Susan Atkinson describes herself as a climate activist – she’s had letters warning about the dangers of climate change published in USA Today and newspapers in 11 states.
But she was frustrated by the lack of “tangible” evidence that her work was moving the needle on the issue.
That feeling of frustration led to the creation of High 5 Diapers – Atkinson’s reusuable diaper company with the product made from upcycled towels, T-shirts and other cotton garments in the sewing room of her Crestview Heights home.
“As a climate activist, it can be difficult because you don’t see results. Maybe if some substantial legislation passes, but this is tangible. It’s here and now, and there’s something satisfying about that,” she said.
The idea for the diapers didn’t come as an ah-ha moment, Atkinson said.
Instead, the idea germinated in her head for a while – combining her passion to improve the environment with a talent for sewing nurtured by her mother, who was a professional seamstress.
As her environmental views strengthened, Atkinson said she began taking more notice about single-use of plastics, how slowly disposable diapers decompose, and the methane generated from those decomposing diapers.
Her natural talent for sewing combined with her increasing awareness of the danger posed by a warming climate guided Atkinson to begin tinkering around in an effort to make a reusable diaper that was more friendly than the old strip of cloth in common use through the 1970s.
A High 5 Diaper consists of two parts, an outer shell that is waterproof and durable that Atkinson says helps prevent “blowouts” and is secured using Velcro fasteners, and an inner soaker pad that gets changed whenever the baby wets.
The top liner of the soaker pad is made of a soft suede, which Atkinson calls “a miracle cloth” because of its properties providing superior wicking for keeping moisture away from a baby’s bottom and avoiding diaper rash, and the inner soaker pad made of two layers of upcycled absorbent cotton.
As part of her environmental mission, the absorbent cotton is supplied by frequent trips to thrift shops and motels around Durango looking for T-shirts and towels too old to resell or to put back in a room.
“There are suppliers from China doing this kind of thing, but none of them are upcycling. That’s what’s unique about these diapers,” she said. “The whole concept is that it’s good for the baby, it’s easy for the mom or the dad, and it’s good for the planet. I’m helping the planet by encouraging parents to ditch disposables.”
Atkinson said her research indicates that disposable diapers are the third-biggest product by volume disposed of in landfills, and she says they take 500 years to decompose.
“If you lined up all the disposable diapers used in the world in one year, it would circle the Earth 90 times. This is not a little deal. It’s a big deal,” she said.
Now, Atkinson is on a mission to save the planet by eliminating disposable diapers by wooing parents to her product, starting right in Durango.
She sells her diapers at WeFill, the Durango shop at 3465 Main Ave., that aims to replace single-use plastic with purchases of personal care and cleaning products in bulk, and at Kids Rock, 563 Main Ave.
Atkinson completed a website, clothdiapersandpads.com, for High 5 Diapers about a week ago, and now she’s marketing on the information superhighway.
To keep things affordable, Atkinson plans to make all the diapers herself. She said hiring an employee to help would defeat the purpose of keeping the diapers affordable, and she believes she can keep up with demand for her diapers in Durango – it takes her about one hour to sew a diaper.
She’s selling diaper kits for $200 that she says will replace the use of disposables that typically cost as much as $3,000 for the two years a baby is in diapers.
If things go well, she said, she also will explore offering feminine hygiene pads, incontinence pads and adult diapers.
“These are all areas where we use disposables that we can replace with reusables that will be much better for the planet,” she said.
If she does have to grow her company, she thinks she might hire interns, perhaps from Durango High School theater department, who want to learn to sew to make costumes for school plays.
“I’m a hairstylist in town, that’s my full-time job,” Atkinson said. “This is my part-time thing,” she said.
Since she’s started making her reusable diapers several months ago, Atkinson said, it’s done wonders for her outlook on helping the planet survive the consumer onslaught of reusable plastic.
“If we all do our part, little by little we’ll make a dent (in climate change), and this is my part,” she said.