If there’s one thing that doesn’t excite Sarah, it’s stuff. Especially all the stuff – toys, clothes, accessories and so on – that often goes along with parenthood. Instead, thinking before you buy, swapping out disposable products and actively trying to reduce waste is the thinking of the world in which she hopes to raise her son. It’s also the kind of thinking that drove her to start Cloth Tots, a cloth nappy rental service, alongside her sister, Kate.
Cloth Tots means Sarah now has more opportunities than ever to talk about the things that she loves – mainly, cloth nappies and her family; but, more importantly, she gets to help parents use and “get into” cloth. And one of the best things about a reusable lifestyle is that it feeds and perpetuates itself; thus, Sarah’s dream world where people respect all the people, animals and flora that inhabit it ebbs closer and closer.
Welcome, Sarah @clothtots
Tell us a little about yourself, your family and where you live.
My name is Sarah, I am one half of Cloth Tots. I’m 33 and have lived in Sydney my whole life. I have a background in corporate marketing, and have been working full time since returning to work from maternity leave in 2020.
My partner Nathan and I went through a lot to create our little family. We were blessed with our gorgeous baby boy, Billy, after multiple IVF cycles in 2019. This experience accelerated our want to launch Cloth Tots. With IVF and then having a premature baby, we were surrounded by waste and one-time use items. It was part of the process, and we couldn’t change that, however, we as a family made the decision to consciously reduce waste where we could. We started shopping at our local green grocer so we could reduce plastic, got a compost bin and swore to only use keep cups (as a start). And then when Billy came (and after we exited the cloud of having a baby 7 weeks early), my sister Kate lent me a small stash of nappies to try. Along with her sample stash (of multiple brands), she also provided me with a little wash guide and came over to show me how to put them on.
And just like that Cloth Tots was born.
What are you passionate about in life?
I am an early bird, and always have been. I love to start my day before the sun rises with a run, pilates or yoga. These days my mornings can look a little different, or I often have a plus one on my pilates mat. My family mean the world to me. My sisters and I all were lucky enough to have kids all within 6 months of each other, which has meant more and more family time.
What kind of a mother do you aspire to be?
I truly aspire to be a mindful parent. I want to be present for all the moments, even though it’s sometimes easy to be on your phone. Billy has grown up so quickly over the last two years, and after everything we went through to have him, I really don’t want to miss a thing.
What concerns you about raising children in the 21st century?
Waste and excess. From the toys, clothes, accessories and so on. There is so much we can share, reuse and recycle, and yet there often seems to be this misconception that babies need brand new “things”.
If you could fix one thing in the world what would it be?
Tough one. Unfortunately right now there is so much wrong with the world. However, as above, I really do feel like there is just so much excess in parts of the world, and then not enough in others. If we could all just stop and think before we go out and buy something new, we could make such a change.
As one of the co-founders of Cloth Tots, an Australian cloth nappy rental service and retailer, you have had a breadth of experiences when it comes to cloth nappies. What is the one message you like to share with all families who cloth or are considering cloth?
Cloth Tots is all about small changes. We believe that every reusable nappy is making a difference to the world. If every parent swapped out just one disposable nappy with a cloth one, imagine the impact we could have on the world.
What do you consider to be the key to success with cloth?
A simple routine. Keep it simple on all fronts. A few brands that you love, a straightforward wash routine (made for your machine) and a great dry pail. It doesn’t need to be hard, and you don’t need to boil the ocean. Start with a few during the day, add on a swim nappy, then a night nappy.
What are your 3 top tips when it comes to using cloth nappies?
- Find a brand and style that suits you and your family. (I always talk about velcro nappies and how they’ve been perfect for my mother with arthritis).
- Get help and advice on your wash routine. Washing doesn’t have to be scary. It really is a two-step process. Rinse, and wash. But sometimes it does help to get a little advice.
- Join a community. There are some amazing cloth communities out there, including this website. They are a great place to share reviews, ask questions and ask advice.
What is your take on all the benefits of cloth nappies?
It compounds, environmental, aesthetic, budget. There are so many opportunities provided by starting on the cloth journey of a lifetime. Even if you are starting small, reusable wipes or a single nappy, the reusable lifestyle is one that feeds and perpetuates itself. Like when we all started using reusable cups for our takeaway coffees, stopped using single use plastic bags at the shops and ditched the straws. It’s the same in cloth nappies, it’s so easy to source options that suit your lifestyle and your family. Whether you are a cloth minimalist, all about a comprehensive stash or feeling a particular aesthetic, it’s such a great time to get into it and have a positive impact on the world we are leaving to our children.
What is the most common myth you see perpetuated about cloth nappies, and how do you respond?
