I’ve barely slept the last three days as I’ve pondered writing this post and what to say and how to say it…
After all these years, I’ve come to really appreciate the people who try to understand the complexities involved in making all of the people happy all of the time while also trying to operate a business with a value system that works to include all the different kinds of moms out there. It’s complicated and we’ve faced significant challenges, not just how and when we do things, but also with production volume, production methodologies, and appropriately identifying what the future holds with ideas as they mature.
In spite of these challenges, we have continued to move Cotton Babies and the cloth diaper industry forward in a way that inspires growth, creativity, domestic jobs and fair labor practices. We hope the passion behind our fans never dies, as it is our most vibrant source of inspiration for future improvements. Have I ever told you about the (former) staff member who, on purpose, shipped people all the wrong color and wrong sized diapers? Or the staff member who was selling product off the back dock? You told us about both of these people. We have since learned not to trust everyone. Security cameras have been installed now… and our fulfillment line is designed to not fail based on the actions of a single individual… the phone system helps us hold people accountable… we’ve doubled the size of our customer service team… and our social media team… and our marketing team… but the learning process to get here has involved multiple and, at times, massive public failures. Thank you, Facebook. Oh, the stories I could tell…. our base has always been interconnected. They talk to each other… and repeat legend… and I live with all of the things in my dreams. Someday the whole story will be part of an epic book.
This year though, our focus has been on #everygoodmom and #youreonegoodmom. We’ve worked to make our marketing racially and gender diverse while also inclusive of a variety of parenting approaches. We’re the only corporation that was willing to stand behind the moms attending the Warrior Moms conference in Boston in a few weeks… a conference event designed for the one in seven women suffering from postpartum depression and other postpartum mood disorders. We believe in EVERY mom. We sell things that help the process of mothering, but we know that mothering doesn’t require “things” as much as it requires healthy, informed moms. With this in mind, we’ve built a community of almost 20,000 parents on Facebook, primarily women, in hopes that they would be there to support each other through their parenting journies. When every mom feels enabled and equipped to be a great mom, every child gets a chance to have a better childhood. When every child gets a chance at a better childhood, our world wins. Cotton Babies started out to feed my family thirteen years ago, but it’s never been just a business for me. It’s always been about the people.
So here we are. You’re wondering why Kipling is now Chico.
Last summer, one of our artists presented us with two prints, prints that were at the time named Patch and Kipling. Both prints were beautifully done. The butterfly design and the story behind Patch was solid. The nod towards The Jungle Book with Kipling seemed safe and nostalgic. Most of us have fond memories of watching the Disney movie as a child and singing along with Mowgli about the “simple, bare necessities of life”. Some quick trademark research helped us identify the story as public domain. That was a simple yes from our legal team, and with that, we pushed both Patch and Kipling forward last fall, making them available to our retailers to order in absolutely any quantity desired. At the time, the chief criticism of Cotton Babies was that we weren’t making enough diapers when we released a print. We kept increasing production, but it was never enough. So in an effort to define “enough”, we let the retailers tell us what they wanted to buy. Surely that would be a better gauge of “enough”, right? Retailer pre-order numbers came in at double our last production run. Higher than we expected, but not stratospheric. The print designs were done, so we went to final screens last October with the fabric printer and ordered laminate. The fabric got caught behind some other things that ended up being more urgent, then the laminator moved them behind someone else’s order and we ended up waiting six months for fabric to be delivered to our cut/sew facility in Colorado. By the time we actually started making diapers early this year, everyone had been living with the designs and the ideas behind the designs for a year. The designs were gorgeous and the geniuses who inspired them seemed so… safe.
