Tree Hugger cloth pads an alternative to disposables

Reusable cloth menstrual pads offer a way to save money and reduce waste.

Winnipeg business's reusable pads will appear on CBC's Dragon's Den

Tree Hugger cloth pads come in a range of colours and patterns. A starter set of one of each size costs $42. (Facebook)

Crystal Burton's stock room in her house is overflowing with fabrics in all kinds of colours and patterns.

"We have skulls, we have owl prints [that] are very popular, any rainbow colours and polka dots. We have a lot of very fun colours," she said.

Burton, the owner of Tree Hugger Cloth Pads in Winnipeg, started making reusable menstrual pads for herself after having children.

She was using cloth diapers for her child already and figured it would be another way to save money and keep more garbage out of landfills.

“Our cloth pads are super-soft. We use a fabric called Minky, which is often used to make baby blankets. It’s a kind of polyester, so it’s very, very soft and also stain-resistant," Burton explained.

"They all have wings that snap around underwear, just as disposable ones do. However, disposable pads use glue and we use snaps to hold them on.”

After selling a few extra pads to friends, Burton quickly discovered she was on to something.

Within a few years, and after her littlest one headed off to kindergarten, she was working on the business full-time. Last year, her husband came on board full-time too.

Scott, left, and Crystal Burton will appear on an episode of CBC's Dragon's Den next season. (Facebook)
The hard work has paid off: the couple recently appeared in an episode of Dragon's Den that will air next season on CBC Television.

But so far, Burton has relied mainly on referrals and social media to get the word out about her business.

“Most women don’t even know that there is an alternative to disposable pads," she said. 

"When women realize and hear about a cloth alternative, it can be life-changing for them. There’s women that have to wear pads 24 hours a day, seven days a week; it’s not comfortable.”

1 cloth pad can replace 200 disposables

Burton said one cloth pad can replace up to 200 disposable ones, and fewer chemicals are used in the manufacturing process of the cloth than in the production of disposable pads.

Bamboo diaper inserts at Tiny Tree Hugger, a store in Winnipeg. (Facebook)

As well, you can treat the cloth pads just like the rest of your laundry.

“It’s actually no different than washing your underwear," she said. "They go in the washer, they go in the dryer, they come out looking new and there’s no smell to them like disposable pads, so they’re very easy to care for.”

There’s an easy way to track Tree Hugger's success — for every pad it sells, the company plants a tree. Last year, with the help of a non-profit organization called WeForest, Burton said they planted 10,000 trees.

Pamela Doerksen owns a retail store called Tiny Tree Hugger in Winnipeg that sells a range of reusable and eco-friendly items such as cloth diapers and reusable pads.

Doerksen said making the switch to reusable pads is a bit of a process, and something most people arrive at in baby steps.

“It’s definitely increasing. It seems like when you get one foot in the door with say, cloth diapering, then you realize, ‘Oh, there’s cloth pads,'" she said.

Secret accessories

Despite the fact that Burton manufactures products that do not require immediate repeat business, she said shoppers are coming back for more and treating their new pads like secret accessories.

“We do have women that collect them," she said. "They like the different prints and different colours, but the cloth pads do last five to 10 years so once you buy a set you’re good for quite awhile.”

And despite growing sales, Crystal Burton has no plans to open a factory. Instead, she does some sewing herself and has a network of stay-at-home moms who work around their family schedules to fill orders.

"It's something that's important to me," she said. "I would rather not have a factory where everybody has to commute to work everyday. I prefer people to have the leisure to work at home."