Little Smudgeez, a northern Nevada natural diaper manufacturer, is gearing up to cross the state line into a national market.
Seven years ago in the midst of the Great Recession, new mom Adrienne Snow and her mother Rebecca Pleasants began sewing cloth diapers.
Snow said she wanted to provide reusable diapers made with natural fibers for her own baby, as well as contribute to the family income.
“I wanted a true, quality cloth diaper,” she said. “Nothing was available in northern Nevada.”
That was more than seven years ago and Little Smudgeez products are produced at two manufacturing plants — one in Nevada and one overseas — and sold locally, online at littlesmudgees.com and offered by diaper services.
Soon, a Las Vegas diaper service will begin carrying the product but the entrepreneurs are hoping to expand to other states.
“For us to be where we want to be, it’s going to have to happen on a national level,” Snow said.
That could start happening this year.
Little Smudgeez has already secured top honors in the Reno competition for InnovateHER Challenge: Innovating for Women Business, hosted by the CUBE in Midtown on March 24. The CUBE is a Reno-based business accelerator and incubator.
Snow and Pleasants are waiting to hear if they will be one of the 10 national finalists, which will be recognized in Washington, D.C. during National Small Business Week, May 4-8. The first-, second- and third-place winners will receive $15,000, $10,000 and $5,000, respectively. No date has been announced for when the finalists will be announced.
Should Smudgeez receive one of the coveted cash prizes, Snow said marketing would be a top priority.
“That’s been a bigger bill for us to overcome,” she said.
“We haven’t had a lot of funding for advertising and marketing our products; who we are and how we’ve grown. We’ve had slow growth.”
Publicity from the InnovateHER Challenge could help Little Smudgeez break the state-line barrier and any dollar prizes would help do the same with advertising.
“We invested our own money and our time,” Snow said. “Instead of taking money back out, we rolled everything back (so we could) buy bigger.”
The first year of the business, Snow said they were just hobbyists as they played with different fabrics and patterns. Bamboo fabric, which was harder to find seven years ago, proved the best option.
Talking to friends and acquaintances about their products, they found several places to start selling Little Smudgeez diapers. The first was Rockabye, an eco-minded baby boutique in Reno owned by Emily Reid, a yoga massage client of Pleasants’.
“She took us in in our earliest days,” Snow said. “That gave us our first start.”
Rockabye is no longer in business, but several other Reno-area shops sell Little Smudgeez including Nurturing Nest, Rogers Cowboy Supply, Country Health in Fallon, and S&W Feed in Carson City. Reno/Tahoe diaper services, Bear Bums and Crunchy Babies, now offer Little Smudgeez to their customers too.
Little Smudgees were the first cloth diapers sold at Nurturing Nest, said store manager Laurie Skiles.
“They sell really well and people love that they are locally made,” said Skiles, who put them on her own son.
Manufacturing Little Smudgeez began small, with a two-person set up in Snow’s living room in Fallon. She cut the fabric and put on snaps while her mother sewed the pieces.
They worked constantly. When their help was needed bringing in the hay, they hauled a six-wheeler to the field so they could continue sewing when not needed as farm hands.
As the business grew, they outsourced the cutting but continued sewing the diapers themselves.
Eventually, they contracted with a Nevada manufacturer to sew the standard Smudgeez diaper pattern while Snow and Pleasants continued to make custom products.
Although proud of their Made in Nevada status, the partners decided to contract a secondary line of Little Smudgeez overseas.
Our customers are “two groups of women,” Snow said. “Some are very dedicated to reusable products made here in the state. Others are looking for cost savings.”
The diapers manufactured overseas are available online and run $20-$23. The Nevada-made diapers cost $30-$35.
It’s the best of both worlds: one line remains Nevada Made, and the other line is more affordable for a larger market.
“Mom and I still spend time each week sitting at our sewing machines doing fun custom designs and charity donations.”
They also design new product lines, which helps grow sales. Most recently they introduced a line of training pants, which are an easier sell than cloth diapers
“We need to educate on a wider scale,” she said.
Part of that education is the long-term cost effectiveness of reusable diapers compared to disposable diapers.
A Smudgeez diaper is used an average of 2.5 times per week for two years, Snow said. So a $32 diaper would cost 8 cents per use.
On the other hand, one-time use disposable diapers cost upwards of 20 cents each (based on prices at Target).
The environment could be the biggest benefactor of a return to re-usable diapers.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, disposable diapers last centuries in landfills and an average baby will go through 8,000 of them.
“… If we had to see that mound of diapers in our own yard, I think it would probably change people,” Snow said in an earlier release.
“For a lot of people, (Little Smudgeez are) just diapers. For us it’s a catalyst to make a little better choices for our home environment,” Snow said.
“In everyday life, we live a simple sustainable life outside our business.”
Snow and Pleasants are proud of the growth of what began as a small, work-at-home venture with an environmental-friendly goal. Few such businesses by work-at-home-moms grow into a commercial enterprise, Snow said.
“We are a unique business. We started from the ground up working with our hands and got to a commercial level.”
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