Patch happened. Now let’s fast forward to release day, Thursday, June 25th. I woke up at 2am and got in the car to drive to Chicago to speak at an event that afternoon. Wednesday, we’d filmed a quick “box opening video” as the warehouse was working to get all of the wholesale orders shipped. In case you’re wondering, I opened the box of diapers going to Stephanie at Abby’s Lane. That video was pushed out on Thursday afternoon. My event was at 2pm. As I was presenting cloth diaper market research to a small group of people in Chicago, nearly all of the “Kipling” diapers were sold through from Cotton Babies and we were beginning to hear rumors roll in of retailers beginning to sell through their inventory as well. I started to drive back to St. Louis on Thursday around 4pm, when my car read me a text from Libby that just said “call me”. We had received a Facebook message from one customer… an message that sent ice through my veins when Libby read it to me:
Libby read me the Wikipedia page that the customer linked us to… and then pulled up Rudyard Kipling’s bio… which is when we both realized that neither of us had done any digging on Kipling other than recognizing that the movie was a sweet memory from when we were kids. A quick Google search schooled us on exactly how seriously we’d failed. Kipling was, indeed, an internationally recognized literary genius with work that deserves applauding and study, but he’d used his platform to promote a form of racism. While this might have been seen as acceptable when Kipling wrote his poem, Kipling’s views do nothing today but throw fire on a world that desperately needs peace…. This is not the time for Cotton Babies to be making a hero of a man who sowed some of the seeds that grew into the racial division our world is facing today.
Remember, our goal is to make sure that every mom is equipped and enabled to be an amazing mom. Never once did I a dream that a sweet diaper with characters on it from the jungle book could create a place for Cotton Babies to be accused of having racist values… and that, my friends, is exactly what was starting to happen.
Libby and I talked at length about what to do. We could have acknowledged the issue, and just encouraged people to focus on the things he did well. We could have done nothing. There were a lot of various options, but there was no “best choice”. Given the current state of our country, we finally decided that the certainly not perfect, but the right thing to do was to rename the diaper. Most companies would try to bury this. It’s simpler than owning up to the issue and choosing to give the minority a voice. Certainly, the diapers were selling out. Sales of product weren’t going to be a problem. But we both knew the bigger issue was the one being raised privately by the kind mom who messaged us… and that was the issue that would linger forever… and that was the issue that we wanted to be clear on. Cotton Babies cares about all of our moms.
Once the decision was made, I pulled off of the interstate at Bloomington, Illinois to write a post for the mob about why we made the change. We expected the mob to get it. We thought that most of the moms would be unaware, as we were, but would understand and support the change. Unfortunately, we were wrong. The conversation was dominated by people who didn’t understand and didn’t support the change. The opinions and voices of the minorities in the group were mocked and belittled and unfortunately, we had to make the decision to moderate the mob as this post (and a number of others) devolved into ugliness.
This is the unedited version of my post to the mob on Thursday evening:
This afternoon, right after we released the new print, we learned some disturbing things about Rudyard Kipling. Rudyard Kipling was a notable individual with many accomplishments, including “The Jungle Book,” a piece of literature that will forever have a place in popular culture. However, Kipling also wrote a very disturbing poem supporting a concept called colonialism. He was demeaning and disrespectful to people of other cultures and promoted his opinion as fact.
As I’m sure you can imagine, this was an upsetting discovery. Cotton Babies will not promote discrimination or racism. We value people. All of them…. and Cotton Babies has decided that Rudyard Kipling does not belong in our Hall of Genius.
I am happy to say that we did find someone much more deserving of your awareness and attention, and effective immediately, the diaper that was released today will now be named “Chico” in honor of Chico Mendes. Mendes was a Brazilian conservationist who worked tirelessly to stop the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and to bring stabilization to families living in the jungle of the Amazon. Mendes was eventually assassinated because of his dedication to jungle preservation.
“At first I thought I was fighting to save rubber trees, then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rainforest. Now I realize I am fighting for humanity.” —Chico Mendes
All the images and references to this print on our website have been updated to the new name. We are asking our retailers to make the same changes. We sincerely apologize for this oversight, and hope the cloth diaper community will help us memorialize this diaper as “Chico.” I owe a debt of gratitude to the kind person brought this to our attention today.
Thank you for your support as we work to bring attention to the things in our world that are truly important. Love people. That is the beginning and the end of things here. We hope it’s that way for you too.
