I had never heard of ZukaBaby or its owner, Erin Reho Pelias, so when I got the assignment to interview her, I knew I’d have to do some research. The ZukaBaby website is filled with trinkets for naturally raising a baby. This includes cloth diapers, breastfeeding resources, cribs made out of bamboo, and the option to purchase “green” shipping.
I found television interviews with Pelias where she’s talking about how important it is to feed kids organic food. She suggested decorating the home with healthy treats like veggie platters and fruit arrangements—just nothing, she stressed, with preservatives.
My initial perception was that Pelias’ practices seemed outdated and severe. I soon learned I would be proven wrong, when I headed over to the Green Light District on Magazine Street to meet the young entrepreneur. I was immediately impressed by the high ceilings and layout of the store. Pelias moved to the current location about four months ago, which excused the fact that her office, where we had our interview, also doubled as a storage room.
“This is a huge improvement from our space next door,” Pelias chirped and apologized for the mess. She was genuinely excited about her cluttered office, and spoke with a dainty voice and an endearing smile. Her make-up-less skin was extremely clear, and the muscles on her shoulders were well defined. It was obvious that Pelias was a “practice what you preach” kind of woman.
First thing was first: I needed to ask her about the cloth diapers, a practice that I thought was completely obsolete, not to mention unpleasant. I was under the impression that people did it to be “green” and to take on a back-to-basics, natural approach in raising kids. Pelias corrected me: “People cloth diaper mostly to be economical. Yes, we think it’s healthier for the child, too. But most parents who choose to cloth diaper are doing it to save money.”
If they choose to cloth diaper, a parent can save hundreds of dollars just in the first year of their baby’s life and, because the cloth is washable and reusable, having multiple children means even more savings. “A lot of people doubted me starting a business in such a shaky time, but the bad economy is actually what gave ZukaBaby its kick start,” Pelias explained. The store just celebrated its third birthday, meaning that Pelias was reintroducing the cloth diaper trend at a time when people needed to save every penny any way they could. Now, she prides herself on saving families thousands of dollars by providing them not only with the diapers themselves, but also with a hub where parents can find all the information they need and a web of support.
Cloth diapers are not the only economical product Pelias sells. She also carries locally-made baby clothing (some of which is crafted by independent women out of their homes); natural toys from brands like Djeco and Hape; nursing bras from Boob, Freya, and more; bottles and nursing covers; books that feature New Orleans, like my favorite, D.J. and the Jazz Fest; pacifiers, and almost any other baby-raising trinket imaginable.
I asked Pelias if she had any kids of her own, and she lit up when talking about her daughter who, ironically, is obsessed with chocolate. “I try to be reasonable,” Pelias said, “but you can’t deprive a child of everything they like.”
The fact that Pelias isn’t too zealous when raising her own daughter was the final factor in convincing me that this woman, whom I originally pegged as too extreme, was actually very evolved and truly cared about the New Orleans community.She is on a mission to bring affordable, natural resources to new parents in this city, and she is doing so with a down-to-earth fervor.
“The funny thing?” Pelias laughs, “I didn’t even plan on being a mom!”
For more information on ZukaBaby, cloth diapering and other natural baby-raising techniques, visit the store at 2122 Magazine St. Monday-Saturday from 10am-6pm and on Sunday from 12pm-5pm. You can also visit their website.