A cloth diaper cooperative, or “co-op,” is a group where people can buy cloth diaper related items at inexpensive and sometimes dirt cheap prices. The leader of the group has a business account and therefore has access to wholesale prices. They post items of interest up on the Internet co-op group stating the price per unit and the minimum number of requests they’ll need to make the purchase. Once the minimum has been met, you pay the leader of the group your dues, they place the order, and later disperse them to the customers. They’re great if you’re looking for cheap goods. I’ve seen pocket diapers sell for as little as a few dollars a piece, whereas you’d pay $15 to $25 in stores for name brand diapers. However, it’s good to know the “other” side of the co-op operation. If you’re considering becoming a member, here are some potential drawbacks:
Sometimes these items come manufactured directly out of places like China, Malaysia and Bangladesh. If you’re the type of person who likes the label “made in America,” the cloth diaper co-op may not be the best bet for you.
There’s no guarantee on your products purchased through a co-op. In many cases you’re purchasing things under-the-table, so when you go to complain to the company that your product is defective, you have no proof of purchase. And the leader of the co-op, unless they state in their policy agreement, will almost never take your product back if you don’t like it.
Because these products are purchased from countries oversea in Asia, there is usually a long wait time before you actually get your products. Estimate a good month or so after the sale has been closed and the leader has made the wholesale lot purchase.
Orders can get held up for a variety of reasons. The most common reason I have seen is overcoming the infamous language barrier between the leader and the wholesale company.
Supports Unfair Labor
Like any other good purchased from places like China, you are supporting unfair labor policies including long hours, child labor and poor wages. One could argue, however, that if these children weren’t earning a quarter an hour for their wages, they’d be out in the streets instead. It’s a sad reality.
Rivals Local Businesses
The cheap prices from a co-op can be enough to put a local shop who sells similar goods out of business. It’s those local shops who pay their taxes and give back to the community.
Some co-ops that I have thought about joining charge a one-time fee. I fortunately found one that doesn’t charge any sort of fee aside from shipping cost from the distributor to the customers, but I’ve seen a few that charge anywhere from a $3 to $10 for membership.
So yes, there is a catch to those $3 cloth diapers you found on that Facebook co-op group you stumbled across. If you’re willing to risk it, by all means go for it. I belong to a co-op and certainly am willing to put up with the potential risks to score some awesome buys.