Have you imagined reusing your menstrual pads?
Now you can, thanks to a Samoan entrepreneur launching her business called MANA Care Products.
Angelica Salele-Sefo, 25, born and bred in Samoa, won a US$10,000 ($24,000) grant to kick start making reusable menstrual pads in Samoa.
Together with her business partner Isabell Rasch, Angelica wants to create an affordable, sustainable solution to a problem keeping girls out of school and taking money out of families pockets.
She believes expensive and frequently unavailable menstrual products often lead to girls skipping school during their periods.
Angelica says some women are forced to choose between paying for their family’s food and buying disposable or single use pads for their periods and they often choose food.
“I did look into trying to import products but it was really expensive,” she says.
“You’re looking at US $150 (T$380.53) for a set of four, maybe six reusable pads.”
“No one is going to spend $300 tala on four reusable sanitary pads.”
Two years ago, Angelica learned about the success of African programmes introducing reusable pads in their communities.
She decided to create a pilot programme here for the whole Pacific, and on a whim, Angelica entered the U.N. Environment’s Asia-Pacific Low-Carbon Lifestyles Challenge.
“It was literally just do you have an idea worth building a business around and how is it impactful?”
She and three others were chosen out of 180 applications to win US$10,000 (T$25,364) and had business training at a four-day conference in Bangkok, Thailand.
At the conference, they learned about sustainability and carbon footprint calculating, best business practice, communications and marketing, and inclusivity and gender in business.
“Intense is the word I would use,” she says laughing.
As part of the award, the conference team will continue to support the grant winners.
“All the tutors and teachers are all mentors we can rely on for anything we need and they constantly ask if we need help.”
To prepare for the training, Angelica and Isabell had some research to do.
They interviewed women in the community to gather opinions about switching from simpler rags or disposables to reusable pads.
“Doing these interviews cemented for me the reason I have to do this project,” Angelica says.
“Women and girls at every single income level are all stakeholders in this, but you don’t just have to be a woman.”
As well as ensuring girls stop skipping school because of their periods, Angelica is concerned about reducing waste caused by these disposable products.
“This is your home, this is your island, we all live here. Waste management is an issue.”
“We need to find better ways to consume, but we also need to consume wisely.”
Globally, billions of plastic packaged menstrual products fill our landfills every year, and take generations to break down.
According to the Women’s Environmental Network, tampons and pads create more than 200,000 tonnes of plastic waste per year and a lot end up in the ocean.
Angelica says reusable pads cut out the monthly spend on disposable products.
“Instead of always buying disposable pads, you can keep using these set of reusable ones, every month, all year.”
Angelica says because many women in Samoa already use rags to manage their periods, the switch to reusable pads should be easy and will be a more hygienic option.
“In my research, I learned from doctors that rags often lead to sensitive issues because they don’t get washed or sanitised properly.”
“A big component of this project is that before we sell anything, we want to educate about the importance of this product for women’s health.”
For Angelica, two main issues motivate her to get this project going.
“Anything we can do to conserve and protect our environment is a good idea, and we should be encouraging everybody to live sustainable lifestyles.”
“But the biggest thing for me personally is the social impact,” she says.
Helping people who may not be able to help themselves is a deep Pacific value, says Angelica.
“It’s totally a Samoan thing where you give to your community, your loved ones, and anyone you can. Being able to give back to my community or give to people who need it, especially on such a sensitive issue, for me is the biggest thing.”
Angelica’s and Isabell’s business, MANA Care Products, will be priced as affordably as possible in order to reach people in urban and rural areas, especially compared to the current price of disposable products.
Today, packets of 10-16 pads may cost up to $7 tala, and boxes of 16 tampons can cost over $10 tala. For an average woman, that cost can reach $100 tala per year, or more.
The duo plan to hire all their staff locally to make, market and sell the products, to expand the network of women having ownership over the project as well as engage government ministries.
With the training under their belts and the seed funding in their wallets, Angelica and Isabell are developing a prototype, having women around Samoa test it out and give feedback, and preparing to launch on May 28th, Menstrual Hygiene Day.
The international day was started by WASH United in 2013 and aims to unite non-profits, government agencies, business and media to educate about the challenges women and girls face due to menstruation, especially in developing countries.
Creating something that will succeed elsewhere is important to the women.
“If we can do this in Samoa, we can do this in the Pacific and that’s the heart of it.”
Angelica says starting the business will take time and she plans to go slowly but surely.
“We want to be ambitious, but realistic,” she says.
Angelica works full time as an Outreach Support Officer at the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (S.P.R.E.P.).