One afternoon in November, 500 scientists, engineers and executives gathered at a luxury hotel in Austin to imagine the future of baby diapers.
Some had come from as far away as Sri Lanka and Australia. They demonstrated their latest innovations, got misty-eyed watching videos about diapers for preemies, and toasted the year’s accomplishments with wine and cocktails.
The conversations were friendly, but everyone in the room knew the stakes. The next generation of diapers was coming. Whoever developed it stood to control a market worth $9 billion in North America alone.
Today’s diapers are small miracles of industrial science, the experts say. They are softer, thinner and longer lasting than ever before, not by accident, but because companies like Procter & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark have poured billions of dollars into research and development. Like tech companies, they’ve put a premium on transformative ideas.
But the advances have come at a cost. Diapering a child now takes about $1,000 a year for an average product. For families on the cusp of poverty, it’s a serious burden, and a dwindling supply can have lasting consequences on both children and parents.
Click here to read the story, and to see an interactive graphic of how a diaper works.