I'm sure not many people can say they have a double garage full of sanitary pads, not even those who like to shop at Costco or be prepared for a rainy day...or a heavy flow. I've pushed the bulk purchase to a whole new level. Why, you may ask? Well... Please read on.
About two years ago I had an idea. The idea came flying at me from many angles. I was studying industrial design at uni, and had just been to Europe to exhibit a chair I'd designed.
When I was in Europe I got my period.
It was here I was made aware for the first time of this incredible thing called 'the menstrual cup'. For those of you who are like- huh? ...like I was.. It's a silicon cup that you insert into your vagina to collect your menstrual blood, you can leave it in for up to 12 hours, there's no chance of toxic shock syndrome, you empty it, wash it, put it back in and they can last for up to ten years. How's that! what!? wow!? Of course I bought one and was so amazed that something like this wasn't very well known in Australia, I wanted to tell every woman I knew about it. I did a little research and learnt that they had actually been invented around the 1930's, about the same time as the first tampon came to be.
I started doing more and more research into the feminine hygiene market. I was trying to figure out why not much has changed in so long when it comes to the products we have available. I used my cup. Although it sounded amazing, for me, it actually didn't work as well as I had hoped. I was still using pads and tampons. I thought I could design something better, or even, something completely different. In my research I realised how women are all different. They have such different needs. Personal preference, religion and health amongst a host of other influences come into it. There should be more options for us.
I read more, and I was shocked to learn about the chemicals that are used in some of the processes to manufacture many pads and tampons on the market. How much plastic is used that after a just a few hours use, ends up in landfill for hundreds if not thousands of years. Pesticides are sprayed all over the cotton to help it grow without insects making a dinner of it. Chlorine used to bleach them. This stuff is going into our bodies.
Around the same time I heard about an Australian based charity providing education scholarships to girls in Sierra Leone, one of the worlds poorest countries, called One Girl.
After sending their first bunch of girls to school they realised they weren't going all the time, they were missing up to a week of school every month because of THEIR PERIODS. They would fall behind at school, struggle in exams and eventually drop out. I was gobsmacked. Like I've heard many women talk about when they first heard about Share the Dignity, I had honestly never given it any thought what people do when they can't afford or don't have access to sanitary products. I definitely didn't think something so easy for me to manage could affect someone else's ability to stay in school. I decided to take part in One Girl's yearly charity fundraising challenge, and set myself the challenge of having my period using the methods I'd heard women resort to when they don't have access to affordable sanitary products. I used rags, newspaper, kitchen sponges and leaves. I was also going to use bark, yes bark from a tree, but when I went to the tree to pull some off I actually couldn't bring myself to do it. I really felt something strong, for a woman to be in the position that bark is her best option, that definitely is not a good position.
So, coming full circle I felt compelled to try and do something to help. Life feels better for me when I help, and this is how I've decided to do so.
I sourced a product from a manufacturer working with sustainable fibres. They make bamboo fibre disposable sanitary pads. Bamboo is an amazing material. It grows so quickly, the harvesting process doesn't erode the soil- it's cut like a grass, and keeps growing, rather than being ripped out by the roots like cotton. It's naturally pest resistant, meaning no chemicals or pesticides are needed to grow it. The structure of the fibre is quite hollow, so it has lots of room for absorbing moisture, which is perfect for pads, drawing the moisture away from your body.
The pads have one layer of polyethylene plastic, to ensure they are leak proof- there would be no point if they leaked right? But we are working together on making a version that works just as well and uses a biodegradable plastic. That's exciting. Then they are individually wrapped in a biodegradable plastic sleeve to keep them clean, a recyclable cardboard box, again, reducing the plastic that will sit in landfill forever. They are also free from chlorine and dioxin bleach.
I needed just over $40 000 to buy my first order from the manufacturers. That's where the garage full of pads comes into it. I didn't have $40 000. No bank would take me seriously when I told them what I wanted the money for, so I decided to try and crowd fund the idea. In May last year about 1200 women believed in my idea and invested about $30 each to pre-order some of these pads until I had reached the amount I needed to buy my first shipping container. In October they arrived, and now here I am...with lots of pads.
These bamboo pads I sell go under the name Tsuno. If you are wondering how to say that, it's kind of like tsunami. But it didn't actually have anything to do with the 'crimson wave', that was a funny connection I realised afterwards. Yoko Tsuno was a cartoon character who was the epitome of a competent woman. She was an engineer, a pilot, a scuba diver, amongst many other great things. Nothing really held her back, and definitely not her period. I liked the name. It's good. Tsuno is good.
Why is Tsuno good? I donate 50% of net profits from the sale of these pads to charities helping to empower women in the developing world. Right now I have an agreement with the International Women's Development Agency who work with women in South East Asia and the Pacific.
About six weeks ago I heard about Share the Dignity. Before then I had not given much thought to what it must be like to be a homeless woman in Australia, or seeking refuge from domestic violence. Since then, 3687 boxes of pads have been donated to the Share the Dignity drive through the Tsuno website.
I've decided from today until the end of August, any donations that are made via the Tsuno website to Share the Dignity, I will match one for one. Let's reach the goal of providing adequate sanitary protection to every woman in Australia, when they need it most.