I met Jason Mitchell at our “Local Economy in One Lesson” event at the Ensinger farm in Dunlap, Tenn. He is an expressive family man who pooled his money with two other young friends to form Wee Care Diaper Service.
We meet again at Brainerd farmers’ market held every week in Chattanooga. He is gracious enough to tell how he started his service.
“My friend Lee Gates and I, we went to school together and always liked the idea of going into business together but never really had, ‘What’s the business going to be?’ — I guess about two years ago we started talking about — well, he had seen a ‘Dirty Jobs’ episode about cloth diaper service and we saw that and were, like, ‘Hey, that’s a good business model; we can maybe do that.’ We did a little more research and saw there wasn’t one in Chattanooga. There used to be — Tidy Didy. But they decided to close down in ’94. It had become less popular to do cloth diapering at the time. It’s now growing in popularity all over the U.S.
“So we saw, hey, here’s a need. There’ve been people who’ve expressed an interest in this. Then we ran into someone else in our church who was independently looking into starting a cloth diaper service. [Will Joseph and his wife] were expecting their first child, and they were shocked there wasn’t a service in town. So, we decided to join forces, and use our different gifts together.
“Will was more of the manager skills and gift set which we didn’t have, so. Lee and I had talked of this for over a year and really hadn’t gone anywhere with it, because we needed that person. And so we connected with him. We started talking about it in January of this year regularly. Then about August is when we started offering the service.”
Friendly to baby, less to toss
Wee Care offers door-to-door service, but clearly it is more “cost effective” if it can have customers swap dirty for clean at a central place, “kind of like a Redbox model, just a little bigger product than a DVD, but the same concept, but locally.” The outfit shows up at farmers’ markets to freshen customers’ diaper drawers.
Cotton diapers are a “healthy alternative” to throwaways. Disposables contain petroleum products. There is no direct link to health problems, Mr. Mitchell says, but people are concerned “what’s next to my baby” and they trust cotton, which is more “breathable.”
Because disposables are terrifically absorbent, “there is a tendency to not change them as frequently is really healthy,” Mr. Mitchell says, “So you may keep them on the baby a long time, and the urine is next to the baby for a long period of time, which can cause diaper rash.” Some babies allergic to disposals. Cloth solves these problems, he asserts.
Stimulating internal economy — in the family
Wee Care is a low-capital operation whose cash base comes from the three men. “We put in our own money,” Mr. Mitchell says. When more money is needed, the group will solicit friends and family. The men want to avoid debt. “We just don’t see [a loan and interest payments] as being the best use of our resources,” he says.
Mr. Mitchell adds another comment that should stimulate interest of all lovers of local economy. It is raising capital among families and friends. If Mitchells, Gateses and Josephs invest in Wee Care, they share the risk of the business, and also share in the potential for profit. As they look at Mr. Mitchell, do they see a slackard and a weasel? No, the see drive, guts, intuition, intelligence, a willingness to work hard, and so may be willing to smile upon his efforts.
“I’d much rather that capital enrich my family and friends rather than someone else,” Mr. Mitchell says. In discussing a mortgage he got from his father, Mr. Mitchell notes the principle in operation. “I’d much rather them get the interest than a bank.”
Local economy isn’t just close economy, but a blood one.
Mr. Mitchell and his wife, Katie, have three children. Mrs. Mitchell is expecting their fourth. The family is part of Northshore Fellowship, a Presbyterian church.