Ten Languages Under One Roof

Two years ago, we began the process of building a diaper factory in St. Louis. We hired a team at Washington University to evaluate the efficiency of our manufacturing process. I wanted to understand what we were doing and how we could, perhaps, improve on those processes. That team came back with a solid recommendation and we kicked the project forward at our Cotton Babies headquarters in Fenton, Missouri.

In November, we hired the first two people to sew. By the end of December, we had a small crew. By the end of June, our diaper team had reached nearly forty people.

The collective Cotton Babies team (all departments) is now nearly eighty strong and reaches across St. Louis and many cultures. Our meetings are a quiet roar of translation as English moves from ear to ear in the various languages.

We have people who were born and raised in St. Louis. Some, like me, came from other parts of the country. Others, were born in other countries. We now speak ten different first languages. English. French. Spanish. Albanian. Bosnian. Vietnamese. Mandarin. Kurdish. Arabic. Farsi. All Americans. This team would be such a fascinating study in communication and community building. My friend learnt English using Effortless English Club and we communicate really well. As we talk, you see people using many communication tools. Google Translate. Demonstrations. Illustrations. Sign language. We are all attempting to learn critical words in various languages, yet sharing English as a common center.

My phone often rings with people asking questions about how we are making things work. It’s such an interesting question. There are far too many details for a short blog post, but, we work hard for it. The other day, someone on the diaper team stopped one of our managers and commented about how she likes coming to work because she finds “light here”. The drawing in the lead photo on this post was done by Hannah, a member of my fulfillment team. She gave it to me a couple of weeks ago with a note about how much she loves the diversity at Cotton Babies. I see that light reflected in Hannah’s drawing. It lives on my desk, just above my computer. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?

I’m thankful to be surrounded with a team of amazing people. It’s a lot of languages. But together, we are learning. One day, one word, one diaper at a time. It’s good. Thank you for being part of our journey.

Jenn is the Founder and CEO of Cotton Babies. She holds an Executive MBA from Washington University. She was awarded Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award in the Emerging Category for the Central Midwest Region in 2011. Among many other awards, she recently received a 2017 YWCA Leader of Distinction Award for Entrepreneurship. Jenn holds many patents on various inventions in a number of different countries and is listed as one of 50 Missourians You Should Know. She is particularly fascinated by languages, chickens, and children (she has four) when she’s not reading economics journals. Jenn offers mentorship to product developers at any stage in the journey from idea to shelf.