What happens when two engineers design your cloth diapers?

Other titles that were considered for this post:

Why it took us more than 2 years to design a cloth diaper?
Why our seamstress thought we were crazy?

Going through stacks of documents to find a long lost receipt for tax purposes I came across this drawing of one of our initial cloth diaper designs.


Lil Helper Cloth Diaper Toronto  Ontario Canada
Initial Design of the Lil Helper Cloth Diaper.

I hadn’t seen this drawing in more than two years; all soft copies were lost with Nader’s crashed hard drive.
This drawing in essence summarizes the entire philosophy behind Lil Helper Cloth Diapers. We make mistakes, we learn from them, we make different mistakes and we try to have a sense of humor while going through the ordeal.

Sophia, my wife, thinks Nader & I run this business as if we are running an uncontrolled science experiment. She doesn’t realize that there is method to the madness. Well, maybe not. The rest of this post will try and make sense of how we go about getting our cloth diapers to market.

    Step1: Find a problem and research the crap out of it.

When we first decided to design a diaper we spent countless hours meticulously studying each and every top-selling cloth diaper in the market. We prepared a list of things we like and features that were missing.

Our biggest hope is to contribute positively in the lives of our end users. Our utmost concern is to harm no one. Whenever we deem something not worth pursuing, be it a cloth diaper design or a certain component of it, we lay it to rest.

Actually all bad ideas are blamed on each other and the lack of sleep, causing impaired judgment. The only casualty at this stage of the process is our battered ego. We’ve taken an oath of secrecy that the most ridiculous ideas cannot be shared with anyone.

    Step 2: Getting it down on paper

We usually over-think and over-design all of our products. When we were designing our cloth diaper we made the mistake of doing it on SolidWorks, a software that is usually used for contriving complicated mechanical structures and devices. Our caffeine induced brains went on a nerdy trip and we put features on it most robots would not be able to make.

I kid you not, Nader wanted to have a sensor on our diapers that would ring an alarm after a certain amount of moisture saturation. I considered it for a passing moment before realizing we cannot even find a reliable supplier of Velcro. Nader doesn’t take rejection well, so I had to tell him that we can add this feature to a future design iteration.

Prototype Number 187 (or somewhere around there)
Prototype Number 187 (or somewhere around there)
    Step 3: Making a physical sample

The next step is to get a few samples made from one our many seamstresses. This is also the point where women who are as old as our grandmothers usually mock us for our CAD generated drawings.

Most seamstresses shook their head when they looked at our designs, giving us a look of disgust mixed with a sprinkling of amazement. The puzzled expression on one seamstress’s face almost spelled out, ‘Why would you make such a detailed drawing of a cloth diaper? And how much time do you have on your hands?’

We had to go back and simplify the things that a sewing machine could not do and come back for another round of shaming.

One of the seamstresses jokingly said that she would think twice about flying in planes after finding out that both Nader and I, design flying machines at our daytime jobs.

We’ve quit designs and prototypes at this point of the process many times.

Apart from a bruised ego, we’ve also lost valuable time and money. So now you know why I drive a beat-up Hyundai Elantra.

    Step 4: Cost of Materials?

Whenever a design passes our acid test and is realized into an actual product, we go ahead to procure materials that are safe, sustainable and readily available. We price it out and get our material cost.

We have detailed costs of everything. We had priced out things like the cost of elastic that would be used for the cloth diaper. For the curious, when the diaper was made in Canada, the elastic cost 11 cents.

Best Cloth Diapers Toronto

    Step 5: Get feedback

Then we go about finding moms who will use our cloth diapers. We like to get feedback on how the diapers fit and if they perform as well as we think they should. We also ask moms if they use it in a way we intend for them to be used.

We try and address the biggest and most persistent complaints by making changes to our design.

    Step 6: Getting it manufactured

This process is not as simple as it sounds. Read our post about how we went about manufacturing our last batch of cloth diapers here.

Even after doing due diligence, we come across a bunch of problems that we compensate by providing excellent customer service to our patrons.

And all this, came to my mind because of the lone sheet of drawing that I found yesterday.

    What do you think?

Please leave us a comment and tell us what you like or dislike about our process? Also tell us if you’d like us to share any aspect of our business that might currently be a mystery to you.

 

Are we there yet?