I hear it all the time, cloth nappies are so much work – with the washing and dealing with poop. Honestly, I think it’s like all hurdles in life. Once you take that leap, you will see it’s nowhere near as bad as you thought. Yes, there is a small amount of extra effort, but there’s work in using disposables as well. Having to run out to purchase them, as well as all the work that we don’t do individually that goes into creating them and keeping them in landfill. These are single use items after all.
When it comes to actually using cloth nappies, the extra work quickly becomes part of your routine. You work out where in your day you run your prewash, what your best system is for how often you run a main wash and even a system for removing poop. It’s like all things with being a parent, routine is so helpful and there are certainly days where things don’t go to plan. We always use the mantra that just one nappy can change the world. Start by dipping your toes in the water and give it a go.
If you are still on the fence, renting is an awesome chance to try out the lifestyle and see how simply it would work in your family.
Tell us about the beginnings of Cloth Tots. What inspired you to start the business, what difference do you hope to make and how has it evolved over the past year?
Kate and I both came to cloth nappies from different places. My experience with wastage and one-time use certainly drove me there. Whereas Kate has always been keen to do cloth on her little one. For her it was about the amazing designs, brands and community spirit.
Cloth Tots was born in 2019. Kate and I both gave birth to our firsts, mine in April and Kate’s daughter arrived in August. I tried to get my hands on a few rental packs, however, there were none available from local providers. Kate had done extensive research on cloth nappies and was able to help me get into them. She created me a mini library, with a small stash, a wash routine and a few demo fits. Then lent me the stash for a few weeks so I could see which brands I liked. It was everything I needed to get into cloth. And so, Cloth Tots was born.
Kate’s science background (she has a Bachelor in med science) means she was always interested in the why. She’s my ying to my yang. I’m creative, reactive and vivacious, where Kate is methodical and thoughtful in everything she does for our customers. I can’t tell you the number of drop offs she’s personally done, or fitting tips she’s run through 1:1 with a new customer. We want every customer to have the same experience I did – personal, empathetic and supportive, just like a big sister.
How does a nappy library work?
Almost exactly like a book library. You rent our packs for 8 weeks and return them when you are done. The packs we have set up vary depending on what we find most people are looking for.
Our newborn packs are super simple. We kept them to 3 different styles, mostly all in one and with the options of snaps or velcro so parents can start to feel out how it all works in one of life’s most hectic times.
Once bubs gets older, we have one size fits most packs with nothing but variety. These are set up so that you can find what style works for your family, which brand speaks to you, and start to get a feeling for how it will really fit into your routine.
We have also just released a night nappy pack for part-time cloth families that want to explore going full time. It can be a really big investment to cover long sleeps overnight so we wanted to make it simpler and give people a try ‘before-they-buy’ option.
Who is your ideal customer and why do they choose your products and services?
We feel like there are perhaps three reasons a parent would choose cloth: cost savings, environmental savings, and then the aesthetic/tribe reason. And all of these make a great customer for us. But, perhaps, a common aspiration is less waste.
By using a nappy library you can significantly reduce your initial expenses; in fact, when it comes to newborn libraries you can completely erase it. Given newborns can potentially only be in newborn nappies for 8 weeks (or less sometimes), hiring a pack to get you started is the perfect way to start with cloth from birth. Moving forward, our OSFM packs (value and premium) mean that a parent can try multiple brands and styles before deciding on their favourite. This means less waste, money and resources. We help parents find the styles that suit them and their families. We also connect them with second-hand groups, or can provide a discount code to shop from our brands.
What has become your favourite part of being a business owner?
Personally, I’m loving the agility and velocity of working in a startup. Particularly from a creative/marketing perspective. We like to play with messaging, style, offerings and medium, and being the owner means I can just go for it, see where it lands. And if something isn’t working, fail fast, and pivot.
Additionally, I get to work with my sister; we talk about things we love, cloth nappies and our families. What could be better?
How do you balance your roles as a mother and business owner?
For me, it’s almost more how do I balance the triangle of full-time work, mother and business owner. I think it’s about priorities, for both myself and Kate. I am unavailable from 5pm when I pick my son up, till 7pm when he goes down. I try to remain really present during that short time, phones down and just soak him up. I also have strict no work during the weekend (when he’s awake). This means there is a lot of evening work during the week, but the benefit in having a colleague means we share the buck. Often our work/personal lives ebb and flow in busyness. This means that when Kate is slammed, or taking a much-needed break, I can pick up the slack, and vice-versa.
Where do you hope to see Cloth Tots in 5 years time?
Kate and I have a small goal. We want to be earning enough in our side hustle to substitute 1-2 days of our full-time gig. This means that we can have 1-2 days with our little ones at home. It’s a small goal, and one that I very much hope we will be able to achieve.
