Happy Family. Healthy Planet.®

Happy Family. Healthy Planet.®
Denver's Green Store for Cloth Diapers and More!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Chat with Rumparooz CEO and President, Julie Ekstrom

Recently, I sat down with the inventor, CEO and President of Rumparooz, Julie Ekstrom. Julie has done a great job of educating her many customers with several videos explaining the birth of her family-owned company. Instead of repeating all of the same things, I thought it might be more fun to talk about the stuff that isn't in the videos. Julie is so fun to chat with and we wound up talking for four hours! Here are some of the best parts, just for you, ecoPOLITAN fans!

ecoPOLITAN: Tell me about your first impressions of cloth diapering.
Julie: Um, honestly, I was hesitant at first! But our second little girl was having major skin problems as a baby. A friend told me about cloth diapers and said she was going to mail me some, but she thought I wouldn't use them unless she was there to show me how, so she just showed up at my house with the diapers! I was like, “Are these used??” After just one night in a cloth diaper, even without any cream, my daughter's rash was visibly better. After just a few days, it was almost completely gone!
ecoPOLITAN: So you were pretty much sold at that point?
Julie: My mom knew that I hated laundry, so she didn’t think I would be able to stick with cloth diapering. I started doing all sorts of research and learned that the disposable diaper industry is a self-regulated industry and they don’t have to disclose their ingredients. But if you do some research, you can find independent testing that will tell you what’s actually in the diapers, and I was in shock- no wonder my poor little girl had a rash! Our oldest girl has ADHD and I was like like, “What did we do to her?!” I kept telling my husband, “You’ve got to SEE this list of chemicals in the disposables!!”
ecoPOLITAN: Have you seen that some of the tests that say that there’s no ecological difference between disposables and cloth are actually funded by the major disposable diaper brands?!
Julie: Yes, exactly. We tried a lot of different cloth diaper brands, but in the end, I couldn't find any brand that really worked for us. So my first thought was that I could make a good, fitted diaper and then find a cover that we like. During that time, we had so many different types of diaper systems that my husband had a hard time figuring out which diapers needed covers and which diapers needed an insert, and so forth. We needed a simple, uniform system.
ecoPOLITAN: You know what’s funny- I hear that a lot. The moms who shop with us rarely seem to have a hard time remembering the difference between the pocket diapers, AIOs, and fitteds, but the daddies seem to have a harder time with that!
Julie: Haha! I had so many questions, so I started a cloth diaper forum on MySpace to meet other cloth diapering moms. In particular, I wanted to know where I could find the materials to make my own cloth diapers. The first place I went had PUL but I couldn’t believe how much money they wanted for it! Then I went to Denver Fabrics and bought some tent material and I used it as a hidden waterproof layer with something cute on the outside. It was like a Gortex material so it was way cheaper. One morning, I was at Monkey Business for a play date and I was changing my daughter and another mom came up and told me that she used cloth diapers too. She really liked my hand made diapers!
ecoPOLITAN: Rumparooz are so trim, do you hear any skepticism that they are actually going to fit on chunky babies or through to potty training?
Julie: Oh all the time. And whenever we can, we have people come in or email us photos for fittings and teach them how to put the diaper on correctly. One of my biggest pet peeves with other diapers was that they were so huge and bulky. Ours are supposed to fit like underwear. We had a lady who was so disappointed because she actually liked how her kid's cloth diapers stuck out of the back of his pants so that everyone knew they used cloth diapers. She complained, "I was so excited to use Rumparooz because everybody loves them but nobody can even tell he's wearing cloth diapers!" I was like, isn't that a good