Tip 17: Don't over hydrate if you are not comfortable peeing on the side of the road

Growing up in India, the road trips my family most often took would start from our home in Bombay (it hadn’t discovered its schizophrenic brother Mumbai yet) to go to, a sleepy army garrison town (circa mid 80’s and early 90’s), Pune. My maternal grandparents stayed in Pune, which is also the home of some of my fondest childhood memories. The journey, albeit just 170 kms, would sometimes take in excess of 6-7 hours; my dad would stick to the highway for most of the trip but would occasionally take pit stops and detours on the whims and fancies of our hunger pangs and/or the holding capacity of the smallest bladder in the car.

Sometimes a few hours were added due to the yearly monsoons that would leave the single lane roads resembling the face of a hormonal teenager with an unfortunate case of severe acne. There would be a rare punctured tire that would further lengthen our journey by an hour or so. The steep hills (ghats) would invariably overwhelm our 800 CC (0.8 liter) Maruti 800 (the awkward offspring of a lawn mower and a golf cart) and force the fattest kid (yours truly) off the car. Me being a lousy pedestrian, especially up a knoll, would add more precious time to our ever lengthening trip.

So even though the short trip was never planned, we knew the start; the many hurdles we’d face in-between and the arrival time. All of the above were estimates, but we knew we’d eventually get there no matter how bad the traffic or how many ever times I had to pee in between.

My parents tell me that this photograph was clicked outside the Taj Mahal. I have my doubts.

Our current venture, Lil Helper– a small company (small in numbers, not ambition or dreams) that makes cloth diapers, which happens to be both Nader and mine’s first business adventure “road trip” resembles the vacations of my wonder years in far too many ways.

One of the first protypes of the lil helper cloth diaper

We started by having myself on the driver’s seat, picked up Nader and another buddy on the way- knowing that a journey however long or short is best spent with close friends. Our buddy drove with us for a little while but decided that this wasn’t for him- he needed an itinerary and we weren’t even sure if our vehicle was roadworthy. Nader & I shared driving time, alternating with ease- both of us became better at things we were not previously proficient at. Nader would hand signal directions to me when I was on the wheel while I would elbow him each time he veered us off the road. Now, if I have the wheel he can be changing the gears and accelerating the car- we could easily be a circus act.

Half way through we realized the reason for our turtle like pace- we were trying to do everything on our own. Thus, we picked up a few passengers- most of them stayed in the backseat- some left hastily, some signed on for the entire ride, while some only slept. Each and every new passenger taught us a thing or two, gave us tips on how to navigate rocky terrains and where to buy cheap gas.

Mark Suarez our amazingly talented and creative graphic designer has injected our trip with ideas and energy; he is the guy who made our vehicle look great and showed us how to operate the sunroof to let in some extra light. Even though we might have arrived at our destination without him, our vehicle wouldn’t have looked half as good.

Sophia (my wife), my dad, Husein (my brother) have helped us a lot- their presence has been irreplaceable and thanks to them we are not lost in the woods. Each time we’d need an oil change or a desperate battery boost, they were the people we’d look for help (with puppy eyes, obviously). My dad was my personal guide through our detour in China and helped us immensely. Actually help is an understatement- he basically held my hand and imparted on to me each and everything he had learnt on his own Chinese adventure over the last decade. Husein has been our CAA (AAA), helping us with a spare tire each time we ran across a bed of nails.

The road hasn’t been smooth- the bad economy dug trenches in the middle of free flowing highways, forcing us to take diversions. We had to slow down a lot, but we carried on- more out of stubbornness then resilience.

A few of our friends had started on their own excursions. Almost all of them passed our slow moving hybrid at some point, waving at us as they left us in a trail of dust. They’d tell us of how great the next town looks and which dodgy diner to avoid. Some of them stopped halfway, while some got to their destination and found out they wanted to come back. Although scared to carry on, by this time we had more than our pride on the line.

And as if things weren’t interesting enough already, we also had to make wiggle room for my daughter Zara. Anybody could come and go, but our tiny passenger wasn’t going anywhere.

road trips Canada
On one of our road trips to Banroft, Ontario. We are going to tell Zara it was the Andalusian Plains in Spain.

We know that our destination is getting closer, but we are still not there- yet. We are more confident then we have ever been of our products and our enthusiasm has only increased with time. We are moving at a brisk pace now and we want you all to be at the finish line when we finally reach our destination; proving to ourselves, our friends and naysayers that we weren’t chasing a mirage.

Those long drawn out trips my family partook, taught me to be patient, good-natured to the other passengers and enjoy the scenery. Most importantly, even if your supposed short expedition is prolonged a bit, always remember that there is a delicious meal and a warm bed at the end of it all.