Name: Betsy Thomas
Occupation: Co-proprietor of Bummis diaper wear
Bio: This vivacious Montrealer first delved into the wonderful world of cloth diapers after her first child was born only because she and her husband, celebrated local guitar hero Jimmy James, “were broke and cloth diapers were more affordable.” But with motherhood came “a revolutionized attitude. I became more conscious of everything we did, the food we ate, the garbage we created,” and, armed with her newly awakened social consciousness, Betsy set out to build a better, environmentally sound diaper cover that the average Joe could afford. “I’d been buying wool diaper covers from the U.S. that were made in Japan that cost, like, $25 a piece. I just knew there had to be a better way.” And find a better way she did, developing Bummis diapers in the late ’80s just as the, ahem, “cloth diaper movement was about to explode.” Today, what she originally intended to be a part-time, home-based business employs some 30 people, most of them happily labouring in either her Plateau-based manufacturing plant or the Bummis retail store at 4302 St-Laurent Blvd. She drives a sporty 2002 Ford Focus Wagon.
Has the demand for cotton diapers increased notably in recent years as people appear to be becoming more conscientious about environmental issues? “Oh yeah, since the turn of the millennium, sales have been rocketing. Using cloth diapers these days is just so easy. Like, now with flushable liners, you just stick this biodegradable paper liner inside your diaper and when your baby poops, you simply pull it out and throw it in the toilet. The other thing is the cost. Using disposables will cost you somewhere between $2,500 and $3,000 per baby over two and a half years, where at our store you can cover your baby, from birth to potty basically, from between $300 and $1,000. And they’re so, so comfortable.”
How does she know they’re so comfortable? Has she ever worn them herself? “No, but babies in cotton are always more comfortable because we know when they’re wet, so we change them more often.”
What she figures she’d save by having Bummis manufactured by motivated children in Asia: “Oh God, it would reduce our costs by about 50 per cent! But it’s hugely important to us that we keep our manufacturing here. Our focus isn’t about growing rich, it’s about developing a strong company with an atmosphere that’s great to work in. That might sound stupid but it’s true. Our bottom line is our, and our employees’, well-being—and being responsible members of our community.”
How much garbage each disposable-diaper-clad baby generates before they’re potty-trained: Between one and two tons.
The number of disposable diapers that wind up in Quebec landfills every year: 600 million.
The percentage of Quebec families who still choose disposables over cloth diapers: 95 per cent.
Last book read: The Hippie Guide to Climbing the Corporate Ladder and Other Mountains, by Skip Yowell.
Musical preferences: Jimmy James, Norah Jones, Prodigy.
Words of wisdom: “Breathe deeply and hang on tight.”