ecoPOLITAN: There are a lot of different opinions on how much disposables actually cost per kid. What is your estimate for the cost of disposable diapers vs. Rumparooz diapers? 
Julie: We usually settle somewhere about $5000 per child in disposables. And that’s going with the cheapest diaper brand you can find and buying it in bulk. That includes everything: wipes, Diaper Genie, Diaper Genie refills, Pull-Ups, swim diapers, etc. It doesn’t include the extra laundry that you have to do with all the blow outs and leaks. And what a lot of people don’t realize is that as the disposable diapers get bigger, they get more expensive per diaper.
ecoPOLITAN: Right, but the monthly cost stays the same from newborn through to potty training, as the cost of each individual diaper goes up and up!
Julie: Oh, and we base that total number of $5000 off of the recommended number of diaper changes a baby should probably have every day-- not off of like, neglect.
ecoPOLITAN: Oh, I know what you mean. Once, a woman proudly told me that one way she saves money is by only changing her kid's disposables four times per day. I was speechless!
Julie: Uhg! Diapers are not a toilet that you can wear! It's not like if you have surgery, you only change the bandage once blood is finally soaking through!
ecoPOLITAN: That should be your slogan.
Julie: Haha! So that’s why we try to educate families while they are expecting because the upfront cost of cloth diapers is more, but for just $500, they can get everything they need and save thousands of dollars! Most families can work to save up $500 over nine months.
ecoPOLITAN: If we had used disposables during the three months or so that my daughter was in Lil’ Joey’s, the cost would have been roughly equivalent! And the Joeys were in fantastic condition after she outgrew them so I can use them on another kid or resell them and probably get a good amount of money back! 
Julie: Yeah! The Lil’ Joey’s are like newborn clothes- they look almost brand new after just one baby.

ecoPOLITAN: How did you come up with the idea for Lil' Joey's?
Julie: Lil’ Joeys came about because a mom who contacted me found out she had cancer and had to have a c-section at 36 weeks so she could start treatment. I made her 36 Lil’ Joeys and based the pattern off of a hideous baby doll I bought off of Ebay. Thankfully, she is just fine now and has two more little girls!
ecoPOLITAN: Oh good.
Julie: When I was pregnant with my son, Sebastian, I made him a bunch of newborn sized cloth diapers, too. I had a bunch of friends on mommy chatboards who wanted them when he finally outgrew them and before long, I saw them circulating on DiaperSwappers.com.

ecoPOLITAN: Some people actually collect hard to find diapers. Have you ever seen any of your diapers sell for a crazy price?
Julie: Yes. One lady told me that she really wanted a Rumparooz in “orbital,” a print we used to use, and she bought one from somebody for $56! I hope she put that thing in a glass case!
ecoPOLITAN: Ha! Don’t ever let a baby poop in that! You could make a fortune at that rate!
Julie: I know! Yeah, I’m going to start hand-sewing one diaper a day: $400!
ecoPOLITAN: You’d be a millionaire!
Julie: Yeah!
ecoPOLITAN: You are obviously an excellent seamstress. Did you go to school for it or did you learn it all on your own?
Julie: It was all from my mom. She was an interior designer so I learned everything from her.  I made some simple diapers with the inner gussets and they stopped the blow out diapers. Our first year, I made all our diapers by hand. I went to Rocky Mountain School of Art and Design. My degree is in graphic design with a specialization in digital media and a minor in sculpture. All of our websites, ads, posters, etc. I do all of that. It's what I really love doing!
ecoPOLITAN: You're crafty! Thanks to your mom, you probably had access to great machines, too. That makes a big difference, huh?
Julie: Yes! Oh, man, once, when I was in the middle of a huge order, my machine wouldn't cooperate at all. After trying to work on it for a while, I just gave up and went to Target and bought a new machine! A few months later, I pulled the old machine out and it worked just fine! My husband said, “Either it was overheated or it hates you!”
ecoPOLITAN: Do you still sew?
Julie: I prefer not to, but I like to sew my kid’s Halloween costumes.

ecoPOLITAN: Your website recommends using original blue Tide for kids with regular skin. What about for kids with sensitive skin who can’t use Tide?
Julie: For kids with sensitive skin, we suggest Ecover or BabyGanics because they still have an enzyme (powder only, liquid is enzyme-free) but only have one kind of surfactant and it’s the surfactant that ends up causing problems with sensitive skin. Ecover is really easy to find in a lot of stores too.