Beyond the financial though, we want to tick a goal of 250 new cloth users. That is, through the help of Cloth Tots, we have been able to assist 250 new parents use and “get into” cloth.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to start their own business?
If you are going to take the leap, do it with a strong support network (of family, friends, entrepreneurs, and like-minded business people) and choose something you are truly passionate about. There have been moments that have been extremely challenging and roadblocks to overcome but working alongside my sister and working on something we have both come to truly believe in has made it worthwhile. Don’t be afraid to put your face to the brand. We have been slow to do this, mostly because we’ve been camera shy, but by putting yourself in front of camera, you can really showcase your brand’s values.
Can you tell us about your own cloth journey? Did you always know you wanted to use cloth? Was the decision an easy one, or did you have to overcome some hurdles in getting started?
I didn’t start with cloth from birth. We had a bit of a traumatic experience with a preemie (plus moving house etc). I did however start with reusable wipes from the beginning. I had seen Cheeky Wipes on social media and knew I wanted to use them. I actually introduced these to both my sisters who are also now obsessed (reusable wipes are truly incredible, try one and you will NEVER go back). My sister set me up for success with a trial pack that she set up herself. She held my hand the whole way, answering my late-night wash related text messages, and Facetime fit questions.
We found the nappies we liked and have never looked back. I think we have lucky to be surrounded by supportive cloth users, including my daycare.
What do you know now about cloth nappies that you wish you knew at the start of your journey?
The versatility and range! I was lucky enough to be given a small stash from my sister to try before I invested in my own stash. However, even now as we try new nappies for our business I am truly amazed at the versatility and options out there. There is literally a nappy for EVERYONE.
What has come to be your favourite part about being a cloth mum?
I think Kate would say all the prints and innovative solutions to cloth dilemmas. She definitely loves hearing about and finding different options in the cloth world.
For me, I think I love the community and conversation. A quick nappy change at a shopping centre can connect you with a lifelong friend. The excitement of finding someone else at daycare who uses cloth (or even the same brand as you), or simply giving a friend a swim nappy to try, and hearing they love it.
What role do you think disposable nappies should play in raising children?
I think what’s important here is to state that we are all about small changes. We believe that every reusable nappy you can use makes a difference. I think there are times when cloth just isn’t going to work (we’ve actually written a blog on this) like when your child has gastro, or even when you have gastro, and I don’t think we should ever beat ourselves up. Incremental changes all make a difference to our world. It’s about being aware of our waste. Where it goes and how much of it we make.
What do you hope for the future of cloth nappies in Australia?
We would love for a return to cloth being normal. Back in the ’80s everyone used terry cloth as a standard. Sure, disposables have their place, but we would like for them to take a back seat. And, let’s just get rid of those silly disposable diaper bags … ridiculous “lavender-scented” things. If you’re going to use a disposable, just flick the poo and pop it straight in the bin. It doesn’t need a special bag (*rant over).
What do you think is the best thing we can all be doing to spread the love for cloth?
You’ve written about it on your site before and we couldn’t agree more, seeing cloth in use in the real world, lending someone a nappy, letting them see your cloth nappies in action. Knowing someone who’s successful with cloth is always a brilliant support to have when you start out. Summer is great for this. Let your little one wander outside in their nappies, use a swim nappy, lend your friend a wet bag. (Go nuts, buy your friend a wet bag – especially if they are the above “lavender-scented” bag user).
How are you striving to be a more environmentally conscious parent outside of using cloth nappies?
My partner and I are minimalists by nature, so we have been actively trying to reduce waste in our lives. Single use isn’t something we are keen on in our home lives. You will often find me with my keep cup in hand, powered by caffeine. We are also scavengers and love a good second-hand street-bounty find. I’ve actually challenged myself this year to try not to buy anything new. It has meant the discovery of some awesome websites/sites that promote the circular economy! Additionally my sister and I are also both vegetarian, I have been for the past decade, and Kate has been almost her whole life (25+ years). I respect that some people choose to consume meat, and that’s fine, as long as it’s done with respect to the animal. E.g. don’t waste it.
What excites you most about living a more environmentally conscious life?
Globally, there seems to be a shift to a minimalist and slower lifestyle. This includes more conscious decisions around our home and lifestyle and reducing excess. Its “cool” to reuse, buy second hand, and restore. There’s a huge shift away from “stuff” and that excites me. I also think about the world I’m leaving to my little one. This is a gift we can pass on to generations that come after us.
What do you see to be the greatest thing we can do as parents to make the world a better place?
Teach our children to love and respect the world around them. That to me encompasses the people, animals and flora that inhabit it. Respect is key here. It’s about taking what you need, and nothing more. It’s about eating what you need, and not wasting anything.