‘Helping a Sister’ Restore Dignity
1 November 2017 at 8:16 am
An idea like Gift Box Organic – a tampon subscription service with a mission to ensure that no woman has to go without sanitary care – is not hard to get behind, writes Wendy Williams in this week’s Spotlight on Social Enterprise.
Saskia Hampele is best known as Ramsay Street resident Georgia Brooks from the soap opera Neighbours, but she is also the founder and CEO of Gift Box Organic.
After learning of the shocking circumstances faced by thousands of women each month, Hampele made a plan to do something about it.
The actress, who is based between Los Angeles and Melbourne, started Gift Box Organic, a social enterprise with a mission to restore dignity to homeless women through the creation of a simple, sustainable support model.
Through their tampon subscription service, they donate a box of organic tampons for each box that is purchased – “From our hearts to your lady parts”.
Hampele says it all started when her sister-in-law asked her to donate to a tampon drive.
“It really shocked me that thousands of Australian women were struggling to access sanitary care,” Hampele says.
“Around the same time I finished up my contract on Neighbours and moved to LA, and I was once again very confronted by the homelessness issue there. It appalled me that feminine hygiene wasn’t something that was easily accessible for those who are homeless and in poverty.
“And I didn’t think that relying on donation drives, which cost women twice the expense and twice the tax, were a sustainable way to address this problem.
“So I started toying around with the idea of a social enterprise that absorbed the cost of a one for one donation so that it could provide tampons for women in need. It all grew from there.”
Since launching in February, the enterprise has donated more than 61,000 tampons, all made from 100 per cent organic cotton, to thousands of homeless women.
The goal for 2017 is to ensure that every homeless woman in Australia has access to free tampons every month.
“Gift Box Organic is providing feminine hygiene to around 46,000 women who are homeless in Australia,” Hampele says.
“Women can purchase their tampons online or through a subscription, and for every box sold a box is donated.
“There is also an option for customers to ‘help a sister’ by subscribing to donate a month’s supply of tampons every month.”
Hempele says without support, homeless women are being forced to choose between food and tampons.
“Women are putting themselves at risk without access to tampons,” she says.
“I have heard of women using newspaper, old rags and even dead leaves and bark to make makeshift pads and tampons.
“Without access to tampons and pads, women are at risk of infection and health issues, humiliation, and can put themselves at risk when they venture out at night in search of something to manage their periods.
“Often, they are forced to choose between food and tampons, or steal and risk the legal ramifications if they can’t afford to purchase them.”
When explaining the business model for Gift Box Organic, she says most people are unaware of the huge markups on feminine hygiene.
“Big tampon brands are making big profits from an essential health item,” she says.
“Gift Box absorbs these profits into providing an identical box of organic tampons which is distributed to women’s refuges and homeless shelters throughout Australia.”
The enterprise has a number of charity partners Australia-wide, who make sure the tampons reach those who need them the most: women who are sleeping rough, in homeless shelters, women’s refuges and escaping domestic violence and human trafficking
Hempele has ensured Gift Box Organic is financially sustainable without the need for women to pay an excess on the product by keeping overheads low.
But she says there have been a number of challenges that come with running a social enterprise.
“Competing with big brands that have a huge amount of money for advertising has been a challenge,” she says.
“So far GBO [Gift Box Organic] has been funded completely by customers purchases, so I’ve relied on organic word of mouth to get the brand out there.
“But I think that as a woman, an idea like Gift Box is not hard to get behind. That is the beauty of social enterprise. People are helping socially just by changing the brands they buy.”
As testament to the fact Australian women are getting behind the brand, Hampele, was named the Judges’ Choice winner in the recent Australian Women’s Weekly Women of the Future Awards.
She says it was “a huge shock” to win.
“The women on the judging panel are extremely influential and powerful women, so it was an honour to be acknowledged for the work I’ve done,” she says.
“I was amongst such incredible finalists, so it was an amazing experience to meet and connect with such inspiring women. And the prize money will be a major part of expanding GBO.”
She says the “next big step” is expanding the range to include pads and liners.
“I am also working closely with the Melbourne Period Project to employ at-risk women to do our operations,” Hampele says.
She says she never expected she would become a spokesperson for periods and feminine hygiene.
“That has been the most surprising part of this journey, but is something that I have grown hugely passionate about,” she says.
“I think there is a collective of women who are emerging as advocates for women’s hygiene, and are breaking down the taboo and shame that is so culturally embedded in us around periods.
“It’s exciting to be a part of this movement.”