Was renaming the diaper the best choice? No, the best choice would have been to figure this out earlier so we didn’t find ourselves having to walk this particular path. But was it the right choice for this circumstance? Yes. Emphatically yes. That said, when we went looking for a new namesake, we chose Chico Mendes because of the importance of his fight for rainforest preservation. When you dive into the details of his life, you’ll find a story of a boy growing up in the jungle, learning how to read at 18, and as an adult, becoming an internationally renown influence around an important global issue. The Environmental Defense Fund writes, “Brazilian rubber tapper and land rights leader Chico Mendes pioneered the world’s first tropical forest conservation initiative advanced by forest peoples themselves. His work led to the establishment of Brazil’s extractive reserves protected forest areas that are inhabited and managed by local communities.” While he’s not a household name, he should be… and his story is worth learning more about. We’re aware that the theme isn’t a perfect match, but stay tuned…. you will see a Genius Series diaper from us that is more accurately focused on the Amazonian rainforest and the important battle to preserve our planet’s natural resources in South America. Some of you will say that it’s just a diaper and question why it’s such a big deal. Most of the time, I’d be standing shoulder to shoulder with you… yes, it’s just a diaper. But this week, it wasn’t just a diaper. It was much, much more.
Our hope is to see the cloth diapers reach absolutely every single family in the United States. Unfortunately, cloth diapers are NOT reaching every single family in the United States. Remember that survey that we asked cloth diapering families to fill out? The results taught us some valuable things, but one of the most shocking was the lack of diversity in the moms who are talking to us. Over 90% of the 6000+ responses were from Caucasian families. I’m sharing this piece of information with you because, while the mob was loud in their response the other night, the survey data tells us that the mob isn’t the whole story. There are voices that we’re not hearing.
We are here for ALL of the moms. And if it takes a change like this to help restore some confidence in the hearts of the minorities in the cloth diaper world, we are going to do it. And while you’re free to have your own opinions about that decision and the dynamics behind the decision and how we could have prevented the need for that decision… we are going to stand here, behind all of the moms… and if we had to do it all over again… we would. Because it’s that important.
We asked a few people to share some thoughts with us about this whole situation. Only one felt comfortable sharing her thoughts publicly. Donna Smith, the founder of Black Women Do Cloth Diaper, wrote this:
I choose to believe that people are mostly good. I wish I could teach my children that. I don’t have that luxury.
“WE BELIEVE in building bridges, not walls. We believe that every family, every parent, every baby is different. We believe that you (and all your lovely differences) deserve to be treated with respect.”
Last night, I watched something in the mob that broke my heart. Those very basic things above were shattered by a few single line quips and comments. On a cloth diaper forum. However, I was not “surprised”. I don’t have the luxury of being suprised.
I am willing to believe that 96% of the members in this forum had no idea of who Rudyard Kipling was aside from “The Jungle Book”. See there are many sides of some people. Good, bad, and ugly. He was multifaceted. He was human. He was flawed. We all are. He wrote something called “The White Man’s Burden”. Its troubling. Take a stab at reading it without feeling sick to your stomach and possibly getting a little angry.
All people do not have the luxury of not being aware. Aware of the world as it was and as it is. Some people, make a conscious decision to be unaware, and that is dangerous. Jenn and her team choose to not only be aware but to be conscious. They made a decision to not shy away from an issue that is as prevalent now as it was then. And they choose to swiftly and immediately change. There are people in this world who hate people based solely on the amount of melatonin in their skin. That is it. I am not going to get uber deep. I just want you to digest that. No matter how YOU live, there are other people who don’t see things the way that YOU do. Why not BE aware? It is OK to SEE race. It is OK to acknowledge that each, every, and ALL forms of social injustice is WRONG. How can change occur if people don’t identify the need and address it?
Will racism go away if we just don’t talk about it? I see people say everything is not about race. That is true. On the other end of the spectrum, there ARE things that are about race.
It is a not about being “politically correct”. Stop with that. Cut it out. Its a slap in the face. It is simply about acknowledging that things in the past have to ability to still cause ill feelings in the present. If someone stabs you, you feel that pain for a period of time that is not to be determined but anyone but you. Eventually, you may no longer feel the pain, but you will have the scar as a constant reminder of that pain that lasted but for a period of time. Racism is the scar. Can you understand that?
