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Inventor Hopes to Clean Up With New Diaper

July 4, 1995

EARLYSVILLE, Va. (AP) _ The cloth diaper has been praised by its supporters as being good for the environment, but scorned by many parents because it is not as absorbent and convenient as disposables.

But after 15 years of tinkering with diaper designs in her home laboratory, Fredrica Coates has developed a diaper product she says will combine the benefits of both cloth and disposables.

The 47-year-old former art teacher said the sturdy cloth covering she recently patented holds either disposable or reusable liners. Moreover, she said, the snug-fitting sling won’t leak.

Coates operates her Tailored Technologies business from her house in Albemarle County. She said her interest in building a better diaper was partially driven by lifelong interest in conservation.

``I don’t like waste,″ she said. ``I really don’t like it.″

Coates has received more than 20 diaper patents in the United States, Europe and Canada. She developed the first one-size-fits-all cloth diaper with Velcro fasteners marketed in the United States.

Coates has licensed her patented technology to other companies, such as Gerber Products Co., but she hopes to attract enough venture capital so she can market this product herself.

``I have grown to understand exactly what the consumer wants,″ said Coates, who operates her Tailored Technologies business from her house in Albemarle County. ``I feel like there doesn’t need to be a middleman.″

The new diaper evolved from one Coates created for the elderly several years ago. Coates says she perfected the design after trying about 150 different patterns on a test group of babies.

Reusable gauze inserts would be available for parents who want an all-cloth diaper. The disposable paper inserts allow parents to cut down on messy washloads, but throw away less than they would with ordinary disposable diapers.

``This is a real comfortable product,″ said Dr. Susan Squillace, a family practitioner and test mom. ``My original goal was not to throw anything away ... this still cuts it at least in half.″

Some environmentalists favor cloth diapers on grounds that they create less landfill waste and are biodegradable.

Makers of disposable diapers note that while their products may contribute to solid waste, cloth diapers use up such resources as water and electricity by laundering.

Scott Stewart, a spokesman for Procter & Gamble Co., the Cincinnati-based maker of Luvs and Pampers brands of diapers, also argued that disposables do a better job of keeping baby’s skin dry than cloth diapers.

Coates said that factoring in laundering costs, the diapers would still cost about one-third less over 3 years than disposables.

The sling would sell for $6 to $15, depending on the fabric and whether it was made in the United States or abroad. Cloth inserts would run about $1 each and disposable inserts would cost between 7 cents and 12 cents each.

Disposables have an undisputed lock on the diaper market. They were a $3.7 billion industry for the year ending March 26, according to Information Resources Inc., a Chicago-based market research firm. Coates said about 5 percent of parents use cloth diapers while another 10 percent use a combination of cloth and disposables.

Christopher Gale, a professor at the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration at the University of Virginia, said he thinks Coates would have a good chance of gaining a foothold in the cloth market because she has identified a need with parents.

``She knew there was a better way,″ said Gale, who serves as an informal business adviser to Mrs. Coates. ``This is so typical of inventors.″

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