Gwyneth Paltrow's luxury alpaca nappies are a joke. No, really, they are

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Gwyneth Paltrow at the LA "In Goop Health" summit in May 2019.
Gwyneth Paltrow at the LA "In Goop Health" summit in May 2019.

Academy Award-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow has gotten a lot of heat in her latter years, down to being dubbed "Most Hated Celebrity" by US tabloid Star Magazine in 2013. More recently, she endured a fair amount of flack for selling the highly publicised This Smells Like My Vagina candle, which retails for $75 (about R1200).

It's possible, however, that the controversial actress will lose a lot more of her remaining fans, as she announced earlier this week that her lifestyle brand, Goop, would be selling an amber crystal-adorned luxury nappy, "lined with virgin alpaca wool". One box of 12 jasmine-and-bergamot-infused diapers would sell for $120 (close to R2000).

Thankfully, the tender hearts of Goop and Gwyneth fans (or anyone gearing to cancel the divisive celeb, again) can rest easy. The product launch was a joke fabricated to raise awareness about diaper tax in 33 different US states on behalf of the American non-profit organisation Baby2Baby.

This means that, in addition to the already hefty price tag of disposable nappies, an additional tax is added to the essential product across more than half of America's states, which deem nappies a luxury item.

Goop reports that the added sales tax increases the price of nappies by between 1.5% and 7%, depending on the state. "We priced our fictional diapers at $120 because that is what the diaper tax would cost families annually," says the lifestyle brand.

Closer to home

South Africans pay this kind of luxury tax on "ad valorem" products like cars, electronics, cosmetics and perfumes. Likewise, we pay sin tax on items like alcohol and cigarettes. Thankfully, nappies are not listed among luxury items in South Africa. In fact, a panel of experts appointed by the National Treasury in 2018 even advised then Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene to list nappies among the products zero-rated for value-added tax (VAT), which is also the case in the UK currently.

News24 reported at the time that the cost of zero-rating nappies would amount to R754 million, of which R538 million would go to the poor. However, any official amendments to South Africa's list of zero-rated products do not seem to have made it past advisory status. 

Among the problems cited for dropping VAT on nappies, in particular, were the impact of disposable nappies on the environment, as well as the fact that zero-rating nappies would only benefit a small portion of poor South Africans (those with children in nappies). 

Must read: Outdated beliefs are putting parents off cloth nappies: Learn the truth here

How much do disposables set us back?

Nevertheless, the cost of nappies in South Africa is still crippling for most parents, even though they are considered essential items.

Disposable nappies for a 10kg toddler will cost local parents anything from R150 to R300 for a pack of 44 nappies, depending on the brand and quality. Conservatively, one such pack might last about two weeks, which means parents are spending an average of about R450 on disposable nappies monthly (at best).

For the ±56% of South Africans living below the poverty line, disposable nappies alone are unaffordable. But even middle-income earners are struggling to keep up, especially once all the additional expenses of childcare are factored in. In 2017, research pegged the cost of raising a child in South Africa at about R90 000 a year. Considering post-Covid inflation, this has no doubt increased dramatically year-on-year.

Cloth nappies are on trend

Meanwhile, cloth diapers have become an increasingly viable option for parents looking to save money on disposables, not to mention reduce their environmental impact.

Detractors often cite the initial cost outlay of cloth nappies as exorbitant and, traditionally, beneficial only to those who were able to afford it. 

However, with modern cloth nappies gaining favour and popularity among parents looking for a more sustainable alternative, retailers like Ackermans and Clicks are jumping on board with affordable options, bringing down the cost of reusable cloth options significantly.

Also see: 'We had no choice': Pacific nation the first to ban disposable nappies 

South African alternatives to Baby2Baby

With women entrepreneurs Kelly Sawyer Patricof and Norah Weinstein at the helm, Baby2Baby provides nappies, clothing and other baby necessities to mothers and babies living below the bread line in the US.

According to the non-profit organisation, diaper requests from beneficiaries skyrocketed by 505% during the pandemic, exacerbated by national shortages.

In South Africa, there are several non-profit organisations that do much of the same, working tirelessly to bring much-needed necessities to mothers and babies in South Africa, like The Grace Factory and Hope SA.

Similarly, the annual Nappy Run, facilitated by the National Council of and for Persons with Disabilities, works to raise national awareness about children with disabilities, appealing to the public for donations that will go towards the purchase of nappies.

Other campaigns like the ongoing Back-a-Mom campaign by motherhood community and information platform MomSays has been supporting mothers in need since the 2020 lockdown. Through the crowdfunding initiative, MomSays continues to support beneficiaries with groceries and shopping vouchers whenever funds become available.

Do you find the cost of nappies to be unreasonably high? What do you struggle to find money for, when it comes to your baby's needs? 


Share your experience and questions with us via email at Anonymous contributions are welcome.

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