An open letter to the RDIA Board of Directors

When I led the effort to form RDIA several years ago, the vision was to have a 501(c)6 trade association that could serve and represent members of the cloth diaper industry. Broadly speaking, a member of RDIA could or should be any business who is generating revenue from cloth diapers. Industries are living, breathing entities. They grow, they move, they change. An Industry doesn’t always represent an individual’s core values, but, by definition, an industry association should always reflect what actually is the Industry (cap’s intended).

It is time for the RDIA to carefully consider the costs of pushing a potentially unrealistic consumer usage standard and a membership agenda based in a passion to protect the environment. A dangerous strategy is one built around a narrow agenda rather than around a broadly shared value. Yes, RDIA should extol the benefits that cloth diapers have on the environment, but the cloth diaper industry exists for more than the planet. The Industry exists because of consumers and industry members who are all very, very different in their values and priorities.

I believe RDIA has lost touch with both the Industry and the consumers that serve the Industry; a choice that is being reflected in unretained members and lost revenue to the organization. Your membership creates and sells products that reflect the consumer. The Industry is shifting to reflect the needs of it’s current consumers, a reality reflected in the businesses who continue to grow the market segment.

I served as the Founding Chair of the RDIA Board of Directors for one year ( I resigned from my position as Chair because our company made a strategic choice to develop the Flip Hybrid Diapering System. Flip has allowed us to reach a proverbial “hand over the fence” to the parent still using disposable diapers. Flip consumers primarily use resuable inserts. However, our decision to provide a component to enable those consumers to care for their child in situations requiring a disposable option meant that we also became ineligible for membership as a manufacturer within RDIA.

The board of directors is tasked with knowing, understanding, representing, and, when appropriate, guiding your current and potential membership categories. If the board misses this mark, the organization can not and will not survive. If RDIA is successful in identifying the future of the industry and then successfully reaching, retaining and representing this membership, the association could actually begin influencing change in the juvenile industry and affecting changes in the way mainstream consumers approach diapering a baby.

As the RDIA board approaches decisions for the coming year, I encourage them to carefully evaluate the membership they are serving as well as the membership they would like to serve. The opportunity for growth is there. Not counting big box stores (or separate locations), there are just under 1000 independent retailers of cloth diapers in the United States. The number of diaper services is exploding. There are many active cloth diaper manufacturers of various sizes, an ever-cycling group of crafters, and a quickly growing category of influential information providers who make their living promoting cloth diapers or related products. We have every indication that the cloth diaper category is not just growing, it is bringing real, long-term change to our country and culture.

I care deeply about the cloth diaper industry and about RDIA. Cotton Babies poured thousands of dollars and thousands of hours into making RDIA a reality years ago because we recognized the importance of a unified voice in a rapidly changing environment. I shoulder some of the responsibility for the position the RDIA is in today because, unfortunately, when drafting the by-laws, I missed the high water mark in a single sentence excluding manufacturers of disposable products, a mistake I fear will become the demise of the RDIA. Today, the cloth diaper industry includes multiple manufacturers of hybrid products along with major retailers who both retail and manufacture disposable products, a reality that will continue to expand as the market expands. To maintain it’s relevance, RDIA must grow with the industry it represents.

Understandably, change can be frightening and must be managed carefully, but without change, industry progress won’t happen efficiently. To retain it’s voice and to grow in it’s influence, RDIA must work to provide for and attract a broader membership by changing the association’s by-laws to allow for broad membership of companies driving revenue related to the sale cloth diapers. Without that change, RDIA may eventually cease to exist, losing it’s relevance, and putting the industry back in the fractured position it was in five years ago. Too many people have worked too many hours together to see that happen. Healthy growth is possible. I believe there is a solution and genuinely want to see the best for both RDIA and its’s membership as they move towards a future where cloth diapers are, once again, a parent’s first choice.

If you are a member of RDIA (or considering joining), you may want to take this opportunity to ask questions and let your elected board hear your thoughts & concerns.

Should you choose to comment on this post, be sure that your comment is thoughtfully formed and respectfully worded. I reserve the right not to publish comments that do not meet this standard.

Jenn is the Founder and CEO of Cotton Babies. She holds an Executive MBA from Washington University. She was awarded Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award in the Emerging Category for the Central Midwest Region in 2011. Among many other awards, she recently received a 2017 YWCA Leader of Distinction Award for Entrepreneurship. Jenn holds many patents on various inventions in a number of different countries and is listed as one of 50 Missourians You Should Know. She is particularly fascinated by languages, chickens, and children (she has four) when she’s not reading economics journals.

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