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Female Disruptors: Laura Crawford of Mama Bamboo On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

Just Do It. — Over thinking, over-planning, hesitating and procrastinating are the evils of life. If you want to do something and you believe it will make you happy (providing there’s no harm to anyone else), just get on with it. We have 85 years on this planet — if we’re lucky — don’t waste precious time.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Crawford, Founder of Eco disposable nappy company, Mama Bamboo.

Laura set up Mama Bamboo in 2018 determined to change the disposable nappy and wipe industry and make it more sustainable. Standard plastic disposable nappies and wipes require over 150 ml of crude oil, chlorine, lotions and perfumes in their production and will take over 500 years to break down in landfill, so Laura researched and designed a disposable nappy made from bamboo fibre, chlorine free pulp cores and plant-based liners that are compostable and launched a 100% compostable bamboo fibre baby wipe. Since its inception, Mama Bamboo has grown significantly as consumers in the UK have become increasingly conscious of the environmental impact of their choices and parents have sought out greener products. The business has also seen a huge leap in their subscription services this year as families have been avoiding supermarkets and enjoying the convenience of home delivery. The last 12 months has seen a 1500% rise in the number of subscribers for their regular nappy delivery service.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I used to work in the City as a management consultant but I took redundancy when I had my first child and I knew I really wanted a second as quickly as possible.

When my daughter was born, I knew nothing about eco-nappies. I simply used a supermarket brand or one of the leading known brands. It was only as my second child came along that I became aware of what a nappy was really made of — polyester, polypropylene, polyethylene, chlorine, lotions, perfumes, adhesives, etc. — and how many we would use. The average baby uses +6000 nappies before they are potty trained.

I tried the cloth nappy route, but in all honesty, I only managed a few weeks with a two-year-old and a colicky new baby. Then I tried the two eco-disposable brands readily available on the market. But I found them to be stiff and papery and they leaked too often. Eventually I gave in and bought him some conventional nappies and within 2 days the poor baby had the worst nappy rash ever.

So I spent nine months researching natural alternatives and found that bamboo could be used instead of polypropylene and it was not only better for the environment but it was also kinder to babies’ delicate skin.

I set about designing a range of nappies and wipes using this bamboo fibre and Mama Bamboo launched in September 2018.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

The first way we’re really trying to disrupt the status quo is to raise awareness. Nappies and wet wipes don’t look like plastic, so not that many people really know what they are buying and using on their babies. Through our work, we are trying to bring this issue into the light. Getting consumers to actively choose to avoid plastic would be a huge step forward. But in addition, we are trying to get nappies and wipes on the Government’s radar as a potential item to be banned in future. It’s wonderful that plastic straw and ear buds have been banned but what about nappies and wipes? They make up 3–5% of all black bin waste. We run the #nappyrevolution campaign on which calls on DEFRA to ban plastic nappies and wipes going into landfill or incineration.

We are also working on disrupting the current waste management of all absorbent hygiene waste. We have partnered with UCL on a research project aiming to “Unlock the Barriers to Circular Economy” for all bioplastic compostable and absorbent hygiene waste. The rise in compostable has been staggering in recent years as responsible manufacturers have switched to plant-based resources, but the government has been slow to respond to this. Most of these products will be sent to landfill rather than enter a specific composting waste stream simply because the investment has not yet been made by Government and local councils.

Thirdly, our products themselves and our marketing is disrupting the nappy market, by raising the standards and calling on all brands to do the same. We were the first brand to print our ingredients on our packaging and list out the components on our website. I’m pleased to say other eco-brands have followed suit and if the Environment Bill which is going through Parliament at the moment is successful, all brands will be forced to so do within the year.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I had my very first delivery of products, I made the mistake of assuming they would be palletised and ready to offload and pop onto my warehouse shelves. I expected 40 pallets of goods and had 45 pallet spaces all ready for them. When the lorry arrived, it was not at all palletised — it was packed to the rafters! I quickly had to rally round 6 helpers and offload and palletise it myself. It ended up taking 8 hours and resulted in 96 pallets of goods! I had to squeeze between the rows of pallets and take tonnes of stock home to pile in my spare room and under the kitchen table. I was literally drowning in nappies. My husband was not amused at all — he was already sceptical of this venture and now I’d completely messed up. It was entirely my fault — never ever assume anything.

