Hot seat: John Savage

Green dad John Savage talks nappies and other fun stuff

Interview, Hot seat
Interview, Hot seat

Go on, tell us about your nappies then.
It’s a range called Tots Bots, which we import from the UK. They’re completely washable so they’re basically an environmentally friendly alternative to disposables. This one here (points to one of the nappies) has a bamboo lining. It’s incredibly soft. We’ve got some drying on the clothes line right now actually.

So what originally gave you the idea?
My wife had decided there was absolutely no way she was using disposables because of the environment. She did a lot of research and we trialled different companies’ washable nappies, and Tots Bots were far superior to anything else. Many of them really weren’t user-friendly, with more poppers than you’d know what to do with. Ours just have the Velcro fastening on the front.

Are you and your wife generally quite environmentally conscious?
Yes, but it’s getting more difficult. They’ve moved the recycling bins from where they used to be in Mirdif. I think the government decided to set up a three-bin system by the bus stops but they don’t accept plastics, you’ve only got bins for cans, bottles, paper and other rubbish. Also they’ve only got small holes, so if you’re coming with a boot load it’s not practical – you can’t get milk bottles in a hole that small. A lot of people have commented on the problem to me.

How receptive has Dubai been to the nappies?
The response has been very positive, there have been a lot of nice emails coming through. Of course people have a lot of questions regarding the cleaning. It’s a weird concept to understand: the baby’s gone to the loo, what do you do with it? If it’s a solid, you just put it down the toilet. One woman’s husband really couldn’t understand, so I invited him round to see how it worked! We rotate seven nappies and put the used ones in a net bag, which sits in a bucket with a lid. When it’s time to do a wash you remove the bag itself and put that through the machine with the nappies in it. It’s very easy, but you have to see it in action to fully understand it.

How do you find the time to do this?
When I started the business I had just stopped one job. I had always said I wanted to set up my own business, so I did. Now, I also lecture in business and design. It’s interesting trying to set up a business here. In other countries there’s a simple process; here, you have to get a local sponsor, you have to have an office, you have to have a landline – it’s very complicated.

What’s your nappy of choice?
We use the FlexiTot, mainly because Layla was born six months too early to use the EasyFit, which only just came on the market. It’s the all-in-one product and it makes a lot of sense, and it has a folding device so it adjusts throughout the baby’s life, from firstborn all the way through to two years or whenever you stop using nappies. I have to admit I also prefer the bright colours, they’re nice.

Who are your customers?
We have a lot of Filipinos who are interested in the product. They generally have tighter budgets and these nappies are so much cheaper than using disposables.

How much do they cost?
A pack of five is Dhs450, and an average family will need about 15, but we do larger packs for Dhs1,200. The Times newspaper in the UK reckons using washable nappies means that you save around GBP500 (more than Dhs3,000) per baby. With our daughter we saved Dhs1,200 in the first six months alone. But the nice thing is that with these nappies, it’s not just one baby, the next baby can use them as well – you don’t need to throw them away.

How many have you sold?
Around 50 – it’s not extreme. But we’re also supplying Good Baby and they’ve sold all of theirs. An advertising company, Leo Burnett have offered their services free of charge because they like what we’re doing, which is great.

Do you make much of a profit?
You can’t make a profit from it. If you go to a big baby store, they put an enormous mark-up on the cost price. Big chains here are buying wholesale from the UK, so whatever the recommended retail price is in the UK, they’re getting at least 60 per cent off that, then they’ll often charge 100 per cent more than the UK selling price. They can do it because parents have to buy nappies. I pay to get my nappies out here then I do all the transport taking it to the clients’ houses. I just about break even; I worked out that on a Dhs60 nappy, I make around Dhs2.50! But that’s not the point. The point was bringing it out here, proving we could do it and making people more aware. I’d have to sell millions to make any money.
TotsBots nappies are available from

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