My son will be a Black man in America. It terrifies me that he could do all of the right things and still get all of the wrong responses for being born Black. I am scared. Here is my vulnerability. I am not alone in this. My husband is a service member who has given almost half of his life to serving this country. I was not as scared of him deploying to war as I am when he leaves the house and he is not in his uniform. He is covered in tattoos. He looks “urban”. I am terrified. Can you understand living in that kind of fear? Some of you can, some of you can’t, and then some of you believe I am being unreasonable.
What is unreasonable is that in 2015 my fears are VALID. I seek out constant reminders that maybe my fears are invalid. The action Jenn and her team took last night was one of them.
We heard from some retailers. Here’s an email from Bethany Hackworth, owner of The Little Sprout in Canada:
I just want to say that I fully support the name change and all of my
customers know it. I hope this firestorm of anger dies down quickly and
that the new mob comes back. When I say new mob I mean the changes that I
saw happening with regards to the attitude in there. I hope you are able
to pass this on to the social media team who took a beating last night,
but in the last couple of weeks I have noticed a change in how they do
things and I think others did too! Their presence within the mob was a
positive one, lots of “getting to know us” questions posed by the admin,
lots of involvement in conversation, the picture of the do not open box
was fantastic and the box opening video was a great move.. I loved that
they had all of the colour charts prepared and ready for everyone and just
their overall involvement over the last few weeks.
I hope that this is just a lesson learned and a bump in the road, but with
all of the negativity going on I felt that I needed to send this, and
hopefully they will get a little lift to know not everyone thinks they
made the wrong choice and that their improved social media presence
leading up to now has been noticed!
We also heard from some customers. Only one person called to cancel their order on Friday. We heard a lot of unawareness and surprise… and unfortunately, some hate-filled threats. There was also support and a lot of love.
And a quiet comment from another person was simply,
Jenn did the right thing. I support the decision entirely, but I’m really glad that it wasn’t mine to make.
I’m a quiet introvert and, clearly, do life with a bit of a limp. I actually have a bad hip and am having hip surgery soon… but in this case, the reference is more about wishing it was all perfect all the time and that people would just like each other, use kind words, and genuinely try to pull out the best in each other. That’s my limp… because it’s not real life. People don’t like each other. They don’t use kind words. They don’t want the best for each other. And, as we saw demonstrated in the mob the other night, they don’t always think to see someone else’s perspective before shouting their own.
Friends, I think about important things for weeks before I actually say them out loud. I stay out of crowds and loud things. I like entertaining, but I’m not usually the person who loves parties. It takes me a long time to be ready to say these things. But as the questions pile up and the presumptive comments loom, it’s time to get this post published. I don’t have days to edit and rewrite, but it has to be said…. and this is what I want you to remember.
We genuinely love people at Cotton Babies. Why we’re here… is about you. And all of your lovely diverse differences. We like it that way. This world is full of amazing people. Who all deserve to be heard. All of them. Especially those who are under-represented. We hope that you’ll make room for more moms… those like you.. and welcome those who aren’t just like you.
Because together, we’re stronger. Apart, we’re alone.
P.S. When we started the Genius Series four years ago, the plan was to keep it fun and light hearted. When the themes were chosen, we were looking at elements of remarkable work from an individual that would help us draw attention to a particular occupation or cause. Jules and Carroll were authors of memorable children’s stories. Spence and Marie were people who have contributed to oceanographic research and cartography. Albert and Lovelace were a nod to the math and programming worlds. Louis was a look at music history and the influences of jazz. Harper called attention to another amazing work of literature. As the idea developed and more diapers were released, the entire series became more influential than we’d ever imagined possible… If we had it to do over again, the Genius Series would be just as fun, but we’d consistently focus our efforts at building awareness around ideas and people differently than the original Genius Series concept described… and, in some cases, we would have made different choices with the people we featured. As the Genius Series continues to evolve, we’re looking forward to drawing attention to interesting ideas, occupations, and people. There are some powerful things waiting to be released. Stay tuned.