Cloth diapers save money—and the environment

Cloth diapers save money—and the environment

Elizabeth Nyamunda sewed cloth diapers for her children. Then, she discovered a market for her idea

Elizabeth Nyamunda, Tamba Washables
First prize, Best green business

When she was in high school, Elizabeth Nyamunda was one of just two students enrolled in a clothing design course. After college, she dabbled in interior design, even bought a sewing machine, but nothing stuck. It wasn’t until she became a mother in 2012 that she came up with the idea.

“I really didn’t know there would come a time when I would revisit those two years,” she said.

She bought cloth diapers for her first child because it was a money-saver for her family, and it made her feel better about their environmental footprint. Then, she realized she could make them herself.

“They’re easy to wash, easy to care for, and the pocket diaper is one size fits most, so it will fit the baby as they grow,” she said.

Elizabeth officially began selling her colorful, unique reusable diapers to local moms in 2018, at Harare flea markets and on Facebook. When she learned about the Green enterPRIZE competition on the radio, she didn’t consider applying. But her friends encouraged her.

The ILO’s Green enterPRIZE Innovation Challenge, implemented in collaboration with local business development service providers, is empowering entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe to develop their green and growth-oriented businesses.

The project supports small- and medium-sized business owners for up to one year. Winners and shortlisted candidates earn access to either financial or non-financial development services, or both.

“I managed to win!” she laughed. She earned first prize in the “best green business” category, along with $5,000 and 12 months of development services.

Today, she and her small team at Tamba Washables make three types of diapers—a pocket diaper, a pocket diaper with Velcro, and a fitted diaper—and use the leftover pieces to create waterproof breast pads and reusable sanitary pads. She exclusively buys cotton fabrics from a Harare-based producer.

“When you use cloth diapers, not only are you saving the environment by reducing waste in our landfills and the number of trees cut down,” Elizabeth said. “As a green-oriented parent, you are also saving financially.”

Elizabeth’s business caters to a growing market of environmentally and financially conscious mothers.

“We are now in a position where we are able to take our business to the next level,” she said. “We couldn’t even meet the demand we received last year, so many people came forward to say: Now I want to try this.”

Soon, she hopes to buy at least two more sewing machines, open a bricks-and-mortar shop, and employ more people. She is also looking forward to tapping into the ILO’s network to craft a promotional strategy, sell her products in local clinics, and expand to other cities.

“We believe this pocket diaper will be a hit, many mothers are going to love it, just like I’ve used it and loved it myself,” Elizabeth said. “There’s also that part of me that wants to resell this experience to as many mothers in Zimbabwe as I can.”

Tamba Washables is already branching out. Elizabeth is in contact with the University of Science and Technology in Bulawayo, which offers a degree in textile technology. She plans to meet the South African woman from whom she buys organic hemp. And, she’s actively searching for ways to purchase more fabrics in Zimbabwe.

“There’s a freedom that you get when you walk into a supermarket and you’re not even bothered to stop in the disposable diapers section,” she said, gently folding a star-patterned, turquoise diaper on top of a soft, navy blue one.

July 10, 2019