Story and photography by Nikki Gardner
Upon learning that one baby uses about 6,000 diapers during their diapering years, Angie Gregory knew she would use cloth with her own babies. After her second child was born, the entrepreneur had the idea to start an eco-friendly cloth diapering service that would align her everyday values of being home with her family, using natural materials on her babies, and reducing her carbon footprint. In 2009, Simple Diaper & Linen was born.
Initially funded by seed money from her extended family, Gregory set up shop in a Northampton basement laundry room: She wore out three residential washers as her business and client base grew. That growth forced Gregory to make changes to her business. She sought a larger space that could house commercial washers and dryers and researched other business models that would allow SD&L to meet its current customers’ needs, find partners who shared her passion for environmental stewardship, and continue to grow.
Gregory moved toward incorporating the business as a co-op. She partnered with the Valley Alliance of Worker Cooperatives (VAWC) who supported Simple Diaper & Linen in its transition. The co-op began with two founding members in 2012. Shifting to a cooperative model brought unexpected changes, including how to create an owner base others could join and build together. “Coming on as an owner is not for the faint of heart,” says Gregory. “I wanted to attract more people like me to come into a job and care about it so they would take the initiative and risks and want to be part of building something. Not just come to punch in and punch out.”
VAWC helpedSimple Diaper & Linen work through some early member transitions and connected the co-op with alternative lenders, the Cooperative Fund of New England and the Cooperative Capital Fund, to help fund their move to a commercial space. They raised over $20,000 through a crowdfunded Indiegogo campaign, matching donations, and small business loans.
Simple Diaper & Linen moved to their Holyoke location on Dwight Street in 2013, accessing the city’s hydroelectric power and further greening their business. They filled the larger commercial space with an ozone laundry system to create a chemical-free end product, good for humans and the planet. The business is now a six-employee operation that services around 120 residential and commercial customers as far north as Brattleboro and as far south as northern Connecticut.
The co-op provides options for delivery, collection, and in-house laundering, and sells compostable diapers and cloth diapering kits and accessories. SD&L also offers eco-friendly laundering for commercial linens including massage sheets, yoga blankets, and birthing pads. They travel around 300 miles per week dropping off about 60% of their deliveries and work with fellow co-operative Pedal People to transport the remaining 40% of the deliveries in the Northampton area by bicycle.
Moving forward, Gregory hopes to create alliances with transfer stations in order to maximize accessibility and efficiency. She also hopes to expand Simple’s in-house workshops and educational outreach through Bay State and other hospitals to help dispel the stigma attached to cloth diapering. People often think of diapers as a trash product. Gregory wants to change that.
“This is not your grandma’s diaper world,” explains Gregory. “We’ve made it a lot easier than it was in the 1940s when people boiled their diapers on the stove. People should have their own experience, try it for themselves.”