Edward McCloskey is “chuffed” to be thought of as a ‘Dadpreneur’, he tells me. We’re squeezing in a quick interview on his whistlestop tour of the Middle East - which also happens to be his first visit to Dubai - in which he and his team from WaterWipes are meeting with the region’s movers and shakers to discuss the babycare brand’s slow but steady world domination.
Having started small in local independent pharmacies back in McCloskey’s hometown in Ireland, WaterWipes has grown exponentially over the years, and is now present in more than 45 countries across the world, including the Middle East and the US, where it is stocked in more than 14,000 stores and has a strong online presence.
I’m asking McCloskey about the designation ‘Dadpreneur’ because - although he already owned his own skincare company, Irish Breeze, before starting up WaterWipes back in the 1990s - he otherwise fits the bill of what we so frequently use to define his female counterpart, the ‘Mumpreneur’. Which is to say that he’s a parent, who noticed a parenting problem, and set out to invent something to fix that problem.
But, in McCloskey's case, it wasn’t a problem that at first seemed in his interests to fix, he tells me…
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McCloskey's skincare company Irish Breeze originally began as a manufacturer of cotton products, including the popular babycare product, cotton wool. So when McCloskey and his wife were expecting their first baby back in 1993, they were happy in the knowledge that they would have a free-flowing supply of the fluffy stuff to help care for their little one; indeed, midwives always used to advise that new parents use nothing but cotton wool and water on their newborns, to protect babies’ delicate skin from the harsh chemicals commonly found in commercial skincare.
Only, it didn’t all quite go to plan. Because - faced with the reality of the 10-20-odd horrifically dirty nappies a day that a newborn goes through, paired with the fiddly nature of the cotton-wool-and-water approach - Mrs McCloskey had other ideas. She shunned the free cotton wool from her husband’s company and went out and spent a packet on a whole load of baby wipes. Ease trumped economy, because new parents have enough to worry about without committing to regimes that make life more difficult than it needs to be. I think it’s pretty safe to say that every mum can relate.
"Ease trumped economy - because new parents already have enough to worry about"
So what did McCloskey make of this? Well, he realised that his wife had a point, and they continued down the baby wipe route, until another problem cropped up. A red, raw problem in the form of a nasty nappy rash on their baby daughter’s skin.
Wondering what could have caused it, McCloskey browsed the ingredients list on the baby wipes they were using and was taken aback by the long list of chemicals there, all with sinister-sounding names that no regular person would be able to pronounce. “I realized then that even as adults we would probably have some kind of a reaction to something that we put on our skin ten times a day or more without rinsing it off,” says McCloskey. “It was no wonder that my daughter was reacting badly.”
So McCloskey set himself a challenge. Being in the skincare business already, he was well-placed to invent a product that would replicate the convenience of wet wipes, but not contain any of the harsh chemicals that traditional baby wipes used. “I was always into product innovation, and I was looking for something that new that I could design, and this was just right,” he explains. But, not being a chemist or microbiologist himself, what McCloskey didn’t realize is quite how impossible the task that he’d set for himself should have been. From start to finish the innovation process was to be a labour of love that would take over a decade…
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The science bit
After years of testing, development and scientific research in conjunction with multiple universities across Ireland, McCloskey’s team finally had a breakthrough.
They realized that there’s a good reason why traditional baby-wipe manufacturers need to use so many chemicals. Because when you use one surfactant – a compound that lowers the surface tension between two states of matter and so enables proper cleaning – you usually then have to counteract it with something else to balance the pH, which then needs something else to prevent dryness or spoiling; it’s a chemical snowball-effect, meaning you end up with a melting pot of detergents, moisturizing agents, fragrances and preservatives, in order to do the job of wiping up mess, while remaining pleasant and durable to use.
But they also realized that water itself is a surfactant, and the big breakthrough came when they discovered a technical process that alters the chemical structure of water to make the molecules even smaller, thereby making it an even more effective cleanser. Clinically sterile, totally pure and gentle, they had finally come up with a product that cleansed as effectively as a wet wipe, but didn’t have any of the chemicals: in fact, all WaterWipes contain is 99% water and 0.1% of grapefruit seed extract to act as a natural skin conditioner. "We designed something as pure and gentle as cotton wool and water but as convenient as a baby wipe," explains McCloskey.
"They are now recommended by midwives as the easier alternative to cotton wool and water for use on babies' skin"
But, as any entrepreneur will tell you, inventing a genius product is the easy part - getting people to know about it is the hard bit. It’s been a slow and steady ascent, but today WaterWipes has not only made it into the big-league pharmacies in every corner of the world, but it is the only baby wipe to ever be approved by Allergy UK and The National Eczema Association of America, and is now recommended by 97% of midwives across the world as the new, more convenient alternative to cotton wool and water for newborns. McCloskey tells me that they are even the cleanser of choice in many Neonatal Intensive Care Units across the UK, which is testament to their gentle and pure nature.
One thing I have to ask McCloskey about though is eco-friendliness. Disposable wet wipes in general have had a bad rep recently with a growing awareness of environmental concerns, but McCloskey assures me that WaterWipes is committed to becoming fully biodegradable by 2025, if not before – although he points out that this will not solve the headline-making issue of wet wipes blocking rivers and harming wildlife, which stems from wipes being disposed of in the wrong way (the ultimate message: never flush any kind of wet wipe down the toilet, they’re meant to be thrown in the bin only).
Now, as the owner not only of WaterWipes but of a food and beverage business too, McCloskey is busier than ever, and any down-time is spent with his three daughters - who are now almost grown up, in their late teens and early twenties. As his babycare brand finally reaches maturity also, mums and dads everywhere can thank this 'Dadpreneur' for inventing something that makes parenting that little bit easier. As McCloskey says: "Every day, in every corner of the world, new mums and dads are discovering the benefits of our gentle and safe wipes for their baby's skin." And, if you haven't discovered them already, we're pretty sure you'll like them too.
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