For most women, menstruation is an inevitable, albeit regulation, time of the month. Unfortunately, for many women in developing countries, the taboo nature of menstruation equals a disruption of daily life. Education is also affected, due to the cultural practice surrounding the monthly occurrence.
Enter Tsuno, a social enterprise selling disposable, sustainable bamboo sanitary pads. Yeah sure, you get a cute, feel-good package that’s good for the environment, but for added impact, 50 per cent of profits from each purchase will be donated to charities that focus on women’s empowerment, with a strong focus on education and menstrual support.
Interestingly, founder Roslyn Campbell’s ascent to spearheading a social enterprise hasn’t been all good vibes and coasting through high tides. For one, when researching her initial idea, the entrepreneur was told by a manufacturer that her idea for conscious pads were going to cost her a minimum of AU$40,000. So, she took matters into her own hands, forgoing a bank loan and turning instead to crowdfunding. Since reaching her goal, in the last three years Roslyn has quickly forged an inspirational and equally successful business, with the help of customers who’ve been with her from day one.
“You may have big ambitions about wanting to help the cause you’re passionate about, but first you must make your business financially sustainable, and for most businesses that can take years,” says Roslyn.
We ask the social pioneer the lessons she’s learnt so far:
THE IDEA FOR TSUNO CAME in 2011 when I was studying Industrial design at RMIT uni in Melbourne. I had a compulsory subject on the environmental and social impact of product design as part of the course, and my eyes were opened to so many other aspects of design. In the class, we had a guest speaker who had recently started a charity in Sierra Leone called One Girl, giving education scholarships to disadvantaged girls.
I HADN’T HAD MUCH WORKPLACE EXPERIENCE, I just needed to figure it out as I went along. My course had a big emphasis on self-directed projects where we either needed to figure out how to make things ourselves, or outsource, and work to a design brief along the way.
IT WAS SO HARD TO GET ANY MEDIA IN AUSTRALIA TO TALK ABOUT [PERIODS]. I’ve witnessed so much change in the last two years, with it becoming accepted in the mainstream media and I believe we just need to keep discussing and normalising periods, and hopefully soon the whole world will just lighten up and it won’t be an issue anymore. It is starting to happen and it’s awesome, but there is definitely more to be done.
I had to be brave and put it out further into the big wide world, hoping people would back a young girl with not much business experience.
I STUDIED A LOT ABOUT SUSTAINABILITY WITH MATERIALS and once you know some things you just can’t forget them. I didn’t want to be a part of the problem. There are so many brands out there that aren’t sustainable, and there are other more eco-friendly options that are reusable, but I wanted to create something that would bridge that gap for the people who care, but still want the convenience of a disposable product. The best option would be for everyone to use reusables, but I know that right now that is not realistic, so to enter the market with this bamboo product seemed like the best way to start the business and grow a customer base, and eventually introduce more reusable products to my range as I develop them.
ONE OF THE HARDEST STEPS WAS BEING BOLD AND ASKING FOR PEOPLE TO HELP and believe in you when you don’t really know what you are getting into yourself can be very daunting. The most obvious massive step was raising the money to buy the first order. Although they were amazingly supportive, my friends and family didn’t need that many pads, so I had to be brave and put it out further into the big wide world and hope people would back a young girl with not much business experience and help me make it happen.
I WANT PEOPLE TO BE OK WITH THEIR PERIODS and I wanted my sanitary products to be something that people didn’t feel like they need to hide away in the back of the cupboard or drawer. I created some moodboards that I showed to my friend Tim Royall who is a graphic designer and he refined all my ideas into something smart, fun and beautiful that would still be recognisable on a supermarket shelf. Part of the design is to feature different artworks with each bulk order I make. Although it’s taking me about a year to get through each order at this stage, I hope to be able to make one a month and have a new artwork every month for my customers and to support lots of different talented artists.
THINGS ALWAYS TAKE A LOT LONGER THAN YOU THINK THEY WILL. I wanted to be donating millions of dollars by now, but need to readjust my idea of success and what one woman can realistically achieve in any given work day. I also needed to be open to new things. I didn’t plan to be selling organic cotton tampons, but after many, many (did I say many?) requests, I decided it would be a good idea to do so. I also didn’t plan that I would get a distributor in Slovenia who would be one of my best customers, but that happened and it’s fantastic. So yes, being kind to myself and adjusting my expectations, and also being open to new opportunities, is important.