Radhika P Nair
Mumbai-based Pallavi Utagi has created a brand of eco-friendly, reusable cloth diapers that promise to keep the baby dry and the parent happy
Many an entrepreneur was born in the face of a difficult life problem and the resulting drive to find a solution. This was the case with 32-year-old Pallavi Utagi.
In 2014, Pallavi, an MBA from Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies, encountered a problem that many new moms face – the diaper rash. Her son, born in late 2013, was developing frequent rashes as a reaction to regular disposable diapers. Her husband, Salil, was also concerned about the environmental impact that disposable diapers have.
So began the hunt for a solution, leading to Pallavi’s discovery of international cloth diaper brands. Unlike the cloth nappies used by Indian moms for their babies over generations, cloth diapers come with promises of no-spill and keeping the baby dry. Pallavi loved the cloth diapers that she got from abroad, and the thought soon occurred to her of starting her own brand of cloth diapers. Pallavi says:
American products were great, but not completely suited to Indian babies. Indian babies are typically smaller, and the American brands don't really prioritise dryness, which is an issue as Indian moms are particular about diapers keeping their babies dry. Also, the Indian market prefers quirky prints and bright colours.”
Pallavi was uniquely qualified to create the product. She has a background in the pharma industry, having worked with Strides Arcolab and then with Piramal Healthcare. While sales and marketing were her forte, Pallavi also worked with the product development team, with whom she would share customer feedback. At Piramal, she managed the ‘I’ category — i-pill, i-sure and i-can. So she knew how product development worked. After her son Kabir’s arrival, she did a short stint at Sanofi. At the same time, she began working on creating an Indian cloth diaper brand.
“We knew what features were needed from our experience and what we had heard from friends,” recalls Pallavi. Where she needed help was in finalising the fabrics that would create her dream cloth diaper. Pallavi reached out to textile consultants through a friend who exports garments. “We met many experts in Mumbai and Nashik, my hometown,” she says.
With these inputs, she travelled to China to try out various fabrics. She got a few samples made and tried those diapers on her son and the kids of her friends. “Our son was my guinea pig. I also got detailed feedback from my friends who tried out my samples before I finalised the product,” says Pallavi.
By late-2015, Pallavi was confident about her product and decided to take the plunge. Superbottoms was thus born in December 2015 in Mumbai.
Pallavi works with a team of freelance designers – mostly moms – to create the colourful diaper covers. The product, made in China, is made up of an outer cover that is waterproof but with a lamination that is breathable, which means it lets air in but doesn’t allow any liquid to seep out. The pad inside is available in organic cotton and polyester, and can even be used overnight. The layer closest to the baby’s skin is made of a special type of polyester that stays dry.
The diapers, which can be washed in a washing machine, come in newborn and free sizes. The free size diapers fit babies in the weight category of five to seventeen kilograms.
Superbottoms’ products are available only online at the moment, sold on the company’s site, Amazon and Flipkart. The startup is also a part of Amazon Launchpad in India, through which the global e-commerce major is showcasing a select group of Indian startup brands and their products.
The biggest challenge is building awareness of the concept of cloth diapering in general and the brand in particular. In the beginning, Pallavi personally reached out to moms through Facebook and WhatsApp groups. “This was the first point of contact. We said here is an alternate to disposable diapers, and that piqued their interest. We also have an offer where parents can return the first diaper they buy within a month of purchase if they have issues. While that was a risk, it made parents try the product out, and we have had very few returns,” says Pallavi, adding that word of mouth is the most effective means of marketing for Superbottoms, as mothers seek each other’s advice quite a lot.
That is how Nayantara Karkhanis from Mumbai came across the concept of cloth diapering and Superbottoms. The HR professional joined a few online mom forums when she was pregnant and discovered a cloth diapering forum, which led her to buy a few Chinese and American brands. When her son Tasmai came along, Nayantara realised that the cheap Chinese diapers were of low quality. On the other hand, the American brands, while good, were expensive and hard to get. “When my baby was around two months old, I saw these interesting looking cloth diapers called Superbottoms and realised they were made by an Indian brand. I decided to try it, and have since bought many more diapers, and they have ensured that my baby has a good sleep routine as the dry feel lets him sleep through the night. I also didn’t want to use disposable diapers,” says Nayantara, who has been using Superbottoms diapers for over a year for her now 14-month-old son.
The diapers are in the Rs 600 to Rs 1,000 price range, around half of what a similar product by an American brand would cost. A disposable diaper is priced at around Rs 11 per piece and a single baby can use around 4,000 diapers, according to Pallavi, until she gets potty trained. That is almost Rs 50,000 per baby. Since cloth diapers are reusable and a free size diaper can last a baby almost through her entire diaper-phase, parents need spend only about Rs 10,000, says Pallavi.
Another challenge is that Indian parents need a lot of customer support, partly because cloth diapering is still a new concept in the country despite the prevalent view that cloth is better than disposable diapers.
Moms have a lot of queries, and I used to field them on my own until recently. As our community of customers grew, my concern was in how to retain the personal touch without answering every query on my own."
Her solution was to reach out to her most enthusiastic customers. Five such customers — moms who are evangelical about cloth diapering — have become Superbottoms buddy moms, who handhold customers new to cloth diapering. Pallavi claims a repeat purchase rate of 60 percent.
The venture, which is targeting between Rs 80 lakh and Rs 1 crore in revenue next fiscal, is also set to retail its products through offline stores from next month.
Superbottoms is not the only native cloth diaper brand available in the country. Naya Cloth Diapers, Lalubaby, Bumberry and Bumgenius are just some of the other brands present in the market. However, all the brands are still young and some procure Chinese products and market them in India. Also disposable diaper biggies like Pampers, Huggies and Unichem (makers of Mamy Poko) aren’t just going to roll over. They have massive marketing budgets and are unafraid to use them. But Indian moms, who still prefer cloth nappies, can easily convert to modern cloth diapers. The penetration of disposable diapers, meanwhile, is still under three percent, according to data from research firm CMR. The diaper market is estimated to be around $300 million at present.
Pallavi, who is set to launch new product lines like potty training pants and accessories, is upbeat about the prospects of her brand.
Our cloth diapers are economical, eco-friendly and pro-baby, so moms will opt for us. It is all about reaching out to them.”