Manufacturing, Retail, and Small Business & Startups

Diaper company on top of explosive growth

After humble beginnings, Ada-based Smart Bottoms now sells products globally.

August 26, 2016
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Smart Bottoms
Some of the unusual print patterns on Smart Bottoms diapers are designed in collaboration with retailers carrying the products. Courtesy Smart Bottoms

For those who have ever changed a diaper, prepare for the tale of a West Michigan company to cheer for.

Smart Bottoms, an Ada-based specialty cloth diaper company, has been on a growth spurt that has seen its business explode in recent years. Smart Bottoms, which manufactures organic cloth diapers and accessories, is sold in all 50 states and in 29 other countries. The company has grown more than 100 percent since it launched in 2010, said founder Christy Malone.

“Last year, we decided to try something unique and fun and offered an opportunity to our retailers to design an exclusive print with us. Due to the success of this program, we saw a 500 percent increase in sales in 2015,” she said.

“Before January of this year, we already had all of the available spots for exclusives filled for 2016. This program basically provides retailers the opportunity to work with one of our graphic designers to create a design that we would print on any of our products and would be sold exclusively at their store.”

Malone said she partly credits the growth to Smart Bottoms’ ever-changing print offering, adding that it’s not unusual for her to hear on a daily basis from customers who purchased a Smart Bottoms diaper for the first time “because she fell in love with one of our prints and then realized what she had been missing with her other brand of diapers.”

“While a few other brands have attempted to offer a similar program, they have all backed off due to manufacturing or supply chain issues,” Malone said. “I credit our agility in the market to the fact that we are very committed to not only manufacturing here in the U.S., but that we also source nearly all of our materials from U.S. factories and mills.”

It’s been a good year all around for Smart Bottoms, which also was named the 2016 Best Small Business in West Michigan by the Michigan Small Business Development Center.

“The SBDC was a great resource for us when we were getting started and rapidly growing,” Malone said. “They were able to provide us with advice and direction on things like securing a line of credit, and they put us in touch with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, which in turn helped with our international expansion.”

Malone started Smart Bottoms after seeing an unmet need in the cloth diaper market. She and her husband had just their second daughter and decided to make the switch to cloth diapers. Malone’s own experience as a parent made her want to create a product she could use.

“We spent hundreds of dollars on the name brand cloth diaper at the time, and like most others on the market, they were lined with polyester,” she said.

“My daughter ended up being highly sensitive to polyester and developed terrible rashes. I started looking for a cloth diaper that was made from organic cotton and manufactured here in the U.S. but had no luck. That’s when I decided to create our own diaper, and Smart Bottoms was born.”

Smart Bottoms’ patent-pending design allows the caregiver to adjust where the absorbency is within the one-piece diaper. This means fewer leaks and a diaper that works from birth until potty, Malone said.

The diaper also is designed to wash easily and dry in less than one cycle. Most other natural fiber diapers on the market are difficult to dry and get clean, she said.

“Our diapers go on and come off just like a disposable, but instead of throwing them away, you wash and re-use, saving parents approximately $1,500 and the environment one ton of disposable diaper waste,” she said.

“Over the last six years, our brand has grown far beyond just diapers. We also have a line of training pants, swim diapers, nursing scarves and diaper bags.”

Smart Bottoms’ office and warehouse is in Ada. The company works with four cut-and-sew facilities across the country to manufacture all of its products. Everything is shipped to Ada and distributed worldwide from there.

“It is likely that we will add a few additional employees in the next year. Two years ago, it was just my husband and I. Now, we have nine employees in our Ada office and a social media manager in Minneapolis,” she said.

“One of my goals in the next 6-12 months is to bring some of our cut and sew in house, so experienced seamstresses and pattern makers will probably be the next positions we look to fill.”

In the next three years, Malone wants her business to explode globally. She is hoping to sign a contract this fall with a distributor in Europe, and her goal for 2017 is to increase Smart Bottoms’ marketing in Europe and to increase European sales by 20 percent.

And she’s not stopping at Europe.

“In 2017, our plan is to also increase our sales in India and secure a distributor within India,” she said. “This will dramatically decrease importation costs for our Indian retailers and, hopefully, increase how much they order and, therefore, sell.”

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