Happy International Women's Day! We thought it fitting to share more about the amazing women who founded Thirsties, Erin Kimmett. After seeing the market need for quality cloth diapers Erin dusted off her sewing machine, got to designing Thirsties diaper cover and in 2006 started Thirsties Inc. We caught up with Erin to talk about Thirsties beginnings and what's she been up to since selling the company to the Merrill family in 2010.
How did you become interested in cloth diapering?
I was a passionate about cloth diapering my babies. My first born arrived on a rainy September day in 2002. She started out in good ole fashioned, reliable chinese prefold cloth diapers and diaper covers. I choose cloth because it was the most economical, the most ecological, and healthiest option for my baby. A clear win-win-win!
Tell us about your experience as a new cloth diapering mom.
I hit a few snafus in those early days of cloth diapering. I had originally signed up for a diaper service. The local cloth diaper service called me the morning of my first delivery (just before my due date) to inform me that they didn't feel safe delivering diapers to our inner-city Denver condo. We had shared laundry facilities in our condo and despite the risk of making waves with our neighbors, husband and I felt we had no other choice but to purchase our own diapers and launder them in the public machines. So that's what we did! By 5:00am at the latest, I would hoist my stinky laundry bag of dirty diapers over my shoulder, hike up my hood to veil my identity, and quickly and quietly tiptoe down the stairs into the basement laundry room to sneak our poopy diapers into the washer. Only once was I busted by a notoriously grumpy neighbor who gave me a shake of his head and a look of disgust but I quickly retreated with my clean diapers in hand before he had a chance to protest.
How did you go from cloth diapering mom to starting a cloth diapering company?
When my daughter potty-trained, I attempted to sell my used cloth diapers (on an eBay auction) and was shocked when they sold for nearly the price that I had paid for them new. Financially, our family was in a sticky spot and I was actively trying to figure out how to earn an income from home. My husband was a teacher at a 'failing' high school. Wage increases were frozen by the school district for the 3rd year in a row while at the same time health care costs continued to soar. The successful resale of my cloth diapers on eBay triggered my thinking and energized my hustler spirit. And so I dusted off my old sewing machine and officially set up shop in my dining room.
I started by sewing a prototype of a diaper cover that I felt was an improved version of those that I used on my daughter. I felt that in order to make cloth diapers appealing to the mainstream, we needed a fail-proof and stylish system. Eighteen long but exciting months followed of prototyping, sourcing components, building relationships, testing products, and "raising" money through a (risky) home equity loan; and finally (drum-roll) Thirsties Diaper Cover was born! Much to my relief and surprise, Thirsties Diaper Cover became an overnight sensation in the world of cloth diapering and the rest is history.
Why did you choose to commit to Thirsties being a Made in the USA company?
Not only was it important to me from an ethical standpoint to manufacture all of our goods in the USA, but by doing so I was able to closely monitor the quality of our product line and quickly adapt to the increasing demand on inventory. On one hand, it would have been so much easier to bring our diaper cover to market through a foreign manufacturer. Honestly, the Chinese make it so easy! However, I accredit Thirsties' long term success to the consistent satisfaction of our customers.
This philosophy was in the interest of our budding business - yes - but even moreso I was passionate about increasing success rates in cloth diapering in general which would help me to achieve the ultimate goal of reducing waste and precious resources. Several years into the business and I held true without compromise to our early commitments of focusing on ethical & high quality manufacturing, and in putting ecological benefits over profits. It was paying off!
What inspired you to sell Thirsties
Everything was plugging along so nicely and in five minutes everything changed and my world was turned completely upside down by an unexpected family health emergency. My son had just celebrated his 3rd birthday. We had a fabulous time at his party building a western-themed cardboard city made from tunnels of recycled boxes; complete with a corrugated jail. One week later -- completely out of the blue -- he just stopped breathing. He was sent Flight for Life to children's hospital where he remained in a coma on life support for what seemed like an eternity. Time just has a way of slowing to a halt when these sort of things happen. When he had stopped breathing, he went into a grand mal seizure and despite the hospital's best effort, he continued to seize for 2.5 hours. The doctors told me to keep my expectations low. They informed me that a five-minute seizure is life threatening nevermind the sort of damage hours-long-convulsions might do. Miraculously, Quinn is a fighter and he beat all of the odds. He pulled through that scary day and not only that, but he eventually made a near full recovery.
Those first few months after (what I now realize was an allergic anaphylactic reaction) were filled with many unanswered questions, sleepless nights, medical appointments, and rehabilitation. As you can imagine, it was an intense struggle in juggling both the demands of a growing business and the needs of my family. n the end, nothing is more important than family so I made the decision that it was time for me to part ways with the business.
Enter the Merrills. My saviors! There was intense competition for the new ownership of Thirsties. I choose the Merrills over several other qualified buyers interested in Thirsties because I felt they were the only ones that really "GOT IT". They understood that Thirsties was so much more than just another for-profit, product-based business. I knew I could trust them to carry on the tradition of placing a higher emphasis on employee and customer satisfaction, quality assurance, and our overall ecological impact over simply making money. It was the best business decision I even made: the Merrill family did not and does not disappoint!
What's life been like for you since selling Thirsties?
Since the 2010 transfer of ownership of Thirsties, little by little family life settled down and I eventually started to feel the entrepreneur itch again. Staying true to my loyalty to planet earth, I built another eco-conscientious business. EcoEnclose (www.ecoenclose.com) was born out of my desire for sustainable packaging and shipping supplies. Eco-friendly shipping was one aspect of Thirsties' business operations that I was never able to achieve. Month after month, I unsuccessfully scoured the web for recycled and/or compostable packaging options that we could use to to ship out our cloth diapers. I felt, here I am selling an alternative to single-use plastic product and yet I have no other choice than to wrap this product in a single-use plastic bag or in a box made from virgin pulp. I am proud to say that both cloth diapering and sustainable packaging have come a long way over the past 17 years!
What am I up to now? Well, family life still keeps me pretty busy. My first diaper tester -- my daughter Micaela -- is now in college. To be honest, she is totally unimpressed with stories of my cloth diaper business and finds the name "Thirsties" to be disturbing 😂 I have tried to encourage her to start her own business and have offered my 'mentoring' services free of charge, but she says, "NO WAY. Too stressful..." She is a budding marine scientist. My son, the fighter, is in high school! It has been over eleven years since that frightful March day when Quinn stopped breathing. I am so happy to say that he is healthy and strong and just purely joyful and is living life to its fullest as a typical teenage boy!
We have also adopted several farm critters and I am trying my hand at urban farming -- which I have found to be very satisfying now that my success is measured in pounds of tomatoes!