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Sonja Dakić lives in a suburb in Belgrade where waste collection service runs only twice a week. Sometimes, when the rain comes or there is a holiday, you can’t expect it to run more than once in seven days. She and her husband always tried to have a sustainable life style, separating waste and composting, but the eco-friendly status changed seven years ago, when her daughter was born. Each wee, the stack of used diapers raised and Sonja couldn’t believe “how such a small person managed to cause such a big impact”. Buying diapers and contributing to the trash pile was not something she was into, so, she found out about reusable cloth diapers as the perfect alternative.
“Problem was finding them in Serbia. We would find them on the internet, but there was no delivery in the country. I had to mobilize all my network to try and get some diapers, then my daughter would grow beyond their size and I thought: what now?”, she tells us. The search seemed endless, then Sonja’s husband made the suggestion of producing them locally, since Serbia used to have a textile industry hub.
Although Sonja assures the entrepreneurial spirit was not one of her strengths, she decided to get hands on: in a partnership with a friend who had a shop for toddlers’ items, they started producing Daj Daj Diapers out of some savings she and Violeta Makovic, her partner, had.
“The best thing for us was that we didn’t know what would come next, so we decided to take one step at a time. If we knew, we might have given up”
The dual bought the machinery and the raw material. When they had to find skilled labour, the best choice was relying on the experience of the 50+ women who used to work in textile factories in former Yugoslavia — common narrative that we saw here and here. “They were searching for work, couldn’t position themselves in the job market and had previous experience, exactly what we needed”, she tells excited. She tells about the seamstresses’ reaction when they are consulted, because back in the days, the production process was not so open for opinions. “In the beginning, they got astonished, but they are very important for us. We have to respect their knowledge, because they are the ones who make our product, it would be nonsense not consulting the ones who bring our ideas to 3D, she explains. Nowadays, they are 3 seamstresses and the plan is hiring two more in the following months.
Sonja tells that, although she hires women from vulnerable groups and having a strong ecologic drive, it was only in the middle of their path that they found out that would be called social entrepreneurship. “Someone had to tell us”, she says between giggles. The brand grew, managed to find an interesting loan with Erste Bank — an Austrian bank that is very close to innovative and social initiatives in the Balkans — and Sonja spoke in TEDx Vienna last year.
For someone who allegedly didn’t have any tact for business in the beginning, Sonja runs Daj Daj very well: the loan is almost settled and the company has reached break even point. Now, the work is towards increasing the production scale and expand to new markets. The partners are in a program run by Impact Hub Belgrade to explore Central European markets, especially Germany.
Disposable vs reusable
But, is washing diapers really worth it? Isn’t spending more water and more energy the same as producing trash? Not necessarily. A research held in 2010 by Portuguese National Association for Nature Conservation in Quercos assures that the amount of water spent is not significantly higher when you go for cloth diapers. One can expect one ton of trash in two years using disposable diapers.
In Daj Daj’s case, Sonja assures that parents who choose cloth diapers also save money. “Our sum shows that a child will use 20 diapers in a two-years time. They are adjustable, so they follow the baby’s growth. And if washed in the right way, they can be used by two or three toddlers, she teaches us. There is also the idea of collecting diapers already used and giving them to low income families, but the donation rate is still not enough to do so.
She highlights that, inside the company, there is still room to explain new moms the advantages and how to use the diapers and there is a work os support to mothers. Breastfeeding support group and issues related to maternal leave are also in the agenda. “In the end, it is good to have the feedback, our product is not only ecological, but also help children in some other ways. Some moms come to us with a smile in their face, because they have finally found diapers that are non-alergenic, for instance”, she recalls.