I learnt my lesson and am thankful to say, I now cross every t and dot every i.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

It may sound corny but my greatest mentors were my parents. My mother taught me kindness and caring at every turn. And my father taught me to be self assured, strong and brave. Along the way, I’ve had teachers and business mentors but the roots for my values, work ethic and self belief were set down in stone long before then.

It’s actually something than scares me now about parenting my own children — how do I give them the tools to succeed and have self-worth which will form the intrinsic core of their being? There’s no shiny business book on the shelf that can teach that to you in your 30’s.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

I can give a fairly personal example of bad disruption. As a consultant, I was employed in the same client bank 3 times over the course of 10 years. First, I decentralized a department, changed processes and re-organized headcount. A few years later, a new Head of Department was brought in and he re-centralized the team and processes and I was again brought in to assist. 4 years later, a new Head of Department started and once again I was brought in to assist on a re-organization which decentralized the teams. This type of ‘vanity disruption’ can be seen in big business and politics the world over. It’s one of the worst examples of individual agendas overruling common sense and collective benefit.

Good disruption on the other hand is always seeded in collective benefit. Disruption should be based on solving a problem and bringing an entire marketplace or country or department forward. It should result in a benefit so transparent that all players in the space are propelled into self-action. For instance, the introduction of LED bulbs. No one was looking for a new model for household light bulbs, but in 1994 the Nichia Corporation identified a collective problem. They could see that the energy consumption of old fashioned bulbs was so high and resulted in increased environmental impact and high household bills. The first LEDs entered the marketplace and a few savvy individuals made the switch. Over time more consumers chose to switch and benefitted from lower energy costs. Eventually it reached a pivot point where the environmental impact was beginning to be felt and the Government was enabled to legislate against incandescent bulbs for everyone. By identifying a collective benefit this disruptive technology has proven a huge success.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Just Do It.

Over thinking, over-planning, hesitating and procrastinating are the evils of life. If you want to do something and you believe it will make you happy (providing there’s no harm to anyone else), just get on with it. We have 85 years on this planet — if we’re lucky — don’t waste precious time.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Next up we’re looking at developing a preemie baby nappy as there are no eco-options available for preemie babies at the moment. And we are looking at expanding our range into baby lifestyle products. We are currently in the midst of a large crowdfunding exercise with Triodos Ethical Bank, which if successful, will see us in a good space to invest in these new ranges.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I don’t know if it’s a ‘women’ issue or an ‘age’ issue, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been patronised by older men during business discussions. It is an odd assumption that I need their fatherly guidance and can be talked around to their will if they simply lecture me at length. I always want to stop them right there and explain that I have a father, and he’s been a great support, most of all because he taught me to know my own mind and trust myself.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Oh, I’m not sure I’m that influential, but if I could inspire a movement it would be two-fold:-

  • I would make it immediately illegal to ship any of our waste abroad for processing. It is absolutely disgraceful that any UK waste ends up in Indonesia or on the beaches of Turkey. We made the mess. We should clean it up. And keeping it here in its complete volumes would force the Government to address the plastics issue much more strongly.
  • I would also really like to establish a circular economy model for all compostable and bioplastic materials as soon as possible. I think it’s wonderful that responsible manufacturers are switching away from oil-based plastics and consumers are voting for change with every pound spent on these products, but it’s heart-breaking that the full benefits of these investments cannot be seen because DEFRA and the local councils have put this in the ‘too hard to sort out’ folder and instead have heralded their minor wins on paper straws and ear buds as the pinnacle of environmental achievement. .

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“What’s the worst that can happen?”

Whenever I’ve felt scared, nervous or hesitant about taking a big decision, I use the “What’s the worst that can happen?” question to quell my fears. More often than not, the worst case scenario is you lose some money, or you have to give up an idea and start again. In business, rarely will the answer be sudden death, harm to others or total obliteration the planet.

NOTE: I don’t recommend this model if you are a heart surgeon or US president with your finger on the button.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow our blogs on our website or via our Mama Bamboo social media links — Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Female Disruptors: Laura Crawford of Mama Bamboo On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.