Psychologist Megan Anderson talks using her professional experience for social change and how a feature in British Vogue has catapulted sales in her two-year-old business Tuti Baby.
What does your business do?
We create reusable nappies that are eco-friendly and can be washed and reused. It is a product that was seen as a little bit fringe a few years ago but now with the plastic pandemic and the climate crisis people are more willing to look at them.
We saw a gap when we wanted to buy them for our small children that there was no product that bridged the cap between in-style and sustainability so my husband and I then started designing our own. I'm a psychologist and he's an engineer and so we come at it using different angles, we looked at all of the small components about how they worked to make something that was easy to use and also focused on sustainability.
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We started designing the nappies two years ago, and conducting heaps of trials ourselves, because I've got a scientific background I know a little bit about methodology and what not so we tried different fibres, fabrics and looked at absorption and fabric against the skin. We launched the website and business in December 2018.
What was the motivation for starting this?
I worked in daycare centres part time when I was training at university and just seeing the number of nappies that went out at the end of each day for around 30 kids - huge wheelie bins - that was the first thing in my mind, I thought; 'How can people not consider who much waste this is'. I think I saw how much space all of that trash commanded that people don't see on a slightly larger scale.
I've had an interest in it for years and years and then having my own children. We weren't hippy or fringe we just wanted a quality reusable product and it wasn't available to us so I looked overseas and it wasn't the right thing or the right price point and that's why we decided to create our own.
How big is your team?
It was just me and Mark, but it got too busy for me as I have two kids under two so my niece and nephew in Hamilton have taken over the packing and shipping side of the business and I do everything else. I also contract friends and designers when I need.
How much have you invested to start Tuti?
I have invested $25,000 - more than I expected I would need to. What we came up against was the expectations for retail and e-commerce in this day and age. You can't just start a website, people expectations are very high for the delivery on it, so when it is retail you need a lot of plug-ins, something that lots good with great imagery. If you have a high quality product then it has to be matched by the calibre of your delivery online. With stock costs you can more accurately predict them, the website was where it got more complicated.
What's been the reaction or feedback to your product?
It has been really well received. We weren't trying to push it on to anybody, it was just about making a product for people that were interested. We've seen something that may have been considered fringe explode now into the mainstream, particularly in the last year the interest in reusable nappies has gone gangbusters.
One baby will use 6000 disposable nappies so in a family of two or three kids that's 12,000 to 20,000 nappies. There's a common saying which people are jumping on board with: "If every parent just used one reusable per day there would be a million less in landfill every week" in New Zealand. Four hundred and fifty billion nappies go onto the planet every year and they don't go away so in terms of crisis point it is something that parents are becoming acutely aware of. I've spoken to a lot of Dads and it is not until they have a baby that they are blown away by how many nappies you use. We do quite a few markets and trade shows and talking to parents, they can't believe how easy it is.
Re-usable nappies seem to be back in fashion - how has this influenced the business and what sparked this reignited interest?
Like any trend they start with a ripple - you throw a stone and the ripple gets bigger. Mummy blogger Raising Ziggy who's has put a pay-it-forward cost nappy page out, there are one or other brands creating reusable nappies. With us, we try to draw people's attention through fashion. British Vogue approached us three months into launch and liked what we were doing and they did a write-up in the children's section about us using fashion as a driver for change. We're working with New Zealand artists and designers this year for prints for the nappies to appeal to wider audience.
What have sales been like following the feature in Vogue?
Our sales our increasing 15 per cent per month and have seen ripple effects throughout New Zealand. I think it is a contagion thing, which might be similar to the Keepcup or plastic bag alternatives - when people see other people doing it, it does trigger a thought in the mind as to why people need to make small steps to change. This is certainly a growing space and we would expect to be doubling our sales in the next year. Most sales are coming from within New Zealand, followed by Australia. Until now we have sold about 15,000 nappies and saved hundred of thousands of regular nappies going to landfill.
Do you still work as a psychologist?
I'm away on parent leave at the moment but what I really like is I'm directing my knowledge in psychology towards this as it is a little bit about social psychology and how to make positive behaviour change. I would love to have this move on enough for me to direct my knowledge into this instead of clinical psychology, that would be a dream.
What advice do you give to others who want to start their own business?
Never be concerned by what other people might think of you because you'll have a far more rich and fulfilling life and business. Always know that the cost you forecast to start-up will be bigger than you expect, and find people that are encouraging because along the way you will be questioned and you need people behind you to push you forward.