Cloth Diaper Co-Ops – Right or Wrong?

Cloth diaper co-ops.  It’s a topic that’s been coming up lately.  It’s been popping up here and there for years, but recently I’ve seen posts from Jennifer Labit on her personal blog and from Bummis on Facebook.  I’m sure cloth diaper co-ops have popped up in other places over the last couple of months, but those two have been the ones that immediately registered with me.

I’m not going to come right out and oppose cloth diaper co-ops.  The simple fact of the matter is that there are a wide variety of them and they are run by different people with different methods for different reasons.  Really.  How ethical a co-op is or is not depends entirely on who is running it.

But let’s look at the basic criticisms of cloth diaper co-ops.Cloth Diaper Diaper Co-Ops - Right or Wrong? (Cloth Diaper Addicts)

Cloth diaper co-ops hurt retailers.

Absolutely true.  Sometimes cloth diaper co-ops are run by people who have no other purpose than to undercut their local retailers and are thrilled beyond words when that retailer is impacted to the point of having to shut down their business.

That sucks.  Hard.

That being said, though, some folks who run cloth diaper co-ops love their local retailer.  I’m going to tell you a little story.  There’s a little town that has a cloth diaper retailer, The Greatest Fluff Shop*.  That same little town has a co-op, Little Town Co-Op.  Little Town Co-Op is run by a few ladies who are actually really good customers at The Greatest Fluff Shop.  They consider Kay, the owner, to be their friend.  They love Kay to bits and are very conscious about some things that they do.

For one, Little Town Co-Op will not sell the same products that The Greatest Fluff Shop sells.  Of course, premium brands like bumGenius and Rockin’ Green will not work with co-ops, and that’s fine with Little Town Co-Op.  Even if they did, Little Town Co-Op would not touch them.  There are, however, some smaller laundry additive companies that do work with co-ops.  Little Town Co-Op has declined to run any further co-ops on those items since The Greatest Fluff Shop has gotten them in.

Little Town Co-Op works very hard to make sure that they are not hurting Kay.

Cloth Diaper Co-Ops Don’t Respect Big Name Companies

Some of them don’t.  Some of them try to tell people that AlvaBaby inserts are just as good as other brands.  Little Town Co-Op will not.  In fact, Little Town Co-Op will say point blank that you will get far better diapers from The Greatest Fluff Shop.

If Little Town Co-Op doesn’t think that China Cheapies are as good as the amazing stuff at The Greatest Fluff Shop, why do they run cloth diaper co-ops?  Pretty easy: there are some absolutely AMAZING adorable patterns out there.  Sunbaby manages to come out with some pretty cute prints every few months.  However, Little Town Co-Op also knows that there are some prints run by other companies that are blatant rip offs of prints by a big name brand.  How does Little Town Co-Op handle that?  Simple.  They don’t sell rip off prints or solids.  If any co-op members want solids or those particular prints, the co-op members are directed to The Greatest Fluff Shop.

Co-Ops Offer Knock Offs

The co-op that I’m using as a paragon of virtue once bought something that was a knock off.  They did not expect it to have the actual tags of the item that it was a knock off of.  They never did it again.  When they decided to run it, they went with it because it was cute and because a lot of the moms already had the actual brand name version of those products.  This was a different type of thing.  (For example, some already had purchased backpacks, lunch boxes, and bibs for their children from the Real Legit Company from other small local businesses.  But none of the small local businesses offered the coordinating bath mitts, so the co-op was not violating their “no compete” mandate.)

However, that co-op will absolutely not touch the knock off baby carriers, etc.  Those are safety issues in the making.  Plus, there’s already a small business in town that sells the legit baby carriers.  And now that they know that those cute little coordinating things are full knock offs, complete with Real Legit Company tags, they won’t repeat that mistake.

Cloth Diaper Co-Ops Are Bad for the Community

Hmm.  I can’t speak for all co-ops, but Little Town Co-Op is actually good for the community.  Little Town Co-Op works with WAHMs when possible, doesn’t deliberately sell knock off products, avoids hurting The Greatest Fluff Shop, and operates on a different mandate.  No one who works with Little Town Co-Op is actually making money off of the co-op fees.  Instead, all of the co-op fees are used to support a local charity.  That’s as far from “bad.”

Does this Mean I’m Pro Cloth Diaper Co-Ops?

When I started writing this post, I was all kinds of irritated by the idea that some would generalize that all co-ops are bad.  I was actually pretty offended by one of the posts written about it.  However, I’d never had  “the ugly” experiences that some mention.  Lately, though, I’ve been finding more even though I hadn’t experienced it.

I’d found some cloth diaper co-ops that were doing their best to “stick it to” a distributor by buying those brand diapers abroad.  Sure, that’s great that someone has managed to figure out how to get her premium European imported diapers cheaper… but she’s not helping anyone but herself.  You see, the savings would be perhaps in the $3 to $5 range… and that’s just not enough when you figure there will be PayPal fees, international shipping to her from Europe, and then shipping to the moms.  Plus, since those diapers were imported without going through the North American distributor… if there’s a warranty issue, those moms are pretty much hooped.

So, really, I’ve had to decide that I am most definitely not pro cloth diaper co-ops.  I’m pro ethical co-ops who do their best to not rip off their membership and not hurt their local community.

Have you ever bought from a co-op?  What was your experience like?