ecoPOLITAN: Some of our customers want to do cloth diapers because they are better for the environment or their pocketbook, but some people really want diapers that are made in the USA. I know that your diapers are “made with love” in China. Tell me what your experience has been like in getting your diapers manufactured locally verses overseas.
Julie: Originally it was just me making them, then a customer helped me sew them, and then we went into local manufacturing that was right downtown. They were sewed there for a while and at the time, I felt pretty confident with them. I loved that they were local so that I could just drive right over and see what was going on. But it ended up being a nightmare! But they were supposed to do 5000 diapers for us and they said it would take six months. It ended up taking about nine months and the first 500 we got after about seven months all had to go back because they all had problems. They had changed the pattern and everything that could be wrong with them was wrong. Every diaper had about five problems with it and they all had to be scrapped. Meanwhile, we had been accepting retailers and everybody was getting super excited, but everything had to be put on hold for a little while and it was so stressful! We were getting ready to do our second run and all of a sudden- the owner of the manufacturing company was gone! His employees were showing up and the place was locked up. We had almost $10,000 worth of materials being sent to him and they were being signed for- and we found out that our orders were being signed for by his neighbor! My husband went down there and saw all our materials and realized that we had to get it out of there right away! It turned out that the owner of the manufacturing place claimed that he had 80 employees but he only had 6 and that’s why it was taking so long. He ended up botching an entire run of Good Mamas and they all had be donated. And we ended up having to donate 1500 diapers to the Cloth Diaper Foundation because they just weren't salvageable.
ecoPOLITAN: So is he even in business anymore?
Julie: He actually changed his business name so it looks like he’s just starting out. He moved locations and everything, but he’s still using all the names of the companies that he did work for under his previous name! So from there we had all these materials ready to go. I found somebody in Chicago, but it didn't work out. Then I looked into manufacturing in Texas, but they wanted more than our wholesale price, and that didn't include the cost of materials or shipping. So we couldn't afford to wholesale the diapers and could only sell them directly. Even so, we went through the sampling process with them for 6 months, but they could just never get the pattern down. I was freaking out because we had already begun going through the patenting process and I couldn't find anybody to make the diapers correctly! We were in Seattle on vacation and I met with the owner of BabyLegs, Nicole Donnelly, and she asked me how our manufacturing was going and I told her the whole, long nightmare. She said I should send her a sample that she would get to her manufacturer. She said that they are a really green, sustainable company that they don’t manufacture things made with synthetic fibers, but that since we were making cloth diapers, they might consider taking us on as a client. So I sent her one and only a week and a half later they contacted me. It turned out that the owner was planning a trip to come visit Nicole in Seattle, so she just tacked on Denver to her trip and we met. She’s started the company, but the company now is actually employee-owned.
ecoPOLITAN: This is in China?
Julie: Yes!
ecoPOLITAN: That’s so cool!
Julie: Yeah! It is REALLY cool! And it’s so frustrating because there are all these ridiculous, baseless rumors out there that we “boast that we only pay 15% above the cost of living, and that the cost of living in China is only $0.04 per hour that we only pay pennies a day to our manufacturers” and that’s all completely untrue! We don’t pay per piece because any place that does is considered slave labor. We pay hourly wages, 9-5, and they get an hour off for lunch. Lunch is paid for and catered in from local restaurants for the employees. They also have an art studio and a gym! (She showed me some pictures of the manufacturing site.)
ecoPOLITAN: This is unlike anything I would have imagined!
Julie: The woman who started the business literally comes from a billionaire family so she’s not in it to make a bunch of money. She started the company because she had a woman’s line of organic fashion and she couldn't find a legitimate manufacturer to make her items. They were getting all of their materials from China already, so she just decided to take the manufacturing into her own hands. They even have their own fields where they grow their own hemp and bamboo and they know that it’s only being treated with water and is being grown in the right conditions. But all that took a long time, and while they were in Qingdao, they didn't have a good place for her kids to go to school, so she started a school too! It’s SO cool and it’s priced the same as other schools in the area so it’s not just for wealthy families. (She shows me some pictures of the school.)
ecoPOLITAN: It looks like if Ikea built a school in a hospital- it’s so clean and bright.
Julie: I know! It’s so nice that if you sent your kids to a place like this here, it would be like $800 a week! It’s four stories and is totally amazing. She had all the bathroom fixtures imported from Europe so that they knew that they were all non-toxic. It’s so cool. Okay, back to manufacturing. There are literally like 12 different steps for Quality Control as they make the diapers. They actually thought of steps that I wouldn't have ever even thought of!

ecoPOLITAN: What do you think has made the huge difference between the level of quality between the products you get manufactured in Qingdao, as compared to all the places you tried in the USA?
Julie: I think that especially in the Chinese culture, they are very self-conscious about making mistakes, and it’s totally built in to their culture and uniformity is considered an extremely good quality. Plus, the working environment is totally different than the other manufacturing sites. For example, all the employees that make our diapers get to design a t-shirt to wear and they vote on which design they all like the most and that’s their uniform for the year. The woman who sweeps up the floor also creates a lot of the artwork that is hanging on the walls. They have an art studio and a gym! The employees all have partial ownership in the company, too, so they really care about the products they create and the success of the company.
ecoPOLITAN: Before your trip to China, were you a little bit nervous about seeing what the manufacturing site actually looked like?
Julie: No! Nicole from BabyLegs had been over plenty of times and knowing her and her mom, and having met the owner and her family and everything that they stood for, I never had any reservations. I had already visited all our other manufacturing sites and I kind of knew what to expect, but when I walked in to the site in China, it blew my expectations out of the water!

ecoPOLITAN: One of the things Rumparooz is known for is the unique inner double gusset. Is the double gusset fully patented or is it still in the process?

