Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Evolution of LolliDoo(R)

When Ali first approached me about developing a diaper, I thought, "Sure, I can do that.  It'll be a piece of cake!"

HA!  That's fuu-nny.

Drawing the general shape of the diaper was quite simple.  I just put pencil to paper and drew a basic diaper outline.  Then I gathered measurements from various sources of baby bodies -- waistbands, rise, thighs, etc. -- and created the medium size diaper pattern (pattern grading came later, but at least I had a starting point).  Since MY baby was wearing a size medium, it made it easy to test various patterns.  This first pattern was an all-in-one, meaning it had absorbency AND a waterproof outer.  It was the only diaper component needed (no cover, etc.).

I sewed up a couple diapers, using materials I already had on hand.  This was a PUL (polyurethane laminate)-based diaper and had a bamboo velour inner.  It fit well, it worked well, but as Ali and I were exploring safe and environmentally sound fabric options, we learned that PUL is, duh, polyurethane.  Polyurethane comes with a whole host of issues: it's non-recyclable plastic, doesn't biodegrade, is oil-based, and has toxic by-products in its creation. 

Up to this point, I'd been using bamboo as an inner layer; bamboo is an incredibly sustainable fiber and we were excited about using it.  It's highly absorbent and grows quickly in abundance.  What we learned, however, is that in order to turn bamboo fibers into fabric, it must undergo a VERY heavy chemical process.  Oftentimes, the chemicals used in this process are disposed the water supply.  Given that water quality is one of my frequent soap box topics, that obviously wouldn't do.  Also, as our goal has been to keep our product local (meaning ALL domestic fabrics, manufacturing, etc.) sourcing domestic bamboo that's processed in either a mechanical or closed-loop chemical fashion is very difficult and very expensive.  So as hard as it was to do, we had to abandon bamboo (my husband, Carl, was particularly bummed by this abandonment...he really liked the bamboo and even still he tries to find ways to get me to go back to that).

So...there we were.  A trim-fitting diaper, with no inner OR outer fabric.  What now?

How about fleece for an outer?  My experience with outdoor adventures gave me the perspective that wet cotton next to the skin is a big no-no, and fleece as an outer offers fantastic water repellency.  Also at this point, I was inspired to create a one-size pattern.  So, off I went, sewing away with fleece and more bamboo (being that was the fabric I had on-hand for an inner).  The one-size worked well!  However, the fleece made for a more bulky fit on a one-size and I still had the problem with no inner fabric.

Below are Melody and Skyler wearing the same AIO OS diaper (I apologize for the poor quality, and Skyler, being rid of diapers altogether, only submitted to trying on the diaper IF he could keep his big-boy underwear on also):

So the fleece worked well as an outer.  Hurray! was still a virgin plastic resource.

Then one day, as I was looking at various natural fibers during an online search, I found EcoSpun(R), a fully recycled PET fiber.  SHAZAM!  It is created by recycling single-use polyethylene terephthalate water bottles (PET) into flakes and then, essentially, heating and stretching the flakes into fibers that can be knit together into textiles.  It uses no oil in its recycling process, keeps water bottles from a landfill fate, and is not a virgin resource.  We later discovered, too, that we could re-recycle it AGAIN at the end of it's diaper life.  Wow.  This was perfect.  I sourced some fabric and began tweaking the one-size pattern, using fleece as an outer, along with organic cotton as an inner (being that I still had yet to find "the answer" to the inner fabric component).

I should say, too, that up to this point, I hadn't been too stringent about "finishing" all of the diapers completely.  The main thing I'd left undone was adding a laundry feature to the diapers.  I was always in a hurry to create the diaper and test it out; I didn't consider the laundry feature as necessary during the prototyping process.  But as I used and laundered the prototypes as well as my existing cloth diaper stash, and repeatedly removed diaper chains from the washer of both prototype AND manufactured varieties, I began to noodle on some sort of fold-over flap that would keep hook tape from joining to anything it touches in the wash cycle.  This thought process also stemmed from the one-size diaper pattern, where the waistband tabs overlapped each other, leaving hook tape exposed on the outer waistband of the diaper at certain sizes, rubbing on clothing.  That wouldn't do, either, but it wasn't the highest priority, so I made a few drawings and went back to finding the right fabrics.

So in my stash of EcoSpun-based fabrics, I'd ordered some heavy-weight Power Dry (a trademark of Polartec) velour and some mid-weight Power Dry jersey.  During some initial tests of absorbency and water repellency, I discovered the velour worked REALLY well to keep baby's skin dry (hence, I suppose, the name Power Dry).  How EXCITING!  Did we have our answer?  Given the issue with the bulk of the fleece in the outer shell fabric of the one-size, I decided to test the velour in a regular sized all-in-one.

That first night after its creation, I let Melody sleep in it.  Oh my gosh.  She woke up with a wet diaper...and a DRY butt!  HURRAY!!!!

Next step: launder it.  I could not BELIEVE what I found when I removed the diaper from the washing machine.  It was almost COMPLETELY dry, without even spending a minute in the dryer or on the line.  WOW!!!!!  I was completely amazed.

Next, I wanted to test just HOW MUCH liquid the diaper would hold.  I got 14 ounces in there!  FOURTEEN OUNCES!  My research had indicated that the average six-month baby produces urine output at about FOUR ounces, I figured we were golden.  GOLDEN, I tell you.

I checked at the diaper a few hours later, after leaving it to sit on the counter...and was disappointed to see that the liquid was seeping onto the counter.  Frustrated, I added an additional sewn-in "doubler" to the outer fabric on the next version.  That helped, but it still wasn't perfect.

