This Mom Wants You to Never Pay for Disposable Diapers Again
Born and raised in New York, Liz Turrigiano felt like she had found her calling when she began working in advertising as an art producer. It was the first time that she and her husband Mark, who is a sound producer, were making "decent money." Although they initially thought they wouldn't have kids, in 2008, they learned they were expecting a baby girl.
While Turrigiano wondered what motherhood was going to be like, she had a deep fear of losing her focus on sustainability. "I knew that throwing away a day's worth of diapers was probably more trash than my husband and I created in a week," she recalls.
When she was around seven months pregnant, Turrigiano was looking into alternatives to disposable diapers. And when she told her mom she was planning to breastfeed and use cloth diapers, she says her mom responded by rolling her eyes and saying "good luck." "For me, that was like, 'Oh, I'm going to show her—like, you watch.'"
In March 2009, she gave birth to her daughter Zoe. Close to the end of her maternity leave, she started thinking about how she was going to mesh her old life with her new one. "I didn't want to necessarily be a stay-at-home parent, but I knew that I wanted my time away from her to be doing something that was really, really purposeful for me," she says.
As luck would have it, just three months after Zoe's arrival, Turrigiano was approached by another producer about the idea of partnering on a cloth diaper service. "I was like, 'Wow, here's this incredible opportunity to combine my passion for the environment and sustainability with my love for my community and my hometown," she says. "It just felt like just the perfect opportunity."
Turrigiano then told her husband that she wanted to start the company and leave her job. "This was really tough for us," she says. "Living in New York City, we needed two incomes—and my job gave us health insurance."
But she felt empowered to put her budgeting skills to the "ultimate test." "Mark and I sat down at our kitchen table as I was nursing a newborn baby and I was literally still wearing the postpartum mesh," says Turrigiano. "And we went down our budget line by line and analyzed every expense with the goal of figuring out just how little I could afford to make."
As they were looking at the details, they became aware of how expensive diapers can be. "Disposable diapers and wipes cost families $75 to $125 a month for two to three years whereas diapering with a reusable option is so much cheaper," says Turrigiano. "Once you invest in your initial stash of diapers, your only recurring expenses are running your laundry twice a week and a bag of washing powder every two months."
But upon zooming out and assessing their greater financial picture, Turrigiano and her husband realized she would need to stay at her job a bit longer. She and her business partner, Sarah Edwards, continued to work as producers while launching their cloth diaper service Diaperkind. When Zoe was 8 months old, Turrigiano was able to quit her job and become a full-time entrepreneur.
Fast forward to about five years later, and Edwards and Turrigiano started to think about developing a new, worldwide business called Esembly which focused on a cloth diapering system. Around that time, Turrigiano and her husband welcomed a son named Clyde. "The joke in the company is that I had Clyde because we needed a baby tester," she says.
While on maternity leave with Clyde, Turrigiano was still working at Diaperkind but spending most of her time developing Esembly. By February 2020, they were ready to launch—just weeks before the pandemic hit. "We had everything planned out for our first year in business, but no one saw COVID coming, and it turned it on its head," says Turrigiano. Along with toilet paper, disposable diapers were something that people were buying in bulk, creating issues with the supply chain.
"It led thousands and thousands of new parents to reusable diapers," notes Turrigiano. "We were managing an influx of unexpected orders while trying to predict what our future demand would be, and we needed to order more inventory ASAP. We needed to have it air freighted instead of sea freighted, because we needed it fast. So this required large chunks of money that we hadn't planned on spending that early in the game."
Thankfully, Turrigiano and her business partner were able to tap into their "expect the unexpected" bucket and keep their products in stock. "But had we not had those budgeting and forecasting skills, we wouldn't have been able to get Esembly into the homes of all of those new parents when they needed it," she says.
Now, Turrigiano is running two companies and raising two young children. "It's been a ride," she says. "Leaving my stable job and starting the company was scary. But I hope someday that my kids look back and also remember how exciting it was." Here, her best tips for juggling motherhood and entrepreneurship.
Show Off Your Hustle
Turrigiano says it was during the early days of the pandemic, her kids began to witness her work life up close and personal. One time, they saw her locking herself in the bathroom to do a media interview. "They started to see like, 'Wow, Mom hustles a lot,'" she says.
It has also encouraged their own passion for sustainability, says Turrigiano. "They're super proud of the work that the two companies do," she notes. "And Clyde loves to have me come and present whenever they do Earth Day specials at school."
Of course, there are moments they want her undivided attention. "But I think the older they get, the more they respect what goes into the companies that we run," adds Turrigiano.
Let Your Kids Know About Family Finances
Transparency around money is a biggie for Turrigiano. "Whether you have a lot of money or a little money, don't hide it from your kids," she advises. "Let them in on how you handle the family's finances." And when you can afford to and they're old enough, you might give kids some of their own money to manage, she recommends.
Turrigiano and her husband have been paying their son "rent" since Dad had to move his office into Clyde's room. "He pays him $5 a week," says Turrigiano. "And so we sit down with [the kids] on Saturdays, and they have to take their money, and they have to decide how much to put in their little wallets for spending and how much to put in a jar for sharing and how much to bring to the bank to put into savings. It's a fun little ritual."
She hopes that through that ritual, she's teaching her children that they can have the things they want, noting, "You just have to be creative."
Be in the Moment
Turrigiano recalls once being someone who needed to have everything planned out. "I'd spend a lot of time and stress on that," she remembers. "And then becoming a parent, you don't have that opportunity anymore. Things are so unpredictable."
For that reason, she says she would urge her pre-parent self to "worry less, live life a little more, and stop trying to plan it all out."
Stay True to Yourself
Turrigiano encourages other parents to stay true to their values and who they are as a person, bearing in mind the example they're setting for their kids. "If you sacrifice everything for them, to the extent that you lose who you are, then what kind of pressure are you putting on them?" she notes. "That's too much of a burden to bear for kids."
While compromises are going to be made, it's important to always make time for things that you love and make you happy. "The more satisfied you are as a human, the better your family is going to be overall," says Turrigiano.