*All names have been changed to protect the innocent.

About Suzi

Suzi is an American ex-pat living in British Columbia. She's a cloth diaper addict, wife, mom of three, and President of the Prince George chapter of Cloth for a Cause.


  1. I have purchased a few items through a co-op. To be honest, there was not much savings. I pretty much buy straight from stores now. I have a couple favorite boutiques that I use. Or I go through Amazon because of the free two-day shipping.
    Heather Johnson recently posted…Child Birth in the Hospital: Not for Me!My Profile

  2. I agree with heather. I had bad experiences with a co-op: incorrect items, poor quality, ridiculous shipping fees, etc. My SIL bought baby leggings from a co-op and they smelled like gasoline. It was a total waste of money for me and for her. I would never put products of unknown safety on my baby.

  3. I’m waiting for my first co-op delivery. I’ve generally been anti-co op, but this one is working directly with a WAHM diaper maker from Canada, and the real benefit here is the drastically reduced shipping costs along with the discount on custom diapers. Probably not your average co-op experience though.

  4. I had not even heard of co-ops. LIke Heather, I buy stuff through Amazon. It’s just easier to have free Prime Shipping and not have to wait a long time or factor in shipping charges.
    Jessica recently posted…Fitness Friday: Review – Jillian Michaels Fitness Adventure for the XBOX 360My Profile

  5. I had not ever purchased from a co-op like that before…interesting to know that they are really hit or miss, according to the comments ;0
    heather recently posted…4 Ways to Get Quality Clothing for CHEAP or FREEMy Profile

  6. I had never heard of a cloth diaper co-op before. I have never used one and have been reading a few horror stories on other blogs about co-ops in general so I have to say I wouldn’t join. Cheap isn’t always best.
    Joie recently posted…Dessert of the Week~ Italian No Bake CakeMy Profile

  7. Interesting post! I don’t CD, but I have several mom friends who do. I’m going to forward this to them.
    Ashley S recently posted…Get a Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Making of FROZEN! ~ #DisneyFrozenMy Profile

  8. Jenifer N says:

    I will say I have made several purchases from 2 different co-ops on FB. The ladies who work it put a lot of time into responding to questions, adding last minute orders, working w/those who are “offline”/mobile only, etc. They work with only businesses they trust or if it is a new business they will tell the members ahead of time. And… they do work with some WAHM. Right now there is a co-op w/a USA business woman for laundry balls & scents. If it’s a knock-off, then they will state that. …and hey, you can go to china town in NYC or DC and find knock-off galore. You can go to Outlet Malls & the brand names will sell their own lower quality, knock-off designs at a cheaper price.
    As far as undercutting small home town businesses…. you can say the same thing about the big blue box store that beats up on companies to sell at dirt cheap prices & don’t care if the company sacrifices quality to have their product sold at said store. This is why there are some products you won’t see at the big blue box, uhhmm W*lmart. John Deer is one of them. People have no problem shopping at Walmart to save $.50 to a couple dollars on an item.
    Good, bad, they are what they are.. just like Walmart. For me, I’m not going to spend $17 – 20 on something my kid is going to poop in. I can get a decent quality CD from a co-op/China for $6 (including shipping). And yes, the quality of the Bumgenius I own (bought off Craig’s List) aren’t any better than the Sunbaby I bought new.
    Just my 2cents & some additional thoughts.

  9. As another great resource, the Real Diaper Association, which advocates for the consumer and the education of getting sustainable cloth diapers into the homes of all consumers finally released this report:

  10. I have heard of co-ops but have never joined or even seen one. I doesn’t seem right and it has never occurred to me to join one. I have also heard that the savings isn’t all that great.
    Regan recently posted…Win a JORD Wooden Watch in the Under the Rainbow Giveaway HopMy Profile

  11. This was an interesting read–I had never really considered any of this before, and will keep it all in mind if/when we have kids!


  12. I joined a coop briefly. I read through their 5 page long list of ordering rules and in all honesty felt uncomfortable. They had very strict rules about even talking about the coop. It was kinda like fight club where the first two rules were “We do not talk about the Coop.” Entrance started with a member invite had to verify reading every detail of the five page rules and Paypal fees were only allowed to be taken in “gift” format so that they couldn’t be charged extra or dropped by Paypal. If you violated any rules you were given strikes and could be kicked out for 2 strikes. I never ordered anything because the rules gave me a headache and my gut instinct said it was fishy to have payment in “gift” format that couldn’t be refunded if they wanted to screw me. Not to mention the outrageous fees they tacked onto the orders.

    • Yuck. Co-ops should NEVER demand “gift” payment. It’s quite common for co-ops to include PP fees within the invoices sent, but yeah, that’s shady.

  13. Judith Martinez says:

    The coops I’ve seen that appeal to me are the glowbug coop that allows you to just get one or two instead of the whole package and also coops that allow you to purchase diaper making supplies at wholesale prices instead of retail. Many of the wonderful fabrics DIY diaper makers use are very expensive when purchased a yard or two at a time but in a coop 50 yards can be purchased and divided up and everyone wins.

  14. Lara Clinton says:

    I hadn’t even heard of co-ops before. Thanks for some insight on them. I’m just now learning about cloth diapering and it’s a big world needing some wisdom while jumping in!

  15. Melissa E says:

    I’m so appreciative of your posts. There’s ethical questions I would not have thought to ask, sadly.

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