When Christine Wangari first began her foray online it was only to get information on good and affordable care for her then yet-to-be born child.
“I signed up as a community member on e-mom forums such as Babybump.com, Babycenter.com and a host of other sites where I benefited from discussions on baby care stuff ,” says Ms Wangari, a mother of two and a communications officer at an international firm in Nairobi.
She says she was particularly intrigued by the modern cloth diapers.
“I learnt, for example, that a modern cloth diaper is not a nappy, but a custom-made baby pant which protects the child from leaking in case they soil themselves. The panty is washable; therefore it can be used and washed many times.
“I learnt further that they are better for babies, especially boys, are eco-friendly and they’d help me save money when compared to disposable diaper options,” she says.
She says she found out that disposable nappies may not be the best option for babies.
“They contain chemicals such as gels, which are not good for baby’s skin when used too often,” she reveals.
But the cloth diapers were not available in the local market and few Kenyan mothers knew about them.
“I ended up ordering an American brand online and even paid for the shipping before I could lay my eyes on the product. One piece was sold at $17 ( about Sh,1500), and then add the shipping charges,” says Ms Wangari.
She used the diapers on her baby and even shared some with her sister, who at the time was nursing a little one. Her sister was already dealing with a lot of nappy rash on her baby and the cloth diaper came as a relief.
That was when Ms Wangari thought of taking the diapers to a business level. She contacted the American company, which did not offer much encouragement due to the numerous procedures before she could be cleared to sell for them.
“I decided to look for a manufacturer who could make my own design and so that I can offer the same quality at a much lower cost to the consumer.
“My goal was to offer the product at a cost below $10. We branded our diapers ‘Baby Natural’ and used a design that I knew would be right for my own child too,” says Ms Wangari.
Using her savings, the entrepreneur, supported by her husband, invested in a manufacturer in South Africa who offered to make the diapers to her satisfaction.
Excellent results in the product and growing interest by mothers led to their increasing investment in the business.
One modern cloth diaper sells for as little as Sh350 and, depending on customer needs, there are a variety of these diapers. She has successfully marketed the product through her trusted medium — social media.
“My husband and I had initially planned to promote the diapers through a 360 degree approach, but we felt that doing mainstream advertising may not be cost effective at this stage. So he designed a website, and then opened a Facebook page together with Google Search advertising approach. His skills in digital media have proved invaluable for marketing our enterprise,” she says.
Fully stocked shop
The business now has a fully stocked shop near Kenyatta Market in Nairobi and has employed two sales people who deal with customer queries, sales and delivery of stock.
And Ms Wangari is glad the endeavour is returning on the investment.
“It’s always refreshing to hear from moms who have been looking for cloth diapers and are excited to learn that they are available in the market,” says she.
The business has managed to attract the attention of customers from outside Nairobi, who make large orders that are then delivered to their destinations through public transport.
Customers mainly pay via cash or mobile money. She has clients from as far as Malindi, Meru and Western Kenya.
The biggest challenge, she says, has been educating potential consumers on how to use and maintain modern cloth diapers and why they are the better and more cost effective option for the baby.
Luckily for the firm, use of social media also means it can target progressive Kenyan moms eager to research and learn, and these have formed the business’s main clients and target market.
Ms Wangari say her plans at the moment include opening retail shops in other towns to meet the demand.