Maine isn’t usually considered a trendsetting state, unless of course the trend is L.L. Bean. But, in the past few years, hundreds of Maine households have jumped on board a national movement that may surprise many.
According to the Real Diaper Association, a nonprofit group that promotes the use of reusable diapers, about 10 percent of babies nationally wear cloth diapers at least part time. While there aren’t specific numbers for Maine, retailers around the state have seen an increase in interest in the bright-colored bum covers.
The cost of cloth diapers can vary significantly depending on the number and style of diapers purchased, however, most families are able to acquire a substantial “stash” for about $300-$400. If cared for, those diapers will last at least until the child is potty trained and most likely for multiple children. Disposables, on the other hand, will cost $1,600 on average for one child, according to the diaper association.
It’s a savings many Mainers can get behind and it also means less waste, Betsy Lundy, co-owner of Central Street Farmhouse and the Maine Cloth Diaper Co., said.
“I think it appeals to a lot of things in the Mainer,” she said. “The Mainer is frugal and practical and has an appreciation for the environment.”
That being said, families must take into consideration the additional laundry, which can add to water and electricity costs, not to mention time. Cloth diapers also need to be changed more often because disposables contain gel-like substances that make them more absorbent.
Also, according to Consumer Reports, despite the increasing popularity of cloth diapers, disposables continue to be the choice of parents and day care centers because of their convenience. After all, as one article on the popular parenting website Whattoexpect.com points out, they are a “cinch to change,” tend not to leak and don’t need to be carted back home.
Expanding to cloth
This fall, Lundy and her husband, Zeth, purchased Maine Cloth Diaper Co. in Damariscotta. The pair had been selling cloth diapers at their Bangor store since opening in 2010 and saw an opportunity to expand.
“We wanted to do more with an online piece and now we have two physical locations plus a large online presence,” Betsy said. “But for the customer it still feels like a small, local store.”
The Lundys decided to include cloth diapers as part of their home-brew store after realizing that most people, like themselves at the time, were purchasing online without really knowing what they were ordering.
“I wanted people to be able to touch them and walk in and talk to a person,” Betsy said.
She thought she’d be persuading customers about how easy the new style of diapers is but instead finds herself backing up a young mother who already knows she wants to use cloth.
“It’s great for convincing the other generations — the mothers and grandmothers,” Lundy said. “They see how cute they are and how easy they are.”
The model seems to be working. Last month, the store sold about 600-700 diapers or cloth diaper-related items, making them the most common merchandise purchased.
“Obviously it’s a huge trend,” Betsy said. “I think it started nationally and now it seem to be having a ripple effect.”
A growing community
Facebook pages, cloth diapering swaps and support groups have popped up on the Internet recently, several specific to Maine. Cloth diaper users post questions about the proper care of the diapers, have debates about different brands, and sell and trade used and homemade ones.
Another organization, the Rebecca Foundation’s Cloth Diaper Closet-Central Maine, seeks to provide low-income Mainers with access to cloth diapers. The organization is an arm of the nationwide Rebecca Foundation, a cloth diaper lending bank for disadvantaged families.
The Maine branch, located in Auburn, accepts new and used diaper donations, repairs them as needed, then loans them to families in central Maine.
Some people have even posted about a need to one or more of the local Facebook pages and found others willing to donate or sell for way below retail costs.
Since purchasing Maine Cloth Diaper Co., Betsy and Zeth have been able to nearly double the number of brands they offer to customers — especially some that come in high demand.
Late last month, bumGenius released a limited-edition diaper inspired by Audrey Hepburn. The online store sold out within an hour and several were being sold on eBay for about $100 even though they retail for about $20.
Most of those purchased from the Maine Cloth Diaper Co. website were shipped out of state, though Betsy said she kept a few at the store for her “loyal locals.”
Both store locations sell a variety of diaper styles. They range from all-in-ones, which are fitted diapers that most closely resemble a disposable with a combined inner soaker and waterproof outside, to the “traditional” diaper, which requires folding a large square piece of fabric known as a “flat.”
However, they do not sell homemade diapers, which often are made by working-at-home mothers but do not go through the same vetting process as manufactured diapers. Not to say it won’t happen.
The store already sells several locally made items such as hats and cloth wipes. And, Betsy said, if the right person comes in and is already Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act certified, or willing to go through a few hoops to become certified, she would love to sell Maine-made diapers.
“I would love, love, love to see a cloth diaper company in Maine,” she said. “After all, Maine has a history of textile manufacturing.”
To see a video of the styles and brands of cloth diapers sold at Maine Cloth Diaper Co. and Central Street Farmhouse, visit bangordailynews.com.