For most companies, when challenges arise and everything is not running the way it should be, it is almost instinctive to keep customers in the dark. The common misconception is when you come clean with your customers, they might think of the glitches as signs of weaknesses and opt to go somewhere else. In actuality, this is really not the case. Customers really appreciate honesty. I know I do. So here is an explanation as to why, after 2 years of manufacturing our bamboo baby wipes in the U.S.A., we returned to manufacturing in China, and why it is my hope that you will understand why we made the decision that we did.
A Little Background on Bum Boosa®
If you are at all familiar with our small company, you probably know that Bum Boosa® was conceived by a mother, perhaps not unlike yourself, who cared deeply about two things: using gentle ingredients on her baby boys and creating products that are safe for the environment. Yes, I am talking about myself here. I won’t go into all the details as to how my journey began as a Product Developer and Entrepreneur. That is another blog post. However what I can tell you is that the launch of my first product (bamboo baby wipes) was born out of a kind of anger at an industry for churning out disposable products made of plastic and non-renewable/non-sustainable tree pulp, and for making products that contained harsh chemicals that were chosen for ‘overkill’ guarantee of product shelf life rather than safety. At that time in 2009, no one was really listening to consumers like me, the ones who wanted to see alternative products on the shelves in the aisles where we shop.
The Bamboo Appeal
What initially attracted me to using bamboo is that it is rapidly renewable. Also, it is NOT plastic, and it is NOT tree pulp. I of course looked at other types of fibers like PLA (corn based) or organic cotton, but those options, for several key reasons, did not prove sensible to me. For example, PLA is corn-based, which I consider a food crop and also commonly genetically modified. Organic cotton is not only incredibly expensive, but despite its higher status as an organic crop, it has issues with its water footprint. Although nothing is perfect, bamboo came out the ultimate winner in my eyes.
Bamboo and China
When I decided to make baby wipes from bamboo for the mass market, I had to look towards China. It had nothing to do with making my product cheaper. It has to do with the fact that is where most of the world’s processed bamboo currently comes from. China has developed an advanced bamboo industry since the 1980’s when policy barriers on bamboo forestland tenure, industry and trade were lifted in response to their own very serious timber shortages, for which they have begun to turn the tides as a result. I believe that it is something positive that China can share with the rest of the world.
Even in 2009, when I brought my wipes to market, bamboo as a non-woven disposable fiber (not a wearable textile) was a relatively new undertaking, even in China.Incidentally, I was one of the first very few westerners who began proactively inquiring into how we can alleviate the burden that trees bear for disposable products by using plentiful bamboo instead. A handful of manufacturers in China had also been asking that question of course, and so it happened that a reputable non-woven manufacturer in China helped me to design our first bamboo wipe with a more natural and gentle solution to market here in the USA for the first time.
Bamboo Comes to the USA
Despite the fact that those first baby wipes were met with high rates of approval (just take a look for yourself at those early Amazon reviews in 2009 and 2010), I decided to take my project to the U.S.A. Why? Sourcing bamboo products from China is often met with criticism because as Americans, we want to create more jobs here in the U.S.A., and also there is an overall pessimism in regards to quality control measures there. Although we had strict quality control measures and testing in place when product landed in the U.S.A., and despite the success we had achieved in the making of our first bamboo wipes product, I made the decision to contract with the one and only manufacturer in the USA who was willing to take over my bamboo wipes project, using our gentle wet solution. For the time being, raw material still had to be sourced from China, but it was a step towards my ultimate goal: To help spur a bamboo industry in the USA, which I still believe has so much potential.
Immediately after we launched the new wipes ‘made in the USA’, we began to get daily complaints about how frustrating it was to dispense the wipes from the package. You might have been one of those customers who made it clear that you were not happy with this problem. We worked consistently to try to solve the issue for two years, but the problem was essentially impossible to solve with the machinery available to us at our new manufacturer in the U.S. The manufacturer also cited how difficult it was to work with bamboo together with the essential oils in our wet solution. As a result of the unresolved dispensing issue, we recently decided to take our manufacturing back to China where they could not only solve the problem, but also make a higher quality product due to a high level of familiarity with bamboo fiber. Please also note that quality control measures are strictly in place at our manufacturing facilities in China, and they consistently pass some of the toughest audits. The facilities are audited by FDA, are Nordic Swan and ISO:9001 Certified. Their manufacturing practices are compliant with the US cGMP Guidelines and the EU Council GMPc Guidelines.
Will Bamboo Ever Be An Industry in the U.S.?
Building a bamboo industry in the U.S. is the next logical step in our search for greener technologies and ways to lower our carbon foot-print, however that is many years down the road. It is now that we must build up a demand for the kinds of bamboo products that we produce, to exemplify what is possible, and to further create and strengthen this market so that farmers, investors, and manufacturers are motivated to reposition. I suspect that as far as the non-woven industry goes, China will have the “leg up” on using bamboo for quite some time because they had a pretty good head start.
Think of It This Way…
I was explaining this whole ‘going back to China’ story to my friend Dave Lubelczyk the other day and he said, “Well you need to give your customers an analogy. You need to show them that you are not manufacturing in China because it is cheaper and that you are not giving up quality control. ‘When you want to buy a lobster, where do you go?” We both agreed that the most probable answer is ‘Maine’. We thought of several other examples. If you want to buy the best coffee, what region of the world do you think of? ‘South America’. What if you want to source Shea Butter? ‘Well, South Africa, of course.’ Right now, if you want to make a bamboo disposable product, where do you go? Until the U.S.A. gets onboard with a growing and perfecting a bamboo industry, the answer is a resounding CHINA. Bamboo is from China. We did try our best to bring this industry to the U.S.A., but perhaps we were a little too early. Also for the record, we are not saying that we will never try again.
Bum Boosa’s Promise
I know that some of my customers may not agree with my decision, and that’s okay. There might be other options out there for you now. But just so you know, I promise to make the highest quality product that I can, that is also strictly quality controlled and tested. I promise to use gentle ingredients and a safe, food-grade preservative system in our baby wipes. I promise to make lowering our carbon footprint throughout the supply chain a priority. I promise to give you excellent customer service. I promise never to lose sight of my inspiration and my mission which, just to remind you is to alleviate the burden that trees bear -an entirely separate blog post – and a topic that I can talk about endlessly given the opportunity! I also want people to stop mindlessly throwing plastic based fibers into the trash and down the toilet.
Above all, I promise to be honest with my customers. Heck, my next blog post might just continue on with this very important notion of honesty…like how busy Mompreneurs actually look in the morning as the kids are heading out the door to school, the phones are ringing, the dog is barking, etc., etc. (Hmmm…well…I don’t really have to be thaaat honest, do I?
Would you like a sample of our new wipes? Request one at firstname.lastname@example.org (while supplies last!) Or grab 10 free samples in our shopping cart and only pay shipping.
Written by Sonja Sheasley email@example.com
President and Founder of Bum Boosa® Bamboo Products www.bumboosa.com
& Committed Volunteer to World Bamboo Organization www.worldbamboo.net
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