Fairtrade washable diapers from Peru

Environment friendly, washable diapers are becoming increasingly popular in Finland. A Fairtrade version is becoming available, now that East 25 is starting imports from Peru.

The business idea of starting to produce and import washable diapers that meet Fairtrade criteria originated from an informational event arranged by Finnpartnership and the Association for Promoting Fairtrade in Finland, says Pirjo Kinnunen of East 25 Oy..

"The first job was to find the right partner. We made contact with Peruvian producers through international Fairtrade networks."

With the help of the business partnership support, provided by Finnpartnership, Pirjo Kinnunen travelled to Peru in order to assess the situation. She needed to find, not just cotton producers, but also someone who could transform the raw material into a finished product.

A well-connected partner

A partner was found in the Peru Naturtex company, which specialises in organic and Fairtrade cotton production. The company's founder is an American anthropologist and archaeologist, James M. Vreeland, who has long lived in Peru.

"Without a partner like Peru Naturtex I doubt we would have gotten started. The company has the necessary expertise and excellent connections, from cotton producers to sewing workshops."

Peru Naturtex is responsible for the production of washable diapers in Peru and their delivery to Europe. Kinnunen points out that it was important to sort out contract matters at the very beginning. One of the areas where legal assistance was needed was in drawing up a partnership agreement between the two companies.

Growing popularity of washable diapers

It took about two years to turn the idea into a business. The first Fairtrade washable diapers will go on sale in Finland in May 2008.

East 25 Oy intends to use the Internet and Fairtrade channels for marketing. It is also aiming to get the product onto shelves at larger shops. "Once the product is ready and has gained acceptance, it will be time to approach the retail companies," Kinnunen says. She believes there will be enough demand. Many parents make their own washable diapers at home but there are few industrially made products on the market.

"We are starting our marketing in Finland but we're targeting larger markets too and are expanding our operations to other parts of Europe." East 25 Oy has experience of exports to areas like the Baltic States. The company has been importing and marketing Fairtrade wines to Finland and neighbouring areas for several years.

Environmental awareness boosts demand

At present the factor boosting the popularity of washable diapers is consumer awareness of the environment. A Finnish voluntary association for promoting the use of washable diapers estimates that, before a child is toilet-trained at the age of about 30 months, some 5000 disposable diapers are used.

This creates about 1500 kilos of waste. As much as half of the waste produced by a family with children can consist of diapers. The association says that, in the Helsinki area alone, waste diapers total about 5200 tonnes per year.

There are also financial reasons for washable diapers. Even the more expensive ones are more economical than disposable diapers, for families with just one child. The advantage increases if there are more children.

"Washable diapers are the ecological option and last through the child's diaper age. They can then be sold on, second-hand."

Cotton availability the greatest challenge

Fairtrade washable diapers are manufactured from trademarked Pakucho organic cotton, which does not irritate a baby's sensitive skin. East 25 intends to stay with organic raw material although supplies could be hard to find as diaper production increases.

In Peru, organic cotton that meets Fairtrade criteria is produced by a single cooperative, which gathers its cotton from small family farms around the country.

"Annual fluctuations in the harvest in one country can be considerable, depending on weather conditions," Kinnunen notes. "In future we will probably also try to make arrangements with producers elsewhere, for example Africa."