Environmentally conscious parents have long been concerned about disposable diapers, which can take hundreds of years to decompose in landfills. The chemicals and plastic they’re made with can irritate skin as well. Now, a Boston startup aims to upend the disposable diaper industry by solving both dilemmas.
MIT alum Amrita Saigal has created Kudos diapers with an ambitious goal in mind: to make sustainable products that perform better than their unsustainable counterparts.
“We need to get to that point in the world where people opt for sustainable products not just because of the environmental aspects,” Saigal said, “but also because they’re like, ‘This is the best-performing product on the market.’”
In November, Kudos became first diaper company to win the annual HYGIENIX Innovation Award, which recognizes innovation in the absorbent hygiene and personal care marketplace.
The company prides itself on offering the only disposable diaper that allows a baby’s skin to touch nothing but pure cotton. Its diapers still contain elastic, Saigal said, but she eventually plans to make them 100 percent biodegradable.
The award, Saigal said, was “a huge vote of confidence in the future of nontoxic sustainable hygiene products.”
By the time it launched in June, Kudos was more than two years in the making. Supply chain disruptions caused delays for the company, which manufactures its products in Germany.
Aside from pandemic-related issues, however, Saigal said her vision faced two initial challenges: Sustainable disposable diapers tend not to absorb as well as regular ones, and most are not as environmentally friendly as people assume — because even without dyes and chemicals, plastic still touches a baby’s skin.
“We wanted to use cotton because it’s soft, natural, biodegradable,” she said. “If doctors are recommending cotton underwear for adults, why should it be any different for a baby?”
To make it happen, Kudos performed methodical lab and consumer testing to engineer a way to funnel moisture away into the core of the diaper.
That innovation is part of what wowed this year’s voters, according to Dave Rousse, president of INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, which organizes the contest. Nominees were assessed on four key criteria: creativity, novelty of approach, uniqueness of the product, and technical sophistication.
“I was very impressed by the basic market research that they did to assess the desires of today’s moms as opposed to yesterday’s moms,” Rousse said.
Emily Silver, a mother of three and cofounder of Nurture by NAPS, an education resource for pregnant women and new parents, uses Kudos for her 2-month-old child, and when teaching people how to change diapers during parenting classes.
She used traditional disposable diapers on her two oldest children, frequently causing rashes. But since bringing home her youngest, Silver has almost exclusively used Kudos diapers. It was only when she ran out and temporarily switched to regular disposables, she said, that her child developed a rash.
“I’ve been doing this for 10 years, taking care of babies, and I never really thought it mattered what was in a diaper because nobody ever talks about it. You just buy what’s available at the store and or you use what people hand to you and they all seem like they’re probably just the same thing,” Silver said. “But what’s different about this is that it’s making people look at their choices and actually use their brain in terms of what products they want to choose.”
Traditional diapers often contain chemicals, and the moisture and heat inside a diaper after urination can maximize their absorption into skin. Repeated exposure over time has a cumulative effect, said Ann Wang-Dohlman, a pediatric allergist at Newton-Wellesley Hospital who also serves as an informal adviser to Kudos as Saigal’s mother-in-law. That can produce long-term inflammatory conditions and delayed allergic reactions, including rashes.
The diapers are sold through Kudos’ website, which offers subscriptions as well as one-time purchases. Saigal said she hopes to bring the brand to stores this year.
”There’s a lot to be done in this area,” she said, “and we’re excited to be kind of leading the charge.”
Angela Yang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.