Since April, 30-year-old John-Michael Williams has run Tykables, an emporium in the Chicago suburb of Mount Prospect, Illinois, for adult baby diaper lovers (ABDLs). Featuring a seven-and-a-half-foot-tall crib, a similarly proportioned rocking horse and baby walker, and racks of baby-patterned garments scaled up to adult sizes, the pastel-colored, nursery-themed store is the nation's only physical retail space for ABDLs.
It's no secret that brick-and-mortar stores are quickly being phased out by online shopping, and Williams acknowledges that Tykables is primarily an e-commerce business, where most of the revenue comes from selling adult diapers online. But the retail storefront is also one of the few nonjudgmental spaces for ABDLs to express themselves outside their homes. Customers drive from as far away as Iowa, Minnesota, and Michigan to visit the store.
For Williams, who goes by "Tod" (short for toddler), Tykables is the culmination of several years of planning.
"I've worn diapers 24/7 for about 14 years now," he told me. "It was definitely a way for me to cope with certain things that were going on in my life at the time... kind of an escape. That's really the best way of putting it. Not to oversimplify it, but some people drink, some people do drugs. They're vices that help you deal with stress in some way. The difference is mine is not a substance."
He first considered developing diapers made specifically for adults who enjoyed baby play shortly after building an ABDL-themed website. He never made them, but after he sold the site, he couldn't shake the concept.
Later, he tried in earnest to bring ABDL-friendly diapers to market, but the economy crashed just before the product's launch date. "We were about a week away from producing our first diaper line products back in 2007, before the stock market crash," Williams told me. "When it did crash, we backed out. Life happened."
Then in 2013, he began work on an ABDL-company for the third time. This time he would get what he was after, bringing together three additional investors and incorporating the business in February 2014.
Williams shows off a selection of products from his store.
His first product was a diaper called the Waddler, which he unveiled at the legendary annual San Francisco–based leather and BDSM gathering Folsom Street Fair in September 2014. Williams claims the Waddler differed radically from everything then available on the market and immediately catapulted him into the vanguard of ABDL merchants.
"The first company that produced an ABDL-specific product that was printed, it was back in 2007. But it was only the front panel [that had a design]. It was still a white diaper," Williams explained. "In 2010, another company came out with one that actually did have a print on the plastic, which was pretty new for the way they did it."
"We were actually the first company, which the exception of one that went out of business very quickly, to do an allover, edge-to-edge printed adult diaper," he continued. "We definitely pushed the envelope on that one."
Williams's passion for the ABDL lifestyle gave him an edge over competitors who were, in his words, trying to make fetish diapers "for as little as possible."
"We had features that other people had, but no one diaper had all of them," he said, listing qualities like standing leak guards, front and rear waistbands, and oversize tape. "We had a landing zone for re-enforcement for multiple fastenings. We had the fully printed packaging. We looked like the name brand next to everybody else's store brand," Williams told me. "There are now six other brands that now have printed bags and do edge-to-edge print. No one did it before, and now, with the exception of one, the entire industry has copied us."
The inside of the Tykables store, which looks like an adult nursery
Six months later, he unveiled a new innovation, the Waddler Overnight: the first adult diaper featuring fade-when-wet designs. The diapers are printed with stars surrounding Tykables' three signature characters—a lion, tiger, and bear—which disappear with moisture.
Tykables' diapers are such an authentic take on traditional baby brands that companies sometimes confuse them with infant and toddler models. "UPS has a warehouse out in Salt Lake City, where all the lost packages end up going. If the label becomes damaged or something, and it cannot get to its destination, they bring it there and sell whatever it is," Williams said. "I've had customers go there, and they go to buy ours, but our diapers are in the baby diaper section. They don't realize that it's an adult diaper, because it looks so authentic."
Customers can order the diapers in ten-count bags, which sell for $25 a pop, or in a half-case or full-case boxes, at $75 and $135 respectively.
Once you get past that novelty of the product and its niche market, managing the Tykables storefront is a fairly mundane operation. Williams and his boyfriend of six years are two of the store's three employees, and half of Tykables ownership group. He works upward of 60 hours per week.
Williams is conscious of the fact that not all members of the ABDL community want the same thing. Some view the diapers as a fetish, a kink to be enjoyed as an accessory to sexual encounters. For these customers, Tykables recently unveiled "PLeather," a black and yellow diaper that looks like it's made of leather.
Others, like Williams himself, prefer to use the diapers as more of a relaxation aid, allowing for the fantasy of a carefree adult baby. Together, Williams estimates the community numbers in the seven-figure range in the US alone.
Complementing the diapers, Williams plans to roll out a line of adult-size baby clothes in the near future, including padded briefs and adult-size body suits (commonly referred to as a Onesie, which, unfortunately for Williams, is a registered trademark belonging to Gerber). When I met him, he was wearing a sample: a plain blue T-shirt with text that read, "Adulting. Nope."
There are other products in development, but Williams isn't ready to divulge what they are just yet. "The general rule of thumb is if they have it for a kid and we can sell it an adult size profitably, we probably will."