So the researcher in me went to read more about polyester fibers.  Mind you, I am (was) a total "greenhorn" about textiles.  I mean, my background is in healthcare administration; the whole field of textiles was new to me (I've since added many textile textbooks to my library).  I learned that polyester is great at grabbing hold of moisture and transporting it...but it's a smooth fiber that lacks the "hairs" that natural fibers, such as cotton, possess that make them so incredibly absorbent.

Hmmmm...what to do?

Well, I once again went back to my outdoor technical clothing layers and started thinking of the diaper in terms of an inner skin or base layer, a mid or absorbency layer, and an outer shell layer.  Once I started thinking in these terms, the diaper layer construction became obvious.  Clearly, polyester on its own, while it will fill up its knit spaces with water, will not actually HOLD onto the liquid when compressed or left to sit.  I had to go back to employing some natural fibers.  So NOW what we have is a layered diaper, utilizing polyester velour, jersey, and organic cotton in a moisture distribution system that actually moves baby's urine from the "deposit site," out among the outer recesses of the absorbency layers.

And, I have to say, it works INCREDIBLY well.  This new version still accepts fourteen ounces...only now, when I set it on the counter and return to it in a few hours, the liquid is STILL contained within the diaper...and the base/skin layer is DRY.

Certainly, it takes a little longer in the dryer or on the line now, with the addition of organic cotton.  But I'll give you a little hint that I've added a new component to the layering that combats that.  As soon as I have a prototype to share and dry time in the form of numbers to report, I'll share that here.

An issue I sought to address with the closure/laundry tab was chafing.  Ali had told me that many of the diapers she's used chafe on Talia's chunky little thighs.  Binding the outer edge of the tab would cover the hook tape edge and provide a little cushion of softness.  All I had on hand to test this was some double-fold binding purchased for the waistband of a skirt I was making for myself.  I made my first version of the closure tab.

So we now had the Gentle Edge(TM), but I was still pondering the flap on the closure tab to act as a laundry function.  Since I no longer had to worry about the exposed hook tape from the one-size diaper pattern (having gone back to sized diapers), the sole function of the laundry feature was to keep diaper chains from forming, as well as to keep the hook tape from gathering debris (hair, thread, fibers, etc., get all tangled up in the hook tape...and that affects the tape's ability to function, it becomes not as "grabby"). 

Late one night a few months ago (there were MANY late nights during this process), I put pencil to paper, yet again, and sans the one-size hook tape fold-over, the issue I had in my mind of how to attach the flap became a no brainer.  It just flowed: if I just sewed it in to the outside, it would flip over, no problem!  Duh!  At that point I thought I'd have to have a little extra fabric in the loop, just to make sure it had room to flip around the outside binding edge.  So I went about sewing the closure tab with the laundry loop (the name I've given to this laundry function), cutting the loop slightly larger than the base closure tab to which it would joined, and gathered the excess fabric so it would fit the base tab.  I also inserted a little elastic on the finished edge, so that it would lie flap while being worn.  This time, too, I changed the binding edge to be the same as the base fabric, as it's a little bulkier and softer.

After a conversation with the company that's manufacturing our samples, we decided that the laundry loop does NOT need to be larger than the base piece all the way around, and determined that a bell-shaped piece would alleviate the need to gather the fabric.

So what's left to share with you about LolliDoo(R)'s evolution?  Oh yeah, a picture of the final product.  Well, for that you're just going to have to wait.  I've been bombarded with projects pertaining to the launch of our diaper at the ABC Kids Expo and have not had time to sew all the components into one diaper.  Rest assured, however, that we WILL have one to show in a matter of days, when the manufacturer has put it all together for us.  They're busy sewing away, as I type...and I cannot WAIT until I get my hands on them.  I'll post pictures just as soon as I have them.

This blog entry is quite lengthy, but I can assure you that I've condensed it and left out many versions of the diaper I've created along the way.  I've spent the past year working on this diaper.  Literal blood, sweat, and tears have been poured into this project and to say I'm quite pleased with the results, wouldn't even BEGIN to touch on the emotion I experience when I look back at all the variations and the process.  At last count, I believe I've made close to 40 diapers in the past year, each just slightly different than the last.  What you see here is obviously only a small sampling of the road I've traveled.

I love LolliDoo(TM).  I love all that it represents, all the love and desire and passion to bring about change in diapering options.  I love that we have such a quality, functional, revolutionary product offering.  I'm EQUALLY enraptured with the add-on product lines we're about to introduce, as well, and I'm tossing around some more waterproof outer options, to boot.

If you feel one tenth of the emotion and excitement I do when looking at LolliDoo(TM), I'll further consider my efforts a success.

Remember:  Be part of the solution, right from the beginning.


Jen said...

Mel, you are a GENIUS. Have I mentioned how utterly awed I am by the journey you and Ali have taken this past year? I am astounded by the innovation and ingenuity represented in what I've seen so far - I can only imagine what it will be like to actually hold one of these in my hands.

You rock, mama!

My earthy momma odyssey said...

I have shivers and I am crying, thank you for inventing LolliDoo, you amazing woman you!

Andrea P. said...

Melissa, I'm so proud of you and Ali. It's such a neat experience to watch someone's idea come to fruit. Truly inspiring!

Anonymous said...

I'm so impressed and excited for you guys. Well, well done! It takes so much intelligence, bravery, and passion to create something like this. I'm thrilled and proud for you. I'm past buying diapers at this point, but I know what I'll be buying for baby showers from now on!

Amber said...

Wow, Melissa and Ali, you are both amazing! Your hard work and dedication is bound to pay off in a big way. I'm so glad I have another baby to use your diapers on.