Picture: 123RF/ANDRIY POPOV
Picture: 123RF/ANDRIY POPOV

It’s easy to outline the benefits of reusable diapers. What’s more difficult is reaching a wide audience of busy parents willing to choose cloth over convenience.

That’s been the experience of Esembly, a cloth diaper start-up founded in 2019 by Liz Turrigiano, Marta Baumann and Sarah Edwards. They’d operated Diaperkind, a delivery and laundering service in New York City, for a decade before creating their offshoot brand Esembly, which makes an organic-cotton range. After raising $1.2m through Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, the women had to figure out how to stretch their funds to develop the system and get it in front of consumers.

Shortly after Esembly launched, the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and stores started running low on disposable diapers, spurring soaring demand for alternatives. The trio quickly realised they needed outside help. Turrigiano shared their experience in an interview, which has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you juggle the cost of production as well as branding and communication?

The good thing about our backgrounds in advertising and the years running Diaperkind is that we knew how important the message was going to be. We could design the most kick-ass product line ever, but if we didn’t nail the visual messaging and storytelling, it wasn’t going to work. But we also knew we were in over our heads.

So before we even had final prototypes, I started talking to advertising agencies. We had no budget, so we were looking for strategic partners who would be genuinely excited about what we were doing. We came across Knock, a creative agency based in Minneapolis, whose founders were really into our project. They came on in exchange for equity and helped us with all of the initial branding, company design, and naming. This sort of scenario doesn’t work for everyone but for us, it was the right decision.

How did you know when to bring on public-relations representation?

We officially launched in early 2020 and wanted to be smart about spending. We were not expecting to bring on a PR firm right away. We were already in touch with No. 29, a media relations firm that tends to work with sustainable companies. We decided to revisit the decision in the summer of 2020, but then Covid-19 happened. Our revenue went up by 400% in one month; The Today Show reached out to feature us in a piece on alternatives to disposables. Needless to say, we ended up needing the help from No. 29 urgently.

How do you manage social media?

We’re a small team, so a lot of social media is all hands on deck. Lauren and I sit down and sculpt the story we want to tell on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. Given our photography and design backgrounds, we create the visual assets ourselves. A lot of the content decisions are based on themes and recurring customer service questions. We have one person dedicated to addressing customer service questions on social media. And we work with a freelance media strategist who advises us on the creative we produce.

How should entrepreneurs prioritise social media?

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. When we first launched, most of our marketing spend was on Facebook and Instagram. It was a great way to get out there because they’re so visual, but we quickly realised you can’t rely on that. Getting onto other platforms — Google, Pinterest, TikTok — is key. So is making sure you have the ability to share your messages on your own channels. Unless you’re a huge brand, you don’t have the reach to avoid social platforms entirely. Just be aware that they are constantly changing.

What is your approach to hiring?

We’re constantly asking: Do we take a leap that makes us uncomfortable and hope it’s going to pay off, or do we just keep doing it all ourselves? But sometimes you have to jump before it fits beautifully into your plan. Our operations manager and creative director were our first two big hires. We were nervous! These are people that left other jobs for us. What if we have three terrible months and we can’t pay them? We took a risk given that we weren’t perfectly in a comfortable place to hire. As soon as we brought them on, not only were they doing things that contributed to sales growth, but they were freeing us up to do other things. So when you make the right hires, they help you get to where you need to be. 

Bloomberg Businessweek. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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