Eco-Friendly Moms Set Out to Become Queens of Clean

Newborn babies have a naturally sweet smell. However, some of the other smells they make are just plain stinky. And as new-mom Dana Rubinstein discovered while washing bottles in a sleepless stupor one late night, cleaning detergents may not be doing much to help.

The next day she acted on her "a-ha" moment by calling close friend Tamar Rosenthal and saying there's got to be a market for eco-friendly baby cleaning products. Rosenthal, now a mom of three, was right on board with the idea: Especially since her oldest daughter is allergic to many food and synthetic cleaning product ingredients.

The duo started frequenting parenting related blogs and groups to research which kinds of products people used to clean toys and baby bottles. They also reached out to pediatricians for advice on how doctors might formulate cleaning products for babies.


Dana Rubinstein and Tamar Rosenthal founded Dapple, a maker of eco-friendly baby cleaning products. (Courtesy of Dapple)

Rubinstein, who worked as an attorney in a large firm in Manhattan, had no experience in chemistry and so looked to her network of friends, family and business colleagues, which eventually wended its way to people who are formulators and chemists with backgrounds in green chemistry.

The team of chemists that eventually made up Dapple, which incidentally was named from lyrics to a Simon and Garfunkel tune, was headed by a man who had worked at Arm and Hammer. "I liked that he was used to working with baking soda because that's the way our grandmothers' clean. It's a nice, safe ingredient," said Rubinstein.

There are myriad of other eco-friendly cleaning agents available, but Dapple specifically worked with chemists to analyze and target the soil left on baby bottles from different types of milk, including breast milk.

"I can't even tell you how many different products we tested both in our labs and kitchen sinks - so many different fragrances, essential oils and consistencies. Some were awful," said Rubinstein, who is a mom of two with a third on the way.

It took two years from Rubinstein's midnight moment to the actual bottling of the product. The company incorporated in April 2006 and just as it was about to hit retail shelves, it won a grant from Yahoo in April 2008.

Rubinstein was at the gym on the treadmill watching the Today Show and guest Carolyn Kepcher, of "The Apprentice" fame, discussed supporting women entrepreneurs through a special grant from Yahoo's Seeds for Success program.

"I thought it was too good to be true," Rubinstein said. "This fits our description perfectly." So she applied to the program and won the top prize.

Dapple's first two products that came out on retail shelves were a dish liquid and powder. The company has been self-funded since its inception, but after winning $35,000 in money and services from Yahoo's Seeds program, it was able to expand its line to include toy cleaners in wipes and spray formats, and travel packs of the dish liquid.

It's also using the funding for expanding its Web site and adding e-commerce functionality.

The company began working with a couple of baby boutiques including the only-in-New York-named Upper Breast Side. "Things were going well on the local level," said Rubinstein, who said their products are now in about 40 boutiques across the country.

Two months ago it signed a deal with a large, national baby retailer to have Dapple products on the shelf by the end of the year. It also inked a deal with a large Texas-based regional retailer that will distribute it to about 200 stores this January. Its products also are available through Amazon.com.

"There's a big difference in working with these retailers than with boutiques," said Rosenthal. "We're putting in overtime to get these orders ready but our mission is to get our line into every house, and the only way to do that is through the larger retailers."

"It's an exciting opportunity that's brought both headache and heartache," said Rubinstein. "Dana and I know more about routing guides, shipping guides and packing than we ever would have [expected].... Luckily our manufacturers were able to handle the scale in volume."

They're hoping the broader availability will move them to profitability.

Dapple's co-founders agree that it's a tough time to be a new business, but Rosenthal added: "We're cutting down on some things but we won't cut corners on our kids. We believe other people are like that too."

By Sharon McLoone |  December 19, 2008; 11:15 AM ET Profiles in Entrepreneurship
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