Buying organic fruit and veg makes sense, but tampons? That seems a little extreme. It’s an attitude most of us can relate to, and one that entrepreneur Siobhan Komander wants to change.
Siobhan discovered a worrying truth about the ubiquitous products when she was diagnosed with diabetes five years ago and got into the habit of reading labels religiously. Not just the ones on food, but everything that went near her body. Then she picked up a tampon box and couldn’t find the ingredients listed anywhere.
That missing info sparked a personal investigation that raised some big concerns and a new career path for Siobhan, who had spent 15 years running her own successful events company. Determined to give women a healthier, more convenient way to manage their cycle, Siobhan pared back her events business and launched Liverpool St, an organic tampon delivery service.
Here, she reveals why organic is so important, and the business lessons she lives by.
What did you discover about conventional tampons when you went looking for the ingredients?
I started to call the companies just out of curiosity, and they’ll all confidently tell you they know what the ingredients are, none of which are good, but they say it with confidence, so it must be okay! It occurred to me that I’d been assuming my tampons were made from cotton because they look like they’re made from cotton, and they’re not. Tampons are made from synthetic or semi-synthetic fibres, including polyethylene, which is plastic. And the bleaching process results in tiny, minuscule amounts of dioxin being left in each tampon, and dioxin is the most harmful chemical known to human kind. Sure, it’s a teeny tiny amount, but considering you use 11,000 tampons in your lifetime? That teeny tiny amount adds up, and our vajayjay is the most absorbent part of our body. That just can’t be good for us.
Why don’t brands have to list the ingredients?
Tampons are listed as a medical device in Australia, so there’s no regulation [on labelling], but they do have to be listed with the Therapeutic Goods Administration. At Liverpool St, we list our ingredients on the pack because we’re confident that they’re just cotton.
Are there any health benefits to using organic tampons?
Unfortunately there’s not much research on the difference between organic and conventional, but I believe that the cleaner the product we use the better our health will be. And cotton is better for the world – it’s biodegradable, we’ve got to care about this stuff. If I’m using 11,000 in my lifetime and you are; that’s a lot of tampons in landfill!
How did you go about sourcing your own organic tampons?
I reached out to a supplier via LinkedIn! You’ve got to start somewhere. During the process I had conversations with a number of different people and suppliers. We don’t manufacture tampons in Australia, and particularly organic ones are only really manufactured out of Europe. There’s only two manufacturers that do organic and one is already contracted to someone in Australia, so the other option was the cotton high-tech company that I use, and they’ve been fantastic to deal with.
How hard is it to obtain organic certification?
It’s a challenge. It’s an industry that’s unregulated at the moment, so there’s various organisations you can be certified through and various lengths of process and cost. We import ours, which means they’re already certified out of Europe, so it’s a much easier process for us. They’re certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard.
And why did you decide on a subscription delivery service for your product?
Spotify was one of the clients in our events company and I loved that subscription model of unlimited music – I love that we’re all getting used to subscription models. I thought, ‘How good would it be to have my tampons delivered every month?’ Anything that’s a life hack and takes the hassle out of the day-to-day routine, of running out every month – 62 per cent of us do it. I think that the subscription model is just a great opportunity for tampons.
This isn’t your first rodeo show. What lessons did you bring to Liverpool St from your events business?
In my event company, I had to survive a GFC, which was not fun at all, but before that I didn’t have a concept of cash flow. So I bring to Liverpool St my vigilant cash flow, because I’m bootstrapping, so I’ve got to do things efficiently and on a budget. I use a cash-flow template and I look at that every single week, and it keeps me on board for my goals: I can investigate what’s working and what’s not, and I’ve got somewhere to go.
Also, keeping it real. It’s easy to get lost in business and that’s another lesson I’ve learned; getting consumed by your work is not good for you or the business. So I make sure I don’t work on weekends. I’d rather work later and harder during the week and have the weekends for freedom.
What has life on Liverpool St taught you so far?
I have very limited experience in retail so every day is a new learning curve. But I think the biggest challenge for me has been to get people to change their behaviour. Everyone seems really responsive to organic. I think we’re changing the way we think about our health, generally speaking, so the combination of organic and delivery is a bit of a no-brainer. It’s changing that behaviour of running out and buying them from a supermarket to clicking on our site and making an order – that’s our biggest challenge.
How are you addressing that challenge?
I’m learning every day! It’s a trial-and-error process. Everything from refer-a-friend to being at trade shows and handing out samples. And asking people what will motivate them to change their behaviour and then tailoring my marketing to that. I wish I had a solution that I could just pick up off the shelf and action, but somehow I don’t think it’s that easy!