Sometimes it takes a couple of teenagers to make you see your path.
Greta Thunberg is an extraordinary young woman, one of an army of young environmentalists who share an awareness of the environmental catastrophe that, created by us, will affect their future the most. Zofia is also quite extraordinary; mature for her age, kind, intelligent and painfully aware of the issues that need to be tackled.
It was Zofia’s parents who contacted me with the challenge to make their daughter some organic washable period pads. My first thought was, curious – why me, why now? Little did I know the impact this seemingly small commission would have on my life.
Zofia was eleven when she started her period, and her astonishing parents – aware of the environmental damage caused by single-use disposable pads – decided they would encourage their daughter to use washable ones as an alternative. They told me: “We want her to start making conscious choices and continue this into adulthood”.
I started researching the menstrual products currently on the market, and what I learned was mind-blowing. The number of single-use menstrual pads and tampons that we dispose of without a second thought is astronomical – estimated at 4.3 billion each year and that’s just in the UK! Learning about the agrochemicals that are used to grow the fibres, the toxic substances that are used to bleach the stuffing (yes it’s a dirty grey colour when it starts out) and the plastic fibres that make up 90% of each pad, was both distressing and horrifying.
As a freelance seamstress, pattern cutter and textile product developer – the research, design edits, prototypes and testing were a natural and familiar process for me. Starting with a ‘generic’ design and some organic fabrics, I made hundreds of pads and handed them out to women in my network to try and to send me honest feedback. From this data I realised that I could improve the shape, layers and functionality of the pad to make it better than others on the market.
I felt it wasn’t good enough that I should make period pads and sell them through a craft site – as a creative artist I have done this for many years – this time I wanted to create a superior product, scale up production and sell to thousands of women with the belief that together we could actually have a positive impact on regenerating the environment and simultaneously make having periods a more positive experience. I also wanted to create an income doing something that I love. But I needed help to do this – so I took my idea to a local businessman and award-winning product designer, Martyn Beaumont, and this was my own ‘Dragon’s Den’ moment.
It took several weeks and as many cancellations before Martyn actually arrived in my studio and sat through my pitch entitled ‘Badass Pads’. It was rather rushed, because I was nervous, and he had warned me that he only had ten minutes to spare. Two hours later he finally got up to leave and the deal was done. And so it began.
Over the next few months we did more research and discussed the idea in further detail, and we decided that our pad (we had no name at this point) had to be comfortable, secure, absorbent and reliable. It had to be fit for purpose and certainly better than a disposable pad – and that wasn’t so difficult. It would have been easy to just copy what was out there, but we think women deserve an excellent product, designed and made especially for them.
I set out to find twenty testers. I asked pretty much any woman I knew – starting with my daughters. One of them was particularly reluctant to change from the convenience of disposable pads – but after trying them once, she was converted! She is now my biggest supporter and an advocate for swapping to washable pads.
Using feedback from our testers, we finally created the design we have now. I knew we were on to something when people who had never considered using washable pads were asking to become one of our testers, and those who were rather reluctant to try them had changed their minds once they had. One tester told me: “The pads have genuinely changed my life for the better, I feel so much more comfortable being on my period”. It was thrilling to hear, particularly as she works in a male dominated environment, so her feelings of confidence are very reassuring.
Finally I was able to answer my own question. Why me, why now? Being inspired to develop a premium washable period pad, an eco-product that has the potential to empower women and halt our careless destruction of the ecosystem, is my path, and I had to wait for two teenagers to help me find it.