What’s your Color?

One of those many recurring discussions when it comes to incontinence care and diapers is the question why there so few colored, nicely printed ones. A lot of arguments then get thrown around and perhaps it might be useful to debunk some of them as well as on a more general level explain my view on these matters. Before we get down to the nitty-gritty, a picture for those who never even seen those things. It’s a compilation of products I either bought myself to satisfy my own curiosity or got through some friends.

Colored Diapers

As is obvious, most have this vibe of Adult Baby/ Age Play use, but this gives us a good starting point to do away with what perhaps is the most flawed argument first:

There’s not big enough a market

If there’s no market, then why keep people raving whenever there is a new colored diaper coming out? You quite literally see waves of photos rippling through tumblr. with everyone proudly showing off their latest trophies every time. The vendors must be having a field day getting so much free promotion and selling these things by the bucket, though not everyone of them gets wealthy despite the steep pricing. This to me proves that there is a certain demand. You can even take the fetish aspect out of the equation, as many genuinely incontinent people also take a liking to some of those products because of their fit or absorbent qualities.

Beyond those subjective points, you can do some simple math: The common assumption is that officially at least 10% of the populace at some point have continence problems. For Germany out of 80 million inhabitants this translates to 8 million people and you can no doubt add at least two more millions on top of it for those who feel embarrassed and never go to see a doctor or sidestep the issue, trying to get by with other workarounds. Now you only need to figure out which kind of incontinence protection people wear – briefs with tapes, pull-up pants or just inlay pads inside their underwear.

Let’s assume that we have at least two million people using briefs as we review them regularly here on this blog. From that number let’s further only focus on mobile, non-hospitalized people that are able to leave their home and need something to wear under their daily clothing. Those could be just 100000, they could be a lot more. Either way, once you multiply even the smallest number by at least three changeovers per day for seven days a week, you arrive at some hefty numbers, regardless. At 100000 users that’s 2.1 million a week and north of a 100 million pieces per year. I definitely don’t call it a small market! True, it would not be enough to have even a single manufacturer running his machines with colored diapers in a full three shift rotation every day of the year, but it certainly would be enough to produce sizable batches every now and then.

With that we already approach the second issue:

Manufacturers are afraid of damaging their reputation

While there’s some truth to that and it’s a delicate matter when you think of what is available currently, it’s actually not what I’m talking about. In my mind I’m seeing things like diapers having dark edges, so even when they peek out of your jeans, the shiest of people need not be embarrassed. I see plaid patterns like you find them on normal underwear. I see lace imitation for the ladies and nice mono colors. I see interesting colored motives for handicapped and incontinent children. Do you get my drift? There just needs to be some icebreaker company to establish a trend. And sure, even for those channeling their inner child their would still be enough room. We are living in the 21st century, not some dark age, are we not?

Let’s move on to the next point:

Medical needs dictate requirements

That is also to a large extent true, but at the same time it is not in equally large measures. Unfortunately it’s one of those hum-ho things you never will get answered satisfyingly. There are a few obvious points:

  • The print/ labeling on the diaper needs to be “functional”, so care personnel can easily ascertain things like size or check the wetness indicator. As my personal experience has taught me, this is not necessarily true.
  • The product needs to be unobtrusive. Maybe a white diaper is perfectly camouflaged on white blankets, but when it pops out of your jeans not so much. The same could be said for certain kinds of printing. Apparently this is the most debatable point not just with regards to the color.
  • Colors need to be non-toxic and abrasion-proof. That’s certainly a critical factor, but technology is sophisticated enough these days. Colors used for food packaging need to meet those same criteria and we are surrounded by them every day. They use harmless pigments, are UV hardened, petrol-free and whatnot. My cynical dark side also makes me think that as long as your plushy contains more toxins than your diaper, you have other things to worry about… ;-)
  • Diapers need to be breathable and printing them would be technically difficult and may close those fine pores. You can’t fully dismiss this point, but similar to the previous, there are technical processes to print on pretty much every material and you can do it in a way it looks nice and doesn’t turn into a hardened layer. And naturally, more general considerations would be relevant as well.
  • It needs to be cost effective so it’s covered by my health insurance. No doubt about it – I would forego colored diapers and settle for whities if it ruined me, but funny enough, this is one of those chicken-vs.-egg things. If only more colored diapers were produced, they would be just as cheap as the conventional ones. Someone just needs to make a start.

Now there’s one more thing left.

Design and production cost

Of course someone has to design those colorful prints, but apparently this would even be true for technically oriented prints that merely convey practical information. I also have to say that most designs on colored diapers are trivial one way or the other. It’s not that they are particularly elaborate or use convoluted special printing processes. Most ordinary food packaging is more complex. Therefore the only real challenge would be getting things right for the actual print production, which naturally requires some extra care when you are printing on foil and similar.

As such, more color still increases printing cost, mostly due to the additional logistics involved – more printing ink, additional printing plates per color, longer overall drying/ hardening times for the inks, additional thermal or UV drying incurring more cost for electricity and all those little things. However, as I tried to explain in this article, given a reasonably large production run, this would still be a negligible fraction of the overall price.

The economics also work in other ways. Pretty much every manufacturer/ vendor has multiple product lines, some of which overlap. In addition, many products are then further classified by different levels of absorption, sizes and possibly gender-specific variations. In light of that I often think that if only they tried, some companies could free up resources by consolidating their portfolios and come up with genuinely new products, possibly including some more colorful “specialty underwear” for people that would appreciate it – mobile, independent ones like me.

Does anyone see a pattern forming? As a whole it always comes back to the numbers and at least attempting to make an effort on the part of the companies producing this stuff. In conclusion one can only wonder why nobody is realizing this potential, least of all the big players with their existing distribution networks, factories and certification, which would limit the risk…

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