have had to correct fit? Any other good tips for managing cloth and daycare?
Luckily, our neighbourhood daycare had no qualms about using cloth. But, although they said they didn’t need any help with fit, I’ve had some pretty hilarious fits come home! There are a bunch of useful and simple infographics around for nappy fitting so I’ve printed them one of those to refer to. Also, I asked them which nappies they prefer (velcro Sassy Pants) and am building up my stash of those to make their job easier. They have shelves for each child’s nappy and Clem’s go in there too. We are the only cloth family at our daycare so it makes keeping track of them easier!
How does it make you feel when you see Clem’s cloth nappies sat in contrast against a wall of disposable nappies on the shelves of the daycare nursery?
They’re just so much prettier! It makes me think how much more colourful and enjoyable we can make our lives by purposefully choosing products we love – I often think about that when it comes to buildings, I love seeing images of places like Port Grimaud in France or Havana in Cuba; they just bring joy. I guess it’s that whole Kondo thing again. But, for all I know, those disposables on the wall represent families who are environmentally conscious in many other ways. It also reminds me how very NOT mainstream cloth nappies still are.
When it comes to reusable nappies, you have said that community matters. Can you explain why you feel this way?
Because cloth isn’t mainstream, we aren’t exposed to reusables like we are disposables so using them for a start can feel very foreign. They come in so many varieties with such a plethora of bloody acronyms, it can be overwhelming and confusing. Having a community around means you get that social modelling and encouragement as well as trouble-shooting from people who know their stuff. Plus, when you love something, you have to have other people around who love it as much as you do so you can endlessly talk about it!
How did you come to the decision that you would share with the world your story, including your experiences with cloth nappies, on social media? How does it make you feel every time someone reaches out to you for support?
I felt like my family and friends were getting sick of seeing nappies on my personal feeds so I started @clothandclem as a place to share photos without guilt but I very quickly realised that it was a good way to show others how far cloth nappies have come since our parents and grandparents used them. I wanted others to see that they are fun and beautiful and offer guidance where I could. I love it when I get a message from someone I don’t know with a question about cloth! It gives me a chance to chat about one of my favourite things, help someone and make relationships with other mums (I’ve never been messaged by a dad!) Being a new mum can be a lonely position so I think I’ve, just as much, enjoyed creating a space to converse with other mums generally as about cloth.
On your Instagram feed, you enjoy a quick game of ‘Which print are you?’ From where did this game come, how do you come up with the descriptions for the nappy prints and what has the feedback been like from your followers?
People loved that game! My friend actually suggested I do it! I don’t really believe in magazine horoscopes but still enjoy them and I love reading tarot for friends and tea leaves with my mum so the descriptors kind of follow the same lines and are a bit of light fun.
What do you think needs to change for more families to come on board using cloth nappies?
I think people need education about them. They just aren’t “seen” very often still. Despite being so desirable once you begin. Ante-natal classes would be a great place for businesses to share their products and provide tutorials. Also, more councils should promote them and offer subsidies. I didn’t realise before using cloth nappies that every disposable used is still sitting in landfill. I also didn’t know that disposables use a huge amount of water to produce. I think if I had known those two facts, then I would have pushed harder to use them with our first.
And, finally, please share any other words of advice you feel would be of benefit to the readers of Make Laundry Not Landfill.
Don’t stress about how to wash them just get one you like the look of and give it a whirl! And NEVER think it’s all or nothing. Part time is a swell time 🙂
Number of bums in cloth. One.
Time in cloth. 9 months.
Number of nappies. Not sure! 40ish?
Full or part time. Full time.
Nappy style. Pocket.
Stuff or snap. Stuff.
Pre-stuff or lay as you go. Pre-stuff!
Line or tumble dry. Both.
Favourite cloth related product. Stainless Steel Multi-Pegs.
Describe your journey with cloth in one word. Unfolding (ironically for a product that originated with folding) [I’m not good at single words]).