Julie: It’s still in the process. Once you say, this is my idea, and you begin selling it to the public, you have a year to put in a patent application. And after that, you have potentially 5 years to wait. We sent in our application over three years ago. We recently found out in that we don’t need to amend the patent at all!
ecoPOLITAN: But, there have been other brands that have tried to copy the double gusset design?
Julie: Yeah, for sure. Mostly, they are WAHMs who are only making a couple at a time. We don’t really worry about that, our lawyer keeps an eye on them, just in case. But there are some people who have actually sourced manufacturing of diapers that look exactly like ours and have even infringed on other diaper brands patents too! They use inferior materials and cheap labor so that their retail price is literally lower than our wholesale price. They have even gone so far as to say that she’s just a WHAM and that we are some big, corporate behemoth. My kids are here all the time and we are a tiny, little team!

ecoPOLITAN: Do you see Rumparooz moving into big box retailers or are you planning on staying with more boutique retailers?
Julie: Walmart has been wanting to sell our diapers for two years and we've always said no. We will never, ever, ever go to Walmart. Target online approached us in 2009. I still get emails from them and they want to get us set up. But, I don't know...

ecoPOLITAN: What role does technology play in running Rumparooz?
Julie: I do a TON of business from my phone! I can do Twitter, email, etc. on the go. Social media obviously is huge right now. But, it also makes it hard because a lot of the more challenging customers are the ones who live online... Our ideal customer probably isn't even online!

ecoPOLITAN: What are your most popular prints?
Julie: The two more popular prints are Kangarooz and Gumball. And the solid color's popularity kind of change. We sell a lot of white, lazy lime and gender neutral colors of course. I like that since I designed our prints, other brands might try to steal our sewing pattern, but they can never have our prints!

ecoPOLITAN: Do you have any ecoPOSH to show me?

Julie: Yes! This is the newest addition to our brand. We have a newborn sized one here. It's made of organic cotton, bamboo and recycled water bottles. It will shrink a little bit but it will fit up to 14 pounds.
ecoPOLITAN: Those are SO cute! And this goes with one of the wool covers? Do your wool covers need to be lanolized?
Julie: I've been using them at home with Sebastian. I haven't lanolized them yet and they are great.
ecoPOLITAN: What about washing instructions on the wool covers?

Julie: I'm still testing them out- I'm going to purposely wash and dry a pair to see if they will shrink down to fit the newborn size. I'm basically going to ruin a couple before we decide what to say about how to wash them!
ecoPOLITAN: Good idea. I am a knitter, and I've hand-knit many pairs of wool covers that were accidentally washed and shrunk by my well-meaning husband.
Julie: My husband shrunk the cutest pair of longies that Sebastian only got to wear twice. I cried!
ecoPOLITAN: Yep. There have been long silences in our house over ruined wool covers...
Julie: Ha! So sad!
ecoPOLITAN: Are you going to do different colors for the wool covers, or all this chocolate brown?
Julie: I think if we do another color, it's going to be a natural wool color.
ecoPOLITAN: I love the colors of the fitteds!
Julie: The one size organic diaper is a pocket fitted with a bamboo soaker that comes with it. I don't think ANYBODY is going to have to use the whole soaker because it's so absorbent. I think the only complaint we are going to get is that they take too long to dry!

ecoPOLITAN: Well Julie, thanks so much for hanging out with me all afternoon! We at ecoPOLITAN are so excited to show our cloth diapering families the latest options from Rumparooz!

And a special congratulations to your family on your newest addition due any day now!

1 comment:

  1. Good luck, I hope it goes quickly and smoothly for you! I HATE potty training, my boys think it's such a nuisence to waste their play time to run to the toilet and do their business. They have no problem peeing on characters, one of them said "Deigo wanted to go swimming." Eventually they all get there though, right?
    Potty Training For Girls