Why use cloth nappies
Living with cloth

#65: Making an impact

If you think starting a business alongside raising a baby is hard, you’re right. But when that business is part of your quest to tell your children you did everything you possibly could to make a difference to the world, you’d do it again in a heartbeat. Tina is a mum who wants to encourage everyone to enter the circular economy, to buy secondhand or rent rather than buy. She is mum to one-year-old Teddy for whom there was never any doubt that cloth nappies would be donning his little bottom. 
Welcome, Tina @consciouskoalakids
cloth nappies Australia
All photographs by Katherine Millard Photography.
Tell us a little about yourself, your family and where you live.

My husband and I moved to Sydney from the UK three years ago. We’ve since had a little boy, Teddy, who has just turned one. 

What brought you to Sydney and what do you love about living there?

We came chasing the sun and a better quality of life, after living in London for many years. We thought we’d stay for a year, but haven’t looked back! We love having the beach on our doorstep, nothing beats it.

What kind of a mother do you aspire to be?

This is a tough one. I had many visions while pregnant: long walks and coffee shop visits with a newborn who slept contentedly in his pram, lovingly feeding my son organic home cooked meals, playing in a Montessori inspired nursery with earthy wooden toys. The reality is a little different! Teddy thinks sleep is overrated, the cat eats most of his meals and I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have a Wiggles song in my head. All I will say is that I hope my son grows up without any doubt of my love for him. 

We’re parenting in a challenging age. What worries you most about raising a son in 2021?

It’s a scary time. Being from the UK, we’re devastated that none of our friends and family have met Teddy, he’s growing and changing so much every day and time is slipping by so quickly. I worry about the long term effects of the pandemic, on people’s mental health in particular, the loss of human touch and connectedness and how that will affect us as a society. Teddy is growing up in a world where people’s faces are hidden behind masks, we’ve stopped shaking hands and hugging, we recoil when someone comes too close – all necessary measures, but – I wonder how that will shape him as he grows up. 

How has motherhood changed your approach to life?

Motherhood has truly shaken me up and turned my world upside down! It’s almost indescribable, feeling stronger, but more vulnerable, at the same time, losing time, sleep, friends, but gaining a love like no other. I remember reading that it is no coincidence you’ve been given the child you have and I can’t help but wonder if it must be true. Teddy, my little sleep thief, with his hatred of people and the pram, has taught me so much. To slow down, to throw away the rule book and most importantly, to trust myself. 

When you found yourself heavily pregnant, struggling to find sustainable clothing options for your son and looking up at skies thick with smoke at the height of the Australian bushfire crisis in early 2020, you said you knew you had to do something to help combat the environmental crisis. What did you do? 

On a mission to tackle textile waste and keep clothes for fast-growing babies out of landfill, I started Conscious Koala. Ethically made, organic cotton baby clothing available within a circular rental subscription. Families are sent a bundle of beautiful baby clothes in the appropriate size and once outgrown, these are sent back, laundered and quality checked to continue their story with another family, while whatever we can’t reuse is recycled. 

Take us back to the moment you had the idea for Conscious Koala – what was your thinking? What inspired you to take the leap as a business owner?

I remember feeling utterly helpless as the fires raged all around us, knowing I was bringing a child into such an uncertain world. I felt I had to do whatever I could to protect the planet for my son and his generation, it wasn’t enough to recycle my soft plastic and shop at Vinnies, I had to try to make a bigger impact. I was horrified at the amount of clothing I was already accumulating for my unborn son and thought there must be a better way of doing things – which is how Conscious Koala was born. 

How does a circular rental model for baby clothing help protect the planet for future generations?

The circular economy works on the principle of keeping products and materials in use, the impact of which is twofold: less resources are used to create new products and less waste is dumped into landfill. Babies grow quickly and will get through 5 sizes of clothing in their first year, so restocking your little one’s wardrobe every few months is not only expensive, but has a significant environmental impact. 

Can you share any statistics or stories about the impact clothing our babies has on the planet?
  • It takes 2,700 litres of water to make one t-shirt – that’s enough for one person to drink for 900 days
  • Aussies buy an average of 27kg of new textiles each year and then discard 23kg into landfill, where it may never break down
  • Textile production accounts for 10% of annual global carbon emissions – that’s more than all international flights and shipping trips combined
Launching any new business is no mean feat how did you manage with a newborn in the mix?

With great difficulty! As a first time mum I had no idea how demanding a newborn is. In the first few weeks I was so sleep deprived that I could barely spell my own name, so as a consequence, the business launch was pushed back.

How do you continue to balance your roles as a mother, business owner and employee?

It’s a constant juggle with so many conflicting priorities. A lot of the time I feel as though I’m treading water and not giving 100% to anything. There’s not a lot of ‘me time’, but I’m slowly learning that I need to rest and recharge to be the best version of myself. 

What’s your advice to other women looking to take on a side project during their maternity leave?

Honestly? If I had my time again, would I do it … yes … but I wouldn’t put so much pressure on myself. I’d know that having a baby is incredibly demanding and it’s ok to slow down, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. 

What has been the greatest highlight of your business journey so far?

Receiving my shipment of clothes. The blood, sweat and tears that went into arriving at that point, it was a proud moment. I don’t have a design or manufacturing background, but wanted to take control of the entire process so that I could confidently say Conscious Koala’s footprint is as light as possible, from end to end. I designed the range of clothing myself and took great care to find an ethical manufacturer, use organic material and non-toxic dyes. I’d had so many delays along the way – including the courier losing a box of my clothes the day before they were delivered – I wondered if I’d ever get there, so it felt really good when all my efforts finally came to fruition.

What would the future of Conscious Koala look like if money was no object?

I’d love to branch into larger children’s clothing sizes and maternity wear. Kids and bellies grow quickly; as adults, we can invest in a good quality pair of boots that will last us 10 years, but I think the circular economy will be really important for items that are only intended to be used for a matter of months. 

What are your hopes for how society will view choosing clothes for babies into the future?

I hope that people will start to think about the long term consequences of what they purchase for their children. We all want the best for our kids, but when you stop to think about the resources that have gone into creating one cheap, cotton onesie, it’s not sustainable. Kids don’t need to wear new clothes, they don’t know any different and they look cute in anything. The best thing we can do to secure our children’s future is make sustainable choices now.

As someone who values sustainability, was there ever any doubt as to whether you would use cloth nappies when you became a mother?

No doubt at all, my stash was one of the first things I bought!

benefits of cloth nappies
Can you talk us through the early days of using cloth for you? 

I started with the best of intentions and packed some cloth nappies in my hospital bag, however, I ended up having an emergency c-section and wasn’t mobile enough to be able to use them right away. Initially I felt guilty about the disposables but I now know it’s important to allow yourself grace when you need it and remember that none of us are perfect, doing your best is absolutely enough. As soon as I could walk to the washing machine without wincing, about two weeks, I started using cloth and haven’t looked back since. 

In terms of challenges, I’d say the biggest has been getting the right fit, we’ve certainly had our fair share of leaks. We chose Econaps because they are just so pretty! I love that Teddy can simply wear a t-shirt and a nappy in the summer. 

In terms of our formula for success, it’s keeping on top of the rinsing and pre-washing so that it doesn’t pile up, I find when I let things slide, getting through a mountain of poopy nappies becomes a colossal (and stinky!) task. 

What wash routine have you found to best suit your lifestyle?

I do a daily pre-wash and main wash every 2-3 days. I find with a baby there is never a shortage of laundry to bulk out the machine!

What has been the highlight of using cloth nappies for you?

I’d never experienced a poonami until we resorted to disposables on holiday – we had several over the course of a few days and had to change Teddy’s outfit multiple times. A triumphant moment for cloth, my previously unconvinced husband actually said “I can’t wait to get back to cloth nappies when we get home!”

Got any great cloth hacks?

Not sure if this qualifies as a hack (possibly just lazy parenting!) but buy pretty cloth nappies and you won’t need to bother dressing your baby around the house in summer. Most of the time, Teddy roams around in nothing but his Econaps at home, it’s much easier than changing multiple outfits a day and the prints are so gorgeous, I almost don’t want to cover them up. 

What has the response to using cloth been like from your family and friends? Can you share any positive or negative stories?

Mostly positive, I’ve managed to convince one mum friend to make the switch. I think people still have images of terry cloths held together with giant safety pins, so when they see how pretty modern cloth nappies are, it takes away some of the ‘gross’ factor. 

What do you think we can do to make cloth seem less overwhelming for those considering it as a choice?

Easy to digest information. I remember being completely overwhelmed when I read the washing guide and detergent index from a cloth nappy Facebook group, looking desperately for the ‘pre-wash’ setting on my washing machine (hint: there isn’t one!)

For a family new to cloth who asks ‘where on Earth do I start?’, what is your advice?

Try a nappy rental service – you can test out a few different brands to find what works for you, before investing in your own stash, plus they’ll also guide you through fit checks and a wash routine. 

Describe your journey with cloth in one word.

Rewarding.

Talk to me about what living a sustainable life means to you outside of dressing and diapering babies and how you approach sustainability on a day-to-day basis.

Since becoming a parent, I feel more than ever than time is the only thing that’s truly ours, and time isn’t guaranteed. As a family, we focus on memories, not things. In 10 years together my husband and I have never exchanged gifts and that’s a tradition we’d like to pass on to our children; instead of mountains of presents, we might celebrate a birthday with a trip to the zoo, or Christmas with a family holiday in the countryside. Living sustainably can be liberating, I definitely succumbed to consumerism in my 20s, I’d order dresses by the dozen from fast fashion online stores and wouldn’t be seen dead wearing the same outfit twice. But I’ve learned that more isn’t better, quite the opposite, I actively try to have less now; less clutter, less choice = more time.

What is your response to the attitude that as one person you cannot make a difference to the world?

Firstly, I understand how frustrating it is, the world has so many huge problems and they can seem impossible to solve. But our actions do make a difference, and importantly, they also shape how the next generation will behave. For me, I want to be able to tell my son that I did everything I could, because even if we don’t live to see the worst consequences of climate change, our children certainly will. 

If you could encourage everyone to make one change for the planet, what would it be?

I’d encourage everyone to enter the circular economy – and the easiest way you can do that is to buy secondhand or rent rather than buy. The added bonus of shopping secondhand or renting is that it’s kinder on the wallet. I think it’s really important to be mindful of what you’re buying and whether you actually need it. My rule of thumb is, rent or borrow first, if you can’t do that, buy secondhand and if you can’t do that, buy new, but buy well. 

For families hesitant to begin cloth or rent clothes, what other eco changes would you suggest instead?

Start small, do what you can. Maybe you won’t be able to fit a year’s waste into a glass jar, but perhaps you could walk instead of driving to the park. You might be surprised at how quickly eco-switches become second nature – for example, we use a toy library instead of buying toys and I can’t remember the last time I bought anything. Whenever Teddy’s toys need upgrading, I just automatically think ok, off to the library we go – and it’s a domino effect. Once one thing becomes habitual, you can tackle the next. Remember, better, not perfect and be kind to yourself – parenting